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Youthful North Laurel attempts to retain county bragging rights, claw way into district contention


(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

Though just nine starters return from last season’s 5-6 team, North Laurel is setting its sights on clawing back into contention for a Class 5A District 8 crown this fall.

Chris Larkey is back for his 12th season at the helm of the Jaguars. Larkey gained valuable knowledge of what it took to be an effective head coach from his father, Tom Larkey, who is among the state’s all-time leaders in career wins (303) after a long career with stints at Rockcastle County, Harlan County and Perry County Central.

“When I got into coaching is when I learned how to coach,” Chris Larkey said, thinking back to his 18 years as an assistant to his dad at Rockcastle County. “Dad was fair to everyone, treated everyone with respect and I learned every kid has a different set of rules because not every kid is the same. I learned how to treat players and most of all learned to be a manager. If you ever plan to coach, you better know how to be a manager, too.”

The Larkeys — Dackery (left), Tom (center) and Chris (right) — have established a notable family football coaching legacy. (Photo by Kim Hampton)

Chris’s brother Dackery is an assistant coach for North Laurel when he isn’t manning the roads as a Kentucky State Policeman. A fourth Larkey is also on the team in the form of Chris’s son, Christian.

“You know as a player, I really never paid a lot of attention to the details of how dad coached or interacted with the players,” said Chris Larkey. “I just know he had fun coaching and that was it. He was tough on guys who missed practice but one thing that stuck out in my mind was he never took the game home with him, we didn’t talk football on the way home and he made it fun for me.

“He wasn’t really critical of me or the players. I also understood that I had to prove myself to the players, fans and parents so they could not say I just played because my dad was the coach.”

That determination to prove all the naysayers wrong has helped Chris Larkey to a career record of 69-53 with the Jaguars, including an 11-2 record against crosstown rival South Laurel.

“The North and South rivalry is something that an average fan would never understand,” Larkey said of the schools that are just five miles apart. “There is so much pressure to perform in that game that sometimes it goes beyond what can be expected by kids. It is a game that neither team wants to lose and have bragging rights all year. The rivalry is an awesome thing to have and, in Laurel County, it is in every sport.”

If the Jaguars are to extend their winning ways against the Cardinals as well as contend for a district championship, they will have to do so with just five starters back on offense and four on defense.

North Laurel’s Grant Woods rushed for 544 yards and two touchdowns last season. (Photo by Kim Hampton)

Gone are Dalton Sizemore at quarterback, and Trevyn Morgan at wide receiver. Sizemore threw for more than 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He also accounted for a team-leading 12 rushing touchdowns.

Morgan hauled in 16 receptions for 251 yards and two touchdowns.

North Laurel welcomes back two of the top three rushers in seniors Konner Robinson and Grant Woods. Robinson gained a team-best 646 rushing yards on 109 carries and scored eight touchdowns. Woods added 544 yards and two touchdowns.

Also returning for North Laurel is Brodey Brinks, the team’s top receiver last season, and Eli Sizemore. Brinks led all receivers in yards (350) and touchdowns (three) while hauling in 21 receptions last fall. Sizemore added 24 receptions for 328 yards and two touchdowns a year ago.

The offensive line will return senior Brandon Fiechter at one tackle and 6-foot-2, 285-pound junior Theo Simpson at the other tackle.

“I think based on how young and inexperienced we are that the loss of practice will hurt us,” Larkey said of the lack of time together due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We will still be in great shape since we have been doing a lot of conditioning.”

North Laurel’s Konner Robinson rushed for a team-leading 646 yards and scored eight touchdowns. (Photo by Kim Hampton)

Just like the offense is inexperienced at key positions on the offensive line, so is the defensive line. The Jaguars four returning starters are all juniors and were either linebackers or defensive backs.

Jayce Hacker returns to guide the defense from his linebacker position after having recorded a team-leading 78 tackles last season. The defense did graduate its next four top tackle-producing defenders, but also returning in addition to Hacker will be Ethan Eversole (LB), Gavin Hurst (DB) and Joey Chestnut (DB).

Larkey thinks that Eversole, who had 40 tackles and one fumble recovery as a sophomore, will be primed to have a breakout season. Hurst reeled in three interceptions and 29 tackles, while Chestnut collected 27 tackles and one interception.

