Evan Ferguson has noticed a theme.
“I like that I keep saying ‘senior’ to you,” Boyd County’s second-year coach told a reporter as he ran down the Lions’ receiving personnel, “because it seems to be a good trend.”
Boyd County’s quarterback, top four returning rushers and dual anchors up front are all 12th-graders.
“I feel like the kids understand what I expect of them,” Ferguson said. “The senior leadership this year is gonna be great. We have a huge group of returning seniors, and they are good leaders in the locker room and on the field.”
The Lions felt growing pains last year as they installed Ferguson’s system and battled injuries. He thought Boyd County was making great offseason progress and had “made a lot of gains in the weight room” until COVID-19 shut down in-person group workouts for most of the spring, he said.
Nevertheless, Ferguson said the Lions (1-9 last year) were competitive more often than not. The next step is translating that to more victories.
“We’ve said ‘finish’ all year in the offseason,” Ferguson said. “There were seven games that we were in the game or leading in the fourth quarter. We lost six of those. You add six more wins to our season last year, and it changes our whole outlook.
“We’ve actually gained a lot of positivity from that. It’s very positive and encouraging that we’re so close. We just gotta seal the deal and learn how to win this year.”
Boyd County discovered its new quarterback in one of those near-misses. Logan Staten made his first career start at Harrison County — “when I finally got smart enough to put him out there,” Ferguson cracked — and ran for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The second of those TDs gave the Lions the lead with 3:31 remaining in a bid to end what is now a 15-game district losing streak.
The Thorobreds nipped Boyd County, 20-17, but the Lions were excited about what Staten provided. He didn’t play again the rest of the year, though, thanks to his appendix, Ferguson said.
Staten is back as a senior and ready to go. Sophomore Dakota Thompson, junior Josiah Thacker and sophomore Jacob Meade have also clamored for snaps under center, but Staten “has definitely got a head start on them,” Ferguson said.
Seniors Jacob Kelley (222 rushing yards, two touchdowns, one receiving TD last year), Joe Lusby (417 rushing yards, two scores, two receiving touchdowns) and Carter Stephens are back in the backfield.
“As the year went, they really kinda stepped into their own,” Ferguson said of the trio.
Senior Austin Gibbs, who averaged 12.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on the basketball floor for Boyd County last winter, is out to chase passes. Seniors Dylan Bond and Tyler Mayo are also competing for reps out wide.
Twelfth-graders Peyton Boblett and Nick Cornwell lead the Lions on both the offensive and defensive lines.
After that, “what I like even more is, we have about 15 guys that are all competing for all the spots,” Ferguson said in early August. “I couldn’t tell you a name right now, because there’s so many of them that are so close.”
Junior Josh Thornton, who had two takeaways last season, made an impression at defensive end despite battling injuries last season, Ferguson said.
Ferguson called linebacker “one of the most up-in-the-air spots this year we have.” Junior Jacob Barrett (17 solo tackles, 36 assisted, seven for loss) is a returning starter, while Tyler Baier and Teagan Thacker (18 tackles apiece) saw significant time there as freshmen last season.
Kelley, who is Boyd County’s leading returning tackler (33 solo tackles, 20 assisted, 12 for loss, two sacks) and turnover generator (two fumble recoveries, one interception), returns in the secondary, with Staten (22 solo tackles, 24 assisted, six for loss) and Stephens (18 solo stops, 22 assisted, eight for loss, two sacks).
The Lions’ kicking spots weren’t nailed down as of an eastern Kentucky media day in early August, Ferguson said. Kelley and sophomore Leelan Thacker are presumptive kick returners.
“Leelan Thacker’s a sophomore who’s got a lot of speed,” Ferguson said. “He’s not very big, but he can be our scat guy. Getting him some touches is gonna be exciting to do this year.”