He’ll have to do it with just three returning starters, but Will Wolford is hoping his second year as St. Xavier High School’s football coach will go better than his first.
“The learning curve from Year One to Year Two as a coach or a player can be night and day, and it’s been that for me as well,” Wolford said. “With the number of kids involved here, it’s so much nicer to know more than just their names now. … It’s a whole lot more fun, and I’m certainly more comfortable.”
The Tigers battled several injuries last year and finished 7-5. St X played its best down the stretch, beating Manual and Cincinnati St. Xavier to close the regular season and Fern Creek in the first round of the Class 6-A playoffs before falling to Male 23-21 in the second round.
There will be several new faces in the lineup this season, as senior offensive linemen Nathan Scheler and Tyler Haycraft and senior defensive back Davey Sermersheim are the lone returning starters.
“Our expectations haven’t changed, but there’s no doubt we’re reloading a little bit,” Wolford said. “We might be ranked No. 4 in our district in the preseason, but we still expect to come out No. 1 at the end of it.”
Senior Noah Houk saw spot duty last season and will be the starting quarterback this year. Senior Taijon Smith will be the top running back after the graduations of Charles Walker, Austin Davis and Treyveon Percell.
“Taijon really has stepped up to be that No. 1 guy,” Wolford said. “He has very good top-end speed. He’s very much a slasher. He’s not a big guy and not going to run over a lot of people, which is good. Hopefully he’ll stay healthy.”
Wolford expects Sermersheim and senior linebacker Dylan McFarland to be leaders on defense.
“We’ll have to see how our secondary jells,” Wolford said. “That’s probably our biggest question mark as far as having the least amount of experience.”
MORE HS FOOTBALL: After 6-6 season, lots of changes at Trinity
A quick look at other top 6-A teams in Louisville:
• Manual: Along with St. X, Male and Trinity, the Crimsons will make Class 6-A, District Four the toughest in the state.
Manual returns one of the state’s most explosive running backs in senior Michael Nero, who rushed for 1,832 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. The 5-foot-11 209-pounder has a scholarship offer from Toledo.
Coach Oliver Lucas is excited about the front seven of his defense, led by end Ty’Ron Horton and linebackers Colin Boldin, Damien Smith and Christopher Dyer.
• Butler: The Bears have nine starters (four offense/five defense) back from last year’s 11-3 team that lost to Meade County in the state semifinals.
Senior quarterback Will Johnson returns after passing for 1,768 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s part of a senior class that will try to reach a regional final for the fourth straight year.
• Seneca: After a 2-9 record in 2013, the Redhawks should be improved under third-year coach LaVell Boyd.
Seneca has a pair of future college players in wide receiver Mikal Ballard (committed to Austin Peay) and defensive back Aldwin Jackson (Western Kentucky).
• Pleasure Ridge Park: Senior quarterback Dru Duckworth and senior running back Delvon Dunn will lead the Panthers’ offense. Senior Nolan Johnson anchors the offensive line.
“We have a good offensive line up front, and (Dunn) is an extremely strong runner,” coach Jason Hiser said. “(Duckworth) is a great leader and a very smart player.”
PRP has just five starters back (three offense/two defense) from last year’s 4-7 team.
• Ballard: The Bruins have switched offense from the spread to the wing-T to take better advantage of their athletes and take pressure off an undersized offensive line.
Senior receiver Moe Masden and junior running back David Daniels will be top playmakers. Senior defensive end/linebacker Sean Hammonds has committed to Ball State.
• Fern Creek: First-year coach Josh Abell will rely on senior running back/linebacker Tre Webb, senior free safety Kameron Smith and junior wide receiver/linebacker Lamarius Kinslow.
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.