Boyle County has boasted some punishing defenses during coach Larry French’s four years that have helped the Rebels win two state titles.
With a big question mark along the offensive line, a defense that is thin in the secondary but loaded in the front is going to be counted on even more this season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, but we’ve got a lot of young guys that have to step up,” said senior defensive lineman Trey Yeager, who had 79 tackles and two fumble recoveries last season. “The guys that have been there kind of have to coach up and pull in and make sure everybody’s doing their part. We all have to come together as a unit.”
Boyle returns six starters on defense, but senior defensive back Clint Hellyer (61 tackles) is out with a collarbone injury right now.
“I think our defense is going to be pretty good,”¿linebacker Austin Muntz, who had 90 tackles last season, said. “We’ve got a lot of backups that are playing well. And our offense, we have a ton of offensive linemen coming back, so I think our offense will be pretty strong.”
Senior linebacker Keegan Kendrick (84 tackles) agreed that the defense is going to have to be good again, but there’s no extra pressure to make up for any other shortcomings the Rebels may have.
“I think the defense is going to have to do our part like we always have. The offense is going to have to be equally as strong, and we’re going to have to pull together as a unit,” he said. “I expect us to be just as good as we’ve ever been. I expect us to come out and play every team as physically as we can.”
Linebacker Kyle Kephart (84 tackles) and lineman Blake Mason also return for the Rebels’ defense. French does worry about the lack of experience in the secondary and how his young players will respond with some of the good quarterback Boyle faces this year.
“They’re going to be forced into action and they’ve got to be ready to play,” he said. “You’ve got to be up the challenge and you’ve got to play them one game at a time. We’re trying to cover all of our techniques and cover the bases and hopefully everything will come together at the right time.”
Of course, French is counting on his 18 seniors, regardless of what side of the ball they’re on, to carry on the tradition of leading a championship-caliber squad.
“They’ve been through some battles and the big thing is they’ve got to step forward and be that leader. Because they’ve never been in the leadership role before, it’s a learning experience for them,” he said.
“The tools are there. The coaches just have to get it out of them. We’ve worked hard all summer and we’ve had a good winter program and hopefully it wil pay off for us. I think we need a little confidence early and I think things will get better for us as the season goes a long.”
The Boyle offense lost its top two rushers, but junior Seph Burke is expected to come in and improve on his 518-yard, four-touchdown season. Kephart and Zach McCullom will also get carries.
Quarterback Casey Whittle threw for 1,594 yards with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year, and French said he has looked good in the preseason.
“He’s got a year under his belt, and he’s throwing the ball extremely well right now. He’s one of those young men, you don’t have to worry about his work ethic, it’s going to be there,” French said. “I really think Casey is a quality person and he can lead us.”
Senior Lloyd Hall had 21 catches for 459 yards and five touchdowns, and Mason caught 19 balls for 224 yards at tight end to lead the receivers. Keegan Hinkle, William Harris, Josiah Robbins and Joseph Shewmaker will see time at receiver, while Mason, Muntz and Levi McKinney are back at tight end.
“We have some quality athletes over there that have good speed and good hands,” French said. “They’ve been catching the ball in 7-on-7 real well for us, and we’ve been pleased with them.”
The question mark is how improved the offense line is after faltering against some of the tougher teams on the schedule. French said they talked about that all offseason and the unit should be improved.
“I don’t think our kids like the way we ended our season,” he said. “We’re used to playing in December, and if they want to get back to playing in December, then we’ve got to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”
Not even making it to Thanksgiving last year did not sit well with the Rebels, who have won seven state titles since 1999. If that is to change, French said a lot had to happen in the offseason, and they’ll find out quickly if it has when the Rebels open at Highlands on Aug. 17.
“Our saying is, 'Do you like the way the season ended? Are you willing to do something about it?' Our commitment and effort has to be better and our technique has to be better if we want to get back to where we want to be,” French said. “We’d love to be able to play for a state championship, and the only way we’re going to get there is if everybody’s committed and everybody’s working as hard as they can work.”
Boyle County at a Glance
Coach: Larry French (fifth year, 52-5)
Class and district: AAAA-5
2011 results: 9-4, lost to Lexington Catholic in Class AAAA, Region 3 final
Aug. 17 at Highlands 7:30
Aug. 25 COLLINS 8:00
Aug. 31 DANVILLE 7:30
Sept. 7 JOHN HARDIN 7:30
Sept. 14 DIXIE HEIGHTS 7:30
Sept. 21 TAYLOR COUNTY 7:30
Sept. 28 at Lexington Catholic 7:30
Oct. 12 at Marion County 7:30
Oct. 19 MERCER COUNTY 7:30
Oct. 26 at Whitley County 7:30
Top Returning Players
Dakota Brock, Sr. OL-DL
Lloyd Hall, Sr. WR-DB
William Harris, Sr. K-WR
Clint Hellyer, Sr. DB
Keegan Kendrick, Sr., OL-LB
Kyle Kephart, Sr. RB-LB
Blake Mason, Sr. TE-DL
Austin Muntz, Sr. TE-LB
Tyler Preston, Sr. OL-DL
Casey Whittle, Sr. QB
Trey Yeager, Sr. OL-DL
Has changed:¿For the first time since coach Larry French has been at Boyle, the Rebels were not playing either in the state final or state semifinals last season, losing to Lexington Catholic in the regional final. And with Highlands and Catholic both standing in the Rebels’ way to another state title, Boyle may be the ones fighting to break through for the first time in a long time.
Needs to change: When Boyle’s offensive line was able to dominate last year, the Rebels were able to score. But they struggled in games against strong teams, and French knows the line play has to improve against the Rebels’ toughest opponents if they are thinking of another title run.
“That was one of the big things we felt like going into the year that our offensive line has really got to improve, and we’ve got several of those kids back,”¿French said. “We’re looking for big things out of the offensive line. They’ve really got to step up and dominate that front.”
Emerging player: Junior Seph Burke got limited opportunities to run last year, but still had 518 yards and four touchdowns. He should get plenty of chances to improve on those numbers as Boyle’s primary ball carrier.
“He sees the field good and he’s a durable runner,”¿French said. “He doesn’t have outstanding speed, but he’s got enough to get into the end zone.”
Underrated player: Keegan Kendrick played primarily on defense last year, but is going to be asked to go both ways this year, a role French said he knows he can count on his senior to do.
“He’s going to have to play guard for us. I think Keegan’s got the potential to play both sides of the ball for us and be a leader for us,”¿French said. “He made a lot of plays downhill (on defense). He wants to be on the field and he’s going to be a vital part of how successful we’re going to be.”
Outlook: Boyle will still be good enough to beat the teams it should beat. The defense will again be strong, and there are weapons on offense. But the keys are how the offensive line is going to stack up to the heavyweights on the Rebels’ schedule (Highlands, John Hardin, Lexington Catholic), and how quickly a new secondary meshes.
If those two question marks get taken care of, Boyle could be contending for another trip to Bowling Green.