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Berea aims for second straight winning season behind talented backfield, big offensive line

(KyForward is previewing the upcoming football season for many high school programs in Central Kentucky. The season is scheduled to begin Sept. 11.)

By Chad Hensley
Special to KyForward

After recording the program’s first winning season since 2009, the Berea Community High School football team will look to improve on a 7-4 record — but with a small roster of about 25 players.

Berea, which competes in Class 1A District 3 with Frankfort, Eminence and Kentucky Country Day, rode a 43-game losing streak into the start of the 2019 season, but a 53-18 victory over Jackson County ended that skid. It also started another streak.

The Pirates bolted out to a 6-0 start thanks in large part to the play of Jaylen Whitaker, Jarred Whitaker, Cody Moore and Timmy Thompson on the offensive side of the ball. Both Whitakers, Moore and Thompson are gone from the program as first-year head coach Tony DeGregorio will look to a group of juniors and seniors to step up on the small roster.

Tony DeGregorio begins his first season as head coach at Berea. The Pirates finished 7-4 last year.

DeGregorio was previously an assistant coach for five seasons at Berea. He received the call to lead the program after Aaron Stepp resigned due to health reasons in March. DeGregorio, a native of Pennsylvania, played college football at Eastern Kentucky University from 1994-98 and has called Madison County his home ever since.

“We have some athletes, but it depends if they show up every Friday night,” DeGregorio said, noting several of his players are receiving interest from college programs. “I’ve got a few kids that have received interest from some schools, Tanner Hayden, Jaiden Cunningham and Jayson Coburn. I anticipate that we will have a few more by the end of the season.”

Coburn, a 6-foot-2, 160-pound junior, will take over the quarterback duties from Jaylen Whitaker. While the team graduated many skill players, DeGregorio will look for his big men on the line to help lead the offense.

Hayden is a 6-foot, 230-pound senior offensive lineman and will be joined on the line by Rey Alejandro, who is also a senior and stands 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 270 pounds. Connor Gilbert will join Hayden and Alejandro on the offensive line to add much-needed experience.

Cunningham, a junior running back, has seen varsity playing time since his freshman season and will be a primary factor on offense. He averaged more than 100 yards rushing during the 6-0 start, including 155 yards in the win over Jackson County.

Jaiden Cunningham rushed for 198 yards and scored three touchdowns in Berea’s 37-21 win over Sayre last season.

During Berea’s 37-21 win over Sayre, Cunningham gained 198 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns.

The defensive unit will have Hayden and Cunningham joined by Clayton Martinez, Joe Collins and Logan Abney, all of whom are juniors. DeGregorio will also look for Caleb Moore and Yamil Cruz to see significant action on both sides of the ball.

“We have some young talent (Moore and Cruz) that I’m excited to see what they can do in open field and are coachable kids,” said DeGregorio.

Prior to ending the 43-game losing streak a year ago, Berea’s last win had occurred on Oct. 10, 2014, on the road at Lynn Camp. Berea will face a nine-game schedule this season that includes all but two Class 1A-size schools.

“Anytime a 1A school plays a bigger school in Jackson County (3A) and Clinton County (2A), it’s a tough game,” DeGregorio said. “Our current district is very athletic with KCD, Frankfort and Eminence.”

With the recent restrictions set in place by the KHSAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are not allowed to play out-of-state programs that are not in a county that borders Kentucky.

Thankfully for Berea, it was able to keep Jellico High School, which would be in Class 1A if it were in Kentucky. Jellico is located just minutes across the border into Tennessee from Williamsburg.

Regardless of the scheduling as well as the health and wellness restrictions that the KHSAA has put in place coupled with the cancellation of many recent college football conference seasons in 2020, the Pirates are still eager to put on their equipment and take the field at Duerson Stadium.

“The players are very optimistic that we will play,” said DeGregorio. “We know that the KHSAA has the players best interests in mind.”

Even with the 2020 campaign in doubt, it is the hard work and resilience that DeGregorio, his coaching staff and players have put into the season that will set them up for big things to come for the small school.

Sept. 11 – CLINTON COUNTY, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 – @ Sayre, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 25 – HARLAN, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 2 – @ Caverna, TBA
Oct. 9 – @ Kentucky Country Day, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 – EMINENCE*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 – @ Frankfort*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 30 – @ Jellico (Tenn.), 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 6 – JACKSON COUNTY, 7:30 p.m.
* = District Game




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