Young Hawks open with four-on-the-road

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By Ron Benningfield

LaRue County High School head football coach Josh Jaggers had mixed feelings as he discussed the status of this year’s Hawks varsity team.

“I really like our depth, to be honest,” the coach in his second year at the Hawks’ helm said. “We are deeper with available bodies than we were last year, but that depth is just so young and inexperienced.”

Among the positive points is the effort he’s seeing from his two quarterbacks, Koy Lindsey and Hunter Griffin.  

“I like what I’m seeing from both,” he said. “As of right now, Lindsey has the nod, but they are both very capable of giving us good minutes at other positions on the field.”

Lindsey, a six-foot 185-pound junior who will be starting his first year at quarterback, brings a lot of tools to that position, according to his coach.  

“He throws a great ball, has touch, accuracy and also the long ball,” Jaggers said. “His biggest weakness right now is one that a lot of our starters will be facing this year which is inexperience.”

Sophomore Hunter Griffin (5-11, 165) also lacks experience, but is very versatile, noted Jaggers.

“Hunter will be playing a little bit of everywhere. He is a very athletic and physically gifted young player that will likely see snaps at quarterback, running back, and possibly even wide receiver offense. On defense, Hunter will be one of our starting safeties and also will likely be one of our return men.”

The team, which finished 6-6 last season, returns only two starters on defense, sophomore lineman/linebacker Damarcus McCray (5-10, 240) and senior defensive back Dalton Lawson (5-9, 140). Only three starting offensive veterans are back: senior linemen Michael Franklin (5-8, 295), Zeke Phelps (5-10, 190), and tight end/wide receiver Michael Neal (5-11, 170).

The coach expects Marquis “Tootie” Franklin, a 5-6, 140-pound sophomore running and defensive back, to play a large role in the backfield and secondary where he started a couple of games as a freshman.

“He led us in rushing in the last regular season game in 2012 against Washington County and will be heavily counted on again this year,” predicted Jaggers. “McCray, like Franklin saw several mop-up-duty snaps on offense last year in the backfield while starting a couple games on defense at linebacker and on the defensive line.”

The coach said McCray helped carry the load on the junior varsity team last year with Lindsey, Franklin and Griffin.

“Like the others I’ve mentioned, his biggest weakness will be just a lack of varsity experience as he will be starting full time for the first time,” said Jaggers.

Kody Key-Close, a 6-2, 210-pound tight end and linebacker, who has come out for football for his first time as a senior, has been a great addition to the team, according to Jaggers.

“Kody led us in our preseason seven-on-seven tournaments and has some great gifts – great hands, he’s physical, can really run for his size and also can go up and get the ball which is what helps him star on the basketball court as well,” said Jaggers. “Not only is he playing high school football for the first time, but he will be starting as well.”

LaRue fielded 10 seniors last year, with the majority starting on both offense and defense.

“They were really a special group that set the bar for how a team is supposed to play,” said Coach. “I’ve said it a thousand times before, and will continue to say it, especially to this year’s bunch, that they were the epitome of a team that didn’t worry about being individuals; they just wanted to do whatever it took to win.”

LaRue’s Class 3A playoff record was 1-1. The Hawks beat Corbin at home, 36-16 before falling to two-time state champion Bell County in the second game on the Bobcats’ home field.

“It was really a great year and one that I could have only dreamed of,” the coach said.

This year, he’s pleased with the Hawks’ pre-season effort.

“We’re inexperienced, but they have been working very hard and they all have been coachable, and that’s all a coach can ask for,” he said. “We all are having a blast coaching this bunch.”

Though the nine seniors on this year’s squad lack a large amount of experience, Jaggers said they’ve all shown leadership.    

“Our four-year seniors – Keegan Kirkpatrick, Dalton Lawson, Zeke Phelps, Michael Neal, Michael Franklin and Austin Goldsmith – have been doing great in leading by example and showing the young guys the ropes,” he said. “I’ve also been very impressed with the leadership that Kody Key-Close and Conor Creekmore are showing as first-year players.”

The Hawks scrimmage Breckinridge County at home Aug. 16, then play four away games before battling Taylor County at home Sept. 20.  As usual, LaRue faces some perennially powerful opponents.  

The coach noted that District Three foe Louisville Central, having won five out of the last six Class 3A state titles, is once again loaded with talent.

“We took them to the wire last year, only losing 16-8‚” he said. “Other teams in our region that will be very good once again are Corbin and Bell County, having accounted for six state championships in their history.‚”

He also mentioned Wayne County as another contender.

“Wayne County is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons, and has been picked by many across the state to be the one to knock off Central in the region finals and potentially be the 2013 Class 3A state champion,” said Jaggers.

He expects play inside District Three also to be hotly contested.  

“Central will be great as always, but E-town and Henry County will both be much better,” he predicted.

“The Cats Pause comes out with a yearly high school preseason football book and they picked us to be last in our district, so needless to say, that has provided a good amount of motivation for our boys.”

The team’s goal, said the coach is to win the district title, something that has evaded the Hawks since 2002.  

“Everybody wants to win a regional and state championship and we are no different, but I also believe in setting realistic goals as well,” he said. “When it’s been 10-plus years since winning our last district championship, I want to start with that first and then we will aim for bigger and better goals as the season goes along.”

The Hawks’ staff includes Scott Kirkpatrick (running backs and offensive coordinator), David Dawson (defensive line and director of football operations), Adam Lindsey (linebackers/special teams coordinator and head strength and conditioning coach, Elijah Zwiep (tight ends/wide receivers, JV offensive coordinator, and head eighth grade coach), Jay Eastridge (offensive line), Chris Williams (defensive secondary), Randy Newberry (TE/WR) and Harry Ditto (RB/DBs).

Jaggers, who teaches special education at The Life Connection, is entering his ninth year of teaching and coaching.

He graduated from Danville High School in 2000 where he played on the offensive and defensive lines. In 1998, he was on the Class AA state runner-up team. In 1999, he was named the Kentucky High School Football Coaches’ Association’s Player of the Year.  

Also that year, he finished fourth in the Kentucky Mr. Football voting, and was named to both the Courier-Journal’s and Associated Press’ All-State first teams.
Upon high school graduation, he received a full scholarship to the University of Kentucky, playing under coaches Hal Mumme and Guy Morris, until 2002.

He transferred to Campbellsville University where he played center for the Tigers until his graduation in 2005. In 2004, he was named to the Mid South Conference’s Offense First Team, and that year his teammates elected him co-captain.

His wife Megan teaches at LeGrande Elementary School in Hart County. They have a 2-year-old daughter, Avery.