Tigers have 12 starters back from 7-5 squad
Entering his fourth season as the football coach at St. Xavier High School, Will Wolford is as comfortable and as sure of the program as he’s ever been.
No more learning everyone’s name. No more introducing a new system. And no more having to replace 20 or more starters going into a new season.
For the first time in Wolford’s tenure the Tigers will enter a season with more returning starters (12) than starters lost (10). What that means is continuity and security and a sense of excitement as St. X approaches its season opener Aug. 26 at Lexington Catholic.
“We have a few more answers this year,” Wolford said. “Last year we were cramming for the exam a little bit to get everything in, and it kind of caught up to us.”
The Tigers are ranked No. 3 in Class 6-A in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches, but an argument can be made that St. X has fewer question marks entering the season than No. 1 Trinity (four returning starters) or No. 2 Male (two returning starters).
MORE COVERAGE | Class 6-A preview, preseason poll
Wolford’s teams are a combined 1-8 against Trinity and Male during his three seasons, but the coach is confident this can be his best chance to lead the Tigers to their first state title since 2009.
“On paper that’s certainly the case,” Wolford said. “But that’s just on paper. I do feel like we have a very talented ball club and that they’re working very hard. Usually when that’s the case good things happen. But I don’t think we’re good enough that we can overlook anybody.”
Five starters return on offense, led by senior quarterback Desmond Ridder. The 6-foot-4 190-pounder completed 55.3 percent of his passes last year for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also led the Tigers in rushing with 668 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and scoring 12 TDs.
Ridder, who committed to the University of Cincinnati during the summer, said he’s more comfortable entering his second season with offensive coordinator Dave Nurnberg.
“A lot of the guys are more knowledgeable with the offense and the defense,” Ridder said. “It’s just coming to us quicker. That’s what is helping us go faster on the field.”
Ridder and senior defensive back Ryan Neutz will miss the Tigers’ first two games for what Wolford said was a violation of team rules. Junior Jack Albers is expected to start at quarterback in the opener against Lexington Catholic and at Bowling Green on Sept. 2.
Ridder and Neutz will have plenty of weapons surrounding them, led by senior running back Sam Taylor (121 carries, 565 yards four TDs in 2015). Wolford said Taylor has added 15 pounds during the off-season.
Senior fullback Mack Blincoe (14 catches, 82 yards, one TD), senior wide receiver Blake Roshkowski (19 catches, 214 yards, one TD) and senior lineman Joe Lyons are the other returning starters on offense. The Tigers are breaking in four new starters on the offensive line, “but I think that will be one of our best positions,” Wolford said. “We’ve gotten better up front.”
Senior linemen Kyle Robinson (41 tackles) and Max Willinger (30 tackles) and senior linebacker Jack Kronk (35 tackles) return in the front seven, which will be the strength of the defense, Wolford said. Senior cornerback Jake Taylor (29 tackles) is the only starter back in a secondary that “is a question mark at this point,” Wolford said.
MORE COVERAGE | Capsule preview and St. X schedule
St. X also will have one of the state’s best kicking games behind kicker Sam McDonogh and punter Zac Collins.
“They’re once-every-10-year kind of players,” Wolford said. “We are truly blessed with our kicking game.”
The schedule is tough, but the talent is there for St. X to improve on last year’s 7-5 record. The real measure will be how far the Tigers can advance in the playoffs, and Wolford is confident his team’s experience will be an asset come November.
“It makes teaching easier,” he said. “You can teach and draw it up, but when you can also point to a kid who’s doing it correctly because he’s been in the system for a while, that’s a better teacher than anything we can say or show them.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.