We can all agree we are still in awe of the Somerset Briar Jumper’s game winning drive to beat the Mayfield Cardinals 34-31 last season at Kroger Field to win their first state title.
What is next for the Briar Jumpers, though?
Well, when asked, Somerset head coach Robbie Lucas what his expectations for this upcoming football season are after coming off a state championship win, he modestly replied “We aren’t really defending the state title. The group that won it last year is gone. We lost 24 seniors. We have a whole new team and a whole new set of challenges and circumstances. That’s what makes coaching fun. It’s pretty challenging because you have new kids stepping in and playing. The biggest thing was to put the state championship behind us and start working on focusing on this new season and doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”
While the Jumpers did lose a large chunk of their team, there are a lot of familiar faces that we will see as well. When asked about returning starters, and leaders, coach Lucas mentioned senior center Drew Johnson, senior offensive lineman Justin Simmons, senior quarterback and defensive back Kaiya Sheron, senior receiver and cornerback Kade Grundy, senior linebacker and running back Mikey Garland, senior cornerback and receiver Ricky Gilemore, defensive lineman Dyllan Keith, and defensive lineman Tyler Harvey.
“We’ve got several kids there that know how to play the game,” coach Lucas said. “They are just going to be surrounding themselves with different kids that may not be as ready early. I have high expectations for these kids.”
Lucas did not only speak about his experienced players though. There were plenty of players that got limited snaps last season, and players that were not on the team last season as well. Lucas listed several “up and comers” including transfers Chase Doan, and Michael Hawkins, returning sophomores Guy Baily, and Jacob and Jerrod Smith, two basketball players that recently joined the team in Jackson Cooper and Gavin Stevens, and first time player Isaiah Coffey. He stated, “There is a lot of unknowns there, but that’s what we have.”
Despite all the talent lost, this Somerset offense should be an explosive unit. First off, senior quarterback Kaiya Sheron is a true division one caliber quarterback. Last season he finished with 4177 total yards (3218 passing and 959 rushing) and 36 total touchdowns (28 passing and 8 rushing). The one concern is his protection, with six offensive linemen from last season graduating, but with Drew Johnson, and Justin Simmons, Sheron should still be due for a monster season.
Speaking of the offensive line, coach Lucas shared some concerns with that as well. “Our offensive line was decimated by graduation,” said Lucas. “It was probably one of the better ones we’ve had here…Drew (Johnson) was the only starter we returned, thinking about it now. We return one and Justin Simmons got a lot of playing time. We lost those four starters, and two kids that were backups…It kind of showed our depth and this year we don’t have that depth yet.”
Sheron is not the only offensive player due for a monster season through. Senior wide receiver Kade Grundy was easily one of the top receivers in the state last season with 1441 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. Several pass catchers graduated for the Jumpers as well, leaving Grundy, Somerset’s primary pass catcher, with even more passes to catch.
Several other pass catchers were mentioned by coach Lucas as well. “Hayden Dick has had a pretty good camp so far…Of course you’ve got Gavin Stevens who’s a big, tall, rangy kid. A kid that will go up and moss people, he’ll go up overtop of them and get the ball. You can split Guy Bailey out. You can split Doan out. Brandon Jones will play some tight end for us, and Jacob Smith can play some tight end for us…Jackson Cooper can come in…Kam Hughes has caught it pretty well. He has good speed. There are several kids there that we’ll look to.”
When asked who would be the guys stepping in at running back coach Lucas said “We’re going to use Chase Doan, we’re going to use Guy Bailey, we’re going to use Jerrod Smith back there at fullback so we can get big, and of course Mikey Garland had a big game in the state championship for us. We’ve got several kids we can use back there. I’m excited to see what they can do. We’ll be a different team. We may not be that big physical team we were last year. We’ll look at those kids at running back to help us out this year.”
Even with the loss of their three primary running backs from last season, this running back room could be a scary one. Alex Miller was the star of the show before a broken leg in week six put him out for the season. Even after he got hurt, seniors Jase Bruner and Cam Austin stepped in. With that there was not a ton of room to see other backs get much playing time.
However, of the four backs mentioned by Lucas, the one with the most impressive resume from last season is probably junior transfer Chase Doan. Doan had 745 rushing yards, and 9 rushing touchdowns last season at Southwestern High School. Senior Mikey Garland only had 250 rushing yards last season for Somerset, but did have 12 rushing touchdowns, including three in the state title game. Look for him to get a lot of snaps close to the endzone. Returning sophomore backs Guy Bailey and Jerrod Smith got on the field a bit last season as well. Bailey finished the season with 163 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Smith finished with 296 yards and 4 touchdowns.
As for the defense, there was a lot of loss too. However, coach Lucas did mention several names to look at for. Coach Lucas first mentioned the defensive line and said “Up front, Dyllan Keith, that last drive in the state championship game he made three or four plays that helped get the ball back for us, basically conserved time, and gave us the opportunity to get the ball back and go down and win the game. Jacob and Jerrod Smith are both defensive lineman that we had as freshman…Tyler Harvey is a big, wide body on the inside. He is very, very strong and gets off the ball well. He commands double teams and you’ll see a little bit of that.”
A strong point of Somerset last year was their linebacker core. Like a lot of positions, they graduated several. They to have Mikey Garland returning though. He hits like a truck and is due for a major breakout season. “Mikey Garland is a big physical kid,” said coach Lucas. “Brandon Jones is back at outside backer too and that will help.”
One thing Somerset did not lose were their primary starting corners. Both Kade Grundy and Ricky Gilmore return and should help shut down opposing passing offensives. “On the outside you’ve got Ricky Gilmore at corner. Going into the state championship game, there were some tall, physical, fast receivers, and we were worried about Ricky being overmatched honestly but, Ricky was the only kid that didn’t give up anything. He played very well and played hard.”
“Of course, Kade played the other corner spot for us,” said coach Lucas. “Two years ago, you would have never thought that kid would play any defense whatsoever. I thought last year Kade came into his own as a team player.”
So, despite all the loss, and all the new faces, this Briar Jumpers team looks extremely promising. They are still the team to beat in 2A.
One thing that will be interesting, not just for Somerset, but for high school football in general, will be the lack of preparation due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
While teams are about to practice now, they lost a lot of preparation time. “I think there is going to be a lot of ugly football,” said coach Lucas. “We’ve had no scrimmages, no 7-on-7's… You’re going to see some kids come in that may not have the experience they need. The good thing is, it has always been my philosophy to care less about my record and more about how we’re playing in November. You’ll see hopefully a remarkable improvement in our kids. The biggest thing I worry about is the physicality of the game…Hopefully it will be fine, and we can work our way into it.”
There truly are a lot of question marks regarding the upcoming season. The exciting thing is we do not have a very long wait to see how it unfolds. The defending 2A state champion Briar Jumpers will open up their season September 11th where they will face the Whitley County Colonels on the road at 7:30PM.