Johnson leads young WCHS football team into new season
This Friday, Aug. 12, at 7 p.m. Dennis Johnson begins his second season as head coach of the Woodford County High School football team in a preseason home game against Lincoln County at Community Stadium. Last year, Johnson’s Yellow Jackets started off the season pretty strong. They opened the season 3-2, with, arguably, their two best performances coming in their fourth and fifth games – a 55-18 road win over Marion County and a 42-12 road win over Nelson County. After that, injuries hurt the team and they lost their final six games to finish the regular season with a 3-8 record. However, for the first time since 2010, the Jackets did qualify for the Class 5A Russell Athletic/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl and traveled to northern Kentucky, where they faced Highlands. There, they lost 50-15 to end their season. (Highlands went on to reach the semifinals, where they lost to Pulaski County, 41-31. Coincidently, Highlands was the team Woodford lost to in the postseason in 2010.) This year, Woodford will look completely different than the team fielded last year. Gone are the monster offensive and defensive linemen that were the strength of last year’s squad. In their place will be smaller, very quick lineman who will try and make their mark by striking their opponents fast and using good fundamentals to get things done. “You’ll see we’ll be 100 percent smaller than we were last year,” said Johnson. “But, we’ve got to be quick and we’ve got to use great fundamentals. We’ve got to be a team that uses tremendous fundamentals this year. So, if we do that, put a body on a body, play assignment football, I think we have a chance to have some success.” Also gone is an upperclassman at quarterback. Last year, senior Trey Thurman took the snaps. He succeeded senior George Bowen, who succeeded senior Matt Couch, who succeeded Ryan Graham. This year, a sophomore, Ryan Duke, will take the reins of the Yellow Jackets’ offense and look to bring success to the team, just as he did when he played in Woodford County Middle School and led them to the conference title. “Ryan Duke is probably going to be our starting quarterback,” said Johnson. “(Senior) Malik Richards, who’s probably going to start at receiver, will (also) get some reps. We’ve got (sophomore) Quinton Turner, a new kid in. He’s been hurt for the last two weeks with an elbow, so hopefully we can get him back so he can get some reps.” Still, as Johnson notes, it is all going to be a work in progress this season as his young players learn the system and learns what it takes to be a winner. “We’re young this year,” said Johnson. “A lot of new faces. The kids have been working extremely hard. We’re in year two and trying to revive the program, revamp it. So, we’re just excited to get going. But, the kids have worked hard. I’ve had a good offseason weight lifting program. So, we’re going to look forward to a good season.” With Duke at the helm, Johnson expects that the offense will be an even split between passing and running this year. “I would say probably 50-50,” said Johnson about the percentage of passing and running plays this year. “We’re definitely going to have to throw the ball more this year. We’re not just going to be able run it down people’s throat. We’re going to have to throw the ball more. I would say last year we were probably 80 percent run, 20 pass. So, I’m going to say that it will balance out to 50-50 this year.” As to the players Duke will be throwing, seniors Dwayne “D” Depp, Domynik Johnson, Graham Kain and Richards will be getting some of those passes. In addition, sophomore Lee Kain will also see some time at wide receiver. “We’ve got a bunch of good, capable receivers this year,” said Johnson. At running back, seniors Ben Bruckner, Depp, Johnson, and junior Jaylan Washington will take the handoffs most of the time. “Those guys have been taking the majority of the reps and doing a good job,” said Johnson. “Early on they’ve tried to bounce, but now they’re running down hill. We’ve got to hit the point of attack quick when we’re running the ball.” As for the offensive line and defensive lines, as previously mentioned, they will be smaller than the group from the last couple years, and will need to rely on their quickness to get things done. A number of players are still competing for positions on the lines. “We’ve got to use speed, definitely,” said Johnson. “Defensive line, we’ve got to move those guys a lot. We’ll probably blitz a lot. Offense, we’ve got to play the leverage game. We’ve got to be able to low man win, put our heads on balls; we have to have that every time. We’re not going to be able to stand up and overpower people. So, we’ve got to make sure we stay down this year.” As for the kicking game, Johnson said that is the one area he is still working on. To start, handling punting duties will be seniors Jacob Jenkins and Dalton Smither, while sophomore Brennan Clark might begin the season handling kickoffs. As for extra points, Johnson is looking at Bruckner, Richards and sophomore Juan Chavez for the position. “That’s (extra point kickers) something we’ve been working on a lot. We’re just trying to find a guy,” said Johnson. Then, adding with a grin, he said. “Hopefully, we can find one of those soccer kids to come out.” One player who should be fun to watch is Smither, as he will be playing multiple positions and you could see him all over the field. “He’s going to be a utility guy,” said Johnson. “He might snap for us some. Play some inside. D-Line. Outside D-line. Do some punting. So he’s kind of going to be a utility player for us.” As to what Woodford fans can expect when they come out to watch the 2016 Yellow Jackets, Johnson said, “I think you’re going to see a young team who are going to play hard every snap. We’re not going to get it right, which is not football. But, go out every day, do their job and play to the best of their ability. And, we’ll let the chips fall where they may. Then again, I tell people, we’re a work in progress. Year 2. So, we’ve just got to keep it going. As for himself, Johnson is looking forward to seeing what his team can accomplish this year. “I’m very excited,” he said. “We’re in year two of this process (of rebuilding the team), so I’m definitely ready to go. I love football and I love these guys. You know, like I said, when you’re trying to rebuild a program and change the culture, it takes time. … We don’t have the 70, 80 kids (like last year), we’ve got 50 kids. But, these 50 kids have worked extremely hard. So, we’re excited.” Woodford opens its regular season on Friday, Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m. at North Bullitt.