The Simon Kenton Pioneers captivated a community last season as they made an improbable run all the way to the Kentucky 6A state championship game.
After going 3-4 in their first seven games the Pioneers rolled off seven straight wins, including four playoff road victories.
A big factor in the team's late-season surge was their senior leadership. If Simon Kenton is going to come out on top in one of the state's toughest districts, new leaders will need to emerge.
Let's take a peek at the 2009 edition of the Pioneers.
2008 RECORD: 10-5, 2-3 (6A, District 6)
COACHING: Jeff Marksberry has posted a 45-53 mark in his nine years as the head coach at the school. He calls the shots for the team's Multiple-I offense. Meanwhile, Jesse Herbst handles things on the defensive side of the ball where the Pioneers institute a 3-5 scheme. Steve Burns is the special teams' coordinator.
OFFENSE: Mr. Kentucky candidate Miles Simpson returns for his senior season. A star on both sides of the ball, Simpson is one of the Tri-state's most prolific runners.
Simpson rushed for 2,309 yards 284 carries, caught eight balls for 233 yards, and scored 40 times as junior in just 15 games. He found the end zone in all but three of the Pioneers' games, including eight games with three or more touchdowns.
Opening holes for Simpson is a solid offensive line, anchored by Division I prospect Jordan Hansel. The team graduated some key pieces up front and building depth here will be a big key for the Pioneers' chances of another deep playoff run.
Quarterback Chad Lawrence should only get better as a junior. He took over for Patrick Bustle midway though last season and was vital in the team's late-season run. The dual-threat quarterback had never lost a game as a starter until the state championship game loss to Trinity.
Ryan Winkler is team's top returning receiver. He caught eight balls for 116 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore, but will see an increased role this season.
DEFENSE: Just like the offense, the defense will have to deal with the loss of four starters. The unit gave up 20.8 points per game in 2008 and will need to improve on that this year to have repeat success.
The strength on this side of the ball is the team's linebacker corps. Senior Nik Brown will be look at to be a leader and a playmaker.
Junior Austin Baldwin compliments him well. He led the team with 6 sacks as a sophomore.
Simpson is a shut corner and his presence automatically makes the Pioneers' secondary rock solid.
Derek Picirillo has the potential to play at the next level and will be counted on up front to plug the run and create pressure. Depth on the defensive line appears to be a bit of question mark heading into '09 though.
2009 SCHEDULE: 08/29 - vs. NewCath (Nippert Stadium) - 2:45 p.m. 09/4 - Dixie Heights - 7:00 p.m. 09/11 - Shroder Paideia - 7:30 p.m. 09/18 - Henry Clay - 7:30 p.m. 09/25 - Conner - 7:00 p.m. 10/02 - at Cooper- 7:00 p.m. 10/09 - Ryle - 7:00 p.m. 10/16 - at Boone County - 7:30 p.m. 10/23 - at Campbell County - 7:30 p.m. 10/30 - at Scott - 7:00 p.m.
FINAL TAKE: Despite having most of their marquee players back from last year's team, the Pioneers lost most of it leaders. How this year's seniors step in that regard will go a long way towards determining this team's fate. The district is as tough as it gets and after being swept by Boone County, Ryle, and Conner in the regular season a year ago, it's easy to see how tough it is going to be for Simon Kenton to win the district this year. Still they have a solid nucleus and one of the best players in the entire Tri-state in Simpson, so anything short of another deep playoff run would be a disappointment.