A single preseason switch set the wheels in motion, initiating the creation of a colossal defensive line for a Class A program.
With each member standing at least 6-foot-1 and weighing at minimum 240 pounds — even when adding in its top reserve — Raceland’s front four are still truckin’.
And they’re on the brink of breaking down a barrier that has stood the test of time.
Supplying deceptive speed and untamed tenacity on the edges are senior defensive ends Alec Risner (6-1, 283) and Mac Boggs (6-4, 248).
Packing a punch in the middle are senior Austin Manis (6-2, 240) and freshman Isaac Wallace (6-1, 297).
If a breather is needed, Nevan Johnson (6-4, 290) is more than happy to oblige.
“You can’t talk about one without talking about all four because they all four bring something different to the table,” said Raceland coach T.J. Maynard. “All four feed off of each other. They make us go on defense.
“Then you have the luxury of bringing Nevan in,” he added. “He makes plays, keeps us fresh.”
Maynard moved Boggs,a three-year starter at linebacker, to defensive end prior to kicking off this fall.
With that, other pieces began to click into place.
“I think it all started right there with that move to solidify that position,” Maynard said.
Seth Holbrook and Timmy McComas have excelled at linebacker while Boggs’s new business is blasting past offensive linemen.
As well as the transition has panned out, Boggs admits he’s probably not the most destructive defender.
That title goes to Risner.
“He’s just always loved to hit people,” Boggs said.
Shrugging his shoulders, Risner agreed. “I don’t know why, I just do.”
Added Manis: “He runs to the ball and he’ll kick you in the face, pretty much.”
Risner leads the team in tackles — he had 108 for the regular season. He tallied a sack and another tackle for loss during Friday’s 42-12 defeat of Paintsville.
Maynard said it’s simple to jumpstart Risner’s motor.
“Sometimes I’ll just call him a cream puff, and he gets mad and goes and kills the scout team,” Maynard said with a chuckle. “He takes a lot of pride in what he does. He’s got a better work ethic, and he’s paying more attention to detail now than ever before.”
Another big body wreaking havoc during preseason practice was Wallace. He had no visions of starting as a freshman, but he left Maynard no choice.
Wallace was a starter by Week 3.
“He has just been a blessing,” Maynard said. “He’s a 300-pound kid who plays really well with his hands, gets off blocks really well for a ninth-grader.”
Wallace said being the young pup sandwiched between a stable of seniors hasn’t been too painful.
“Nah, there’s stuff a freshman has to do, like carry the water, but they’re pretty easygoing,” said Wallace with a smile.
Wallace missed games against Coal Grove and Lawrence County with a high ankle sprain. His absence was felt, as the Rams allowed season-highs of 33 and 38 points, respectively.
Raceland is 6-0 since the 38-35 loss to Lawrence County which Boggs called “a wake-up call.”
The group pointed to two main factors, in no particular order, accounting for the team’s impressive run that has followed: 1) a re-ignited fire (per Boggs); and 2) playing for Zack Litteral.
Litteral suffered a broken leg during Raceland’s 51-8 throttling of Nicholas County on Oct. 11. Since then, the team has worn his number (12) on their helmets and rallied around the senior.
“We’ve thrived off him,” Manis said. “He’s inspired us a lot. That’s why I think we’ve played better.”
Raceland (10-2) has given up just 58 points over the last six games, including a 36-14 rout of rival Fairview.
The offensive line has been just as remarkable throughout the current streak — Raceland has recorded 41 points and 411 offensive yards per game. Johnson, Manis, Boggs, Risner and Lucas Bradley comprise the front five.
“The difference has definitely been the offensive and defensive line this year,” Johnson said. “The running backs follow the blocks and we’re able to sustain those blocks a lot more than we did before.
“The key is experience,” he continued. “Most of us have played together for 10-plus years.”
Next, they will try to help lead Raceland to something it has never done in its 88 years of football: Win a regional championship.
The Rams host Pikeville (11-1) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.