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Motivated, talented and experienced, Lexington Christian focuses on Class 2A state championship

(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

Somerset captured the Class 2A state championship last season, but the Briar Jumpers nearly didn’t make it out of the second round of the playoffs. Just ask the players and coaches at Lexington Christian Academy.

Lexington Christian remembers the final two minutes of its 28-26 loss to Somerset in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs. It’s a bitter memory, but the Eagles are using it as motivation for the 2020 campaign.

With 1:31 remaining in that second-round game against Somerset, LCA’s Jeffrey Selby brought the Eagles to within 28-26 with a touchdown. On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Xavier Brown took the handoff but was tackled just short of the goal line by Somerset’s Jerrod Smith. The Briar Jumpers held on for a 28-26 win, ending LCA’s season.

Lexington Christian’s Xavier Brown rushed for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. He also hauled in 33 receptions for 440 yards and five touchdowns. (LCA photo)

The Eagles (10-2 record last year) lose only six seniors from a team that was the top-ranked squad in Class 2A for most of 2019. LCA welcomes back 18 starters, with eight on offense and 10 on defense.

Brown, a junior running back who recently picked up an offer from the University of Maryland, will try to improve on his impressive numbers. He collected 745 yards on the ground with 10 touchdowns on 109 carries in 2019. Brown also hauled in five touchdown receptions on 33 catches for 440 yards.

“Xavier plays on both sides of the ball and is simply a freak athlete,” said LCA head coach Doug Charles.

The Eagles, though, must replace quarterback Jayden Barnhardt and wide receiver DeAirious Smith. Barnhardt, who signed with Georgetown College, was fourth in Class 2A with 2,843 yards passing on 181 completions with 33 touchdowns. Smith led Class 2A with 1,671 yards on 82 receptions and 20 touchdowns.

“Our big concern is that we lost our quarterback to graduation,” said Charles. “Jayden passed for over 3,000 yards and ran for 574 yards and another 10 touchdowns. We have three juniors competing for that position and they all bring diverse talents. We only lost six seniors from last year’s team, so we have a lot of returning talent.”

Stepping up to replace Barnhardt is Drew Nieves, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior who has been clocked at a sub-4.6 second 40-yard dash time. Also look for Mason Moore and Elijah Hammond to challenge Nieves for playing time at the position.

“Situational, we will see Mason taking snaps as well as he’s plenty capable of running the team, but I don’t like my starting quarterback to play a ton of defense,” said Charles. “Elijah is another rising junior that will also see some action at quarterback.”

Doug Charles

One factor that could assist Nieves’ transition as the starting signal caller will be the addition of Morgan Newton to the staff as quarterbacks coach. Newton brings playing experience after starting at quarterback for the University of Kentucky at various points throughout his career. He was also named Indiana’s Mr. Football in 2008.

Selby, Hammond and Will Vernon return for the Eagles on offense. Selby will be the No. 2 running back in LCA’s offense after rushing for 291 yards and three touchdowns last year.

Vernon finished with 42 receptions for 512 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He has also picked up offers from NCAA Division II and NAIA schools. Charles expects more and bigger offers to come for Vernon, a 185-pound receiver who runs a sub-4.6 40-yard dash.

Hammond will also look to improve on his lone touchdown reception, but he did have 22 catches for 210 yards in 2019.

The key to any offense’s success — no matter who starts at quarterback — will always be the line. LCA returns four of five starters up front, including Anthony Johns, Neal Dickey, Grant Vaught and Matthew Potter.

“Johns has increased his weight from 250 pounds to 285 pounds without compromising his speed,” said Charles. “He has the ability to dominate both sides of the ball.”

Mattie Lebryk is back for another go-round commanding the defense from his linebacker position. Lebryk was seventh in Class 2A in tackles with 126, including 7.5 for loss as well as 4.5 sacks.

Dickey and Selby also return on defense to try and increase on their outstanding numbers from 2019. Dickey, a senior defensive lineman, was constantly in the opponent’s backfield wreaking havoc to the tune of 16.5 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks. Dickey amassed 70 total tackles on the season. Selby notched 78 tackles with 6.5 for negative yardage and one interception.

LCA linebacker Mattie Lebryk (41) was seventh in Class 2A with 126 tackles last season.

LCA’s roster is peppered with numerous players ready to step up on defense, including Hammond (LB), Vernon (CB), Moore (SS) and Brown (FS) as well as Gabe Byrne (DL), Tyler Morris (LB), and Frankie Knight (CB).

“Really based on our returning starters, other quality depth, preseason polls, etc., we expect to be one of the top two or three contenders to win the state championship,” said Charles. “No real reason to run from it based on all the aforementioned. If we can get our QB situation worked out and avoid major injuries, we should be right there in the mix.

“We return 18 starters from a very good team last season, so we have a lot of experienced players who performed well on big stages last year. We returned 100 percent of our coaching staff, so our schemes and terminology will be the same. We have a ton of quality depth, and our special teams should be great as we have athletes and return one of the best kickers in the state.”

That kicker is junior Andrew Dobbs, who plays soccer as well as football. Dobbs was 47-for-48 kicking extra points in football, and he scored nine goals for the LCA soccer team.

In addition to Washington County and the tradition-rich programs of Somerset and Danville in Class 2A District 4, LCA will also take on Madison Southern (5A), Lexington Catholic (4A), Williamsburg (1A), Paul Laurence Dunbar (6A), Paintsville (1A) and Henry Clay (6A).

Six of the Eagles’ first seven games will be on the road and include district matchups at Somerset (Oct. 16) and Danville (Oct. 23). Paintsville was the Class 1A runner-up in 2019.

Lexington Christian is a strong preseason favorite to capture the Class 2A state championship this fall. (LCA photo)

Obviously not one to back down from the challenge, Charles has quickly cemented his legacy on the program at the varsity level and even down through the youth program.

“I have been at LCA for 10 years, but only joined the varsity staff two years ago,” said the 40-year coaching veteran. “I became a varsity head coach at LCA last season and finished the year with a record of 10-2 having only lost to two eventual state champions (Belfry from 3A and Somerset).”

In his short tenure with the varsity program, Charles has deemed himself a “football CEO” of sorts.

“Our kids know when to get serious, but we certainly practice and play with a very loose swagger,” he said. “I have a great group of assistant coaches who I allow to coach without too much interference. I’ll make the tough calls and have input on personnel, etc., but I give my staff a lot of latitude.

“We spend an incredible amount of time preparing our kids to be successful, each and every week. Our practices are very structured but rarely go beyond two hours. The brotherhood among our players and staff is real and as a result, we have 58 players on our varsity roster, which is an all-time high for LCA. An interesting fact is that we have 27 percent of every boy in our school on the team. I’m also responsible for all football activities at our school from second grade through varsity.”

LCA is a strong preseason favorite to win the Class 2A state championship, and the biggest roadblock to that title will likely be Somerset. A state championship in 2020 would certainly erase the bitter memory of last year’s heartbreaking playoff loss to the Briar Jumpers.

Sept. 11 – @ Madison Southern, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 – @ Lexington Catholic, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 25 – @ Williamsburg, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 – @ Paul Laurence Dunbar, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9 – WASHINGTON COUNTY, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 – @ Somerset, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 – @ Danville, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 30 – PAINTSVILLE, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 6 – HENRY CLAY, 7:30 p.m.
* = District Game



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