“As you can see, we don’t have a lot of experience returning, but those guys are battle tough and know how to be leaders,” said Larkey of his nine returning starters.

The biggest bright spot for the future of North Laurel football is in the current freshman class. The 2019 North Laurel Middle School 8th grade football team steamrolled its competition on their way to an undefeated (15-0) season and a Kentucky Middle School Football Association Division I state championship with a comfortable 36-0 win over Elkhorn Middle School out of Frankfort.

“The freshman class has so much potential to be as good a team that will ever walk through the halls of North Laurel,” said Larkey. “They have size, speed, numbers and they know how to win. If these kids can stick together all four years, then they will do something very special.”

The freshman class comprises nearly half of the team’s 70-man roster. Among the 34 freshman that will be called upon to make an impact in their debut season will be Jack Chappell (WR/DB), Austin Johnson (RB/LB) and Tucker Warren (QB/DB).

Larkey also expects sophomore Keaton Bowling to have an impact as a running back and defensive back combo.

The Jaguars open the 2020 campaign on the road at Lincoln County at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 11. The Patriots’ home facility is dubbed Death Valley and will be a good test for the young Jaguars to start the season.

The district portion of the schedule will begin on Sept. 25 at South Laurel.

North Laurel is setting its sights on clawing back into contention for a Class 5A District 8 crown. (Photo by Kim Hampton)

“Our district consists of Pulaski County, Southwestern, Whitley County and South Laurel,” said Larkey. “All four schools have great athletes and coaches. I think both Pulaski schools have great feeder systems and have a lot of athletes every year, and that gives us a lot of problems. It is hard to match up with athletes everywhere.”

Southwestern, which was the four-seed heading into the 2019 playoffs, pulled off two upsets on the way to a postseason district championship. Southwestern then bowed out to eventual state runner-up Frederick Douglass in the regional finals.

The toughest task that the Jaguars will face is the final game of the regular season, when they travel to Louisville for a game at Trinity. The Shamrocks have won 26 state titles, including 14 since 2001.

“You know high school is all about memories and experiences and our players are going to get one at Trinity,” said Larkey of a program that has claimed all but four Class 6A titles since the KHSAA expanded to a six-class system in 2007. “This will be a game that win or lose, our kids will be able to tell their kids about. Trinity is the premier program in the state, and I wanted our kids to see what level they need to be. Trinity is a nationally ranked team every year.

“I think it is time our players and fans see what is expected. Our kids are excited as are a lot of fans. It will be a great trip.”

Chris Larkey

No matter the outcome of the game at Trinity, the Jaguars would definitely be primed to begin a run at the district in the postseason the following week should they qualify.

“Our goal every year is to win the district and see how far we can go,” said Larkey. “We pride ourselves in never giving up and being the most prepared team. I want our kids to learn that football makes them tougher in life and prepares them for what is ahead. We want to win as many games as possible and still have fun.”

No matter what the outcome of the 2020 season will end up being, Larkey will instill in his players a bond that will last a lifetime.

When you have a coach that is self-proclaimed “old school and tough, but cares tremendously for the players,” then you have a coach that not only gains respect but also gives the respect back to his current and former players.

“I still know every player that played for me and I hug those guys every time I get a chance,” Larkey said. “To make it through what I put them through I have a lot of respect for them.”

It is a coaching philosophy like Larkey’s that will get the most out of every player on the roster. It will also help grow the young kittens in the feeder system into ferocious Jaguars by the time they graduate.

2020 NORTH LAUREL SCHEDULE
Sept. 11 – @ Lincoln County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 – PERRY COUNTY CENTRAL, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 25 – @ South Laurel*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 2 – SOUTHWESTERN*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9 – @ Pulaski County*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 – WHITLEY COUNTY*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 – WALTON-VERONA, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 30 – @ Wayne County, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 6 – @ Lou. Trinity, 7:30 p.m.
* = District Game

North Laurel opens the season on the road at Lincoln County on Sept. 11. (Photo by Kim Hampton)

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2 Comments

  1. DeAnndra Storm says:

    I’m pretty sure you have printed misinformation. Jacob Bowman is not gone. He is returning, as he is only a junior this year.

    • jacobclabes says:

      DeAnndra – Thanks for bringing the error to our attention. We have corrected our report and apologize for the error. Our reporter was provided some incorrect information as to the player’s grade level prior to publication.

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