LIBERTY — Alex Bolin knows what he has to do.
A year ago, Bolin was part of a large group of veterans at Casey County who knew the ropes and knew how to play the game. Now almost all of those veterans are gone, leaving Bolin as one of the few leaders for a far less experienced team this season.
Bolin said he knows it is now his turn to be the leader that many of those players were last year, and he said he’s up to the challenge.
“All of them left, and I’ve been with them for a while, so it’s time for me to step up and be the leader of the team, being a senior and a captain,” Bolin said.
The Rebels will be low on leaders in Sam Marple’s second season as coach, but he knows he has one he can count on in Bolin. He can also count on the senior running back-safety to again carry a large share of the load on offense after leading the area in rushing last season with 1,704 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“He’s a special football player. He’s a threat every time he touches the ball,” Marple said.
Bolin is bigger and stronger and more familiar with Marple’s offense, and he said he thinks he can have an even better year.
“I’ll be better at running the ball. I’ve put on a little weight and strength, and I’ll be faster,” he said. “I’ve worked in the weight room a lot harder than I have before.”
Marple said he has been impressed with Bolin’s work in the offseason, and he said he has seen evidence that Bolin can be a different kind of ball-carrier.
“He’s always been a good straight downhill runner, but he’s really worked the last year or so. Probably his biggest weakness has been his agility, but he’s made himself a lot better athlete over the last year and a half since we’ve come back around coaching,” Marple said.
As with most areas of the team, the line that Bolin runs behind will be green. Bolin thrived behind a strong, experienced group of blockers last year, but Marple said this year’s Rebels will rely more on athleticism than brute force.
“Last year we kind of felt our strength was up front, and this year we kind of feel our strength is more athletic,” the Casey coach said.
The one returning starter on Casey’s offensive line, Tyler Padgett, is also the one other player who can line up alongside Bolin as a leader.
“He shows up every day ready to work, he goes hard every play, he don’t miss,” Bolin said.
Bolin and Padgett are the only experienced players from the 2010 team that won eight games and got the program’s first postseason victory.
“Alex and Tyler are kind of the last of the Mohicans of that group. They’re two good leaders and hard workers, and the kids look up to them,” Marple said.
There are 10 seniors on this year’s team, but only three of those seniors and six players in all played in varsity games last year. Some players who played in middle school or early in high school have come back to football, and Marple welcomes them.
“There are a lot of new faces, but the good thing is having coaches in the (high school) building, we’ve been able to go out and get some of the athletes that’s played football before,” he said. “We’ve got a whole new football team, but it’s really not. It’s raw in the sense of learning what all we do as a football team, but it’s not like they haven’t ever played ball before. These are kids that came up through the youth league and middle school playing ball.”
Marple said even though his team is lacking in experience, he and the players who were on board for his rookie season as a coach last year will benefit from having been together for an entire season and offseason.
“Now we all know what our strengths and weaknesses are, and our kids have got a better understanding what to expect. Having the year under your belt and the experience and having everybody on the same page for a longer amount of time, it seems like that’s helped a lot,” he said. “It’s fun every day. Yeah, it’s challenging, but it’s the type of challenge we enjoy, and it’s fun.”
Bolin knows little is expected from the Rebels this season, but he relishes the chance to overachieve.
“We’re better than everybody gives us credit for,” he said.
Bolin will be doing his part, just as he has been throughout his career. He is a dedicated worker in the weight room, even if there isn’t a lifting session scheduled.
“I normally just go up by myself and do stuff. I ain’t got nothing else to do, so I figure I’ll work on some football,” he said.
He hopes to parlay another good season into the chance to play college football, but he said he knows he still has some work to do.
“I’ve got to play every game as hard as I can go, and I’ve got to keep my grades up,” he said.
Meanwhile, he wants to make the most of one last season at Casey.
“I’d like for us to have a good winning season and everybody give everything they got,” he said.
Casey County at a glance
Coach: Sam Marple (second year, 4-7)
Class and district: AAA-4
2011 results: 4-7, lost to Central in first round of Class AAA playoffs
Aug. 17 at Lincoln County 6:00
Aug. 25 at Taylor County 7:30
Sept. 1 at Sheldon Clark 7:30
Sept. 7 CLINTON COUNTY 8:00
Sept. 14 at Fairview 7:30
Sept. 21 McCREARY CENTRAL 7:30
Sept. 28 BELL COUNTY 8:00
Oct. 5 at Wayne County 7:30
Oct. 12 METCALFE COUNTY 8:00
Oct. 19 CORBIN 7:30
Top Returning Players
Alex Bolin, Sr., RB-S
Rance Carman, Jr., RB-C
Hunter Cleary, Sr., WR-CB
Jacob Denson, So. OL-DL
Kyle Eads, So., RB-S
Tyler Padgett, Sr., OT-DT
Has changed: Almost all of the experienced players Marple inherited in his first season at Casey are gone now, leaving only six players returning who played on the varsity level last year. There is, however, a team that will try to make up for what it lacks in football skills with a higher number of good athletes.
“We’re not as good a football team with kids that just know how to be good football players and make plays, but we’re got six or seven kids that have come out that can run and catch and are tall and athletic. They pass the eye test,” Marple said. “So we’re probably more athletic than we’ve been in a long time at Casey County.”
Needs to change: Casey still needs more bodies, and Marple knows that better than anyone. Last year’s 11-man senior class represented about half of the roster at season’s end, and this year the Rebels opened with about 25 or 26 players. Marple has attracted some who haven’t played in a while, but the retention rate of eighth-grade players who stick with football as freshmen is low.
Emerging player: Junior quarterback Wyatt Bishop, who played sparingly behind Will Hatter last year, is a better passer than his predecessor, and he and a group of five or six capable receivers could make Casey more of a two-dimensional threat on offense.
“Last year we weren’t really able to throw the football, and this year we’ve got a kid that can throw the ball,” Marple said. “The game plan going in is we’re going throw the football a lot more, we’re using the other athletes around (Bolin) and hopefully that’ll open up Alex being able to run the ball so that will work hand in hand,” Marple said.
Underrated player: Padgett is the one recognizable face on an offensive line where he’ll start alongside three sophomores and a freshman. He is a force at 6-2 and 280 pounds, meaning he’ll be the one Bolin and other ball-carriers will want to run behind most often, and Marple said he’s also a leader and a tireless worker, meaning he can set an example for the next generation of Rebels.
“He’s as good an offensive lineman as there is around here,” Marple said.
Outlook: On the surface, this looks like a lean year for Casey, which will have less experience and depth than virtually all of its opponents. There will probably be a few long Friday nights, but a few good ones as well for a team that figures to have a high learning curve if it can stay healthy.
But no matter what happens in the other nine weeks, the entire season quite likely comes down to the district opener against McCreary Central, the game that will probably decide which of those two teams go to the playoffs, and that’s certainly a game the Rebels can win.