By John Middleton
The Whitley County Colonels struggled to a 3-8 mark in 2011, but that record can be very deceiving. Despite going winless in district play, Whitley County was competitive in each game, and should be among the most improved teams in Class 5A this season.
“The kids have worked tremendously hard during the off-season and this summer,” said Whitley County coach Jim Black.
Whitley’s improvement will likely be led by sophomore quarterback Austin Ysidro. The Colonels were forced to rely on the freshman under center last season, but the experience he gained should prove to be invaluable this season.
“You can tell he is a year more mature. We didn’t have the ability to throw the ball last year, so we have worked hard on developing that,” Black said. “Offensively, that gives us a little more diversity.”
Ysidro will also have the luxury of handing off to one of the area’s top fullbacks in senior Boston Bryant, who rushed for 1,512 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior.
“With us running the triple-option teams have to take care of the fullback first. He is the first threat. He is the kind of kid that doesn’t need a lot of room to get you four yards, and that is all we shoot for,” Black said.
Senior Josh Nichols and junior Cody Lewis will play at halfback.
“Josh and Cody have come a long way. They got valuable playing experience that they didn’t have last year, so they will be better,” Black said.
Tyler Bryant, Matt Lawson and Tyler Sears are all expected to see time at receiver.
While most of the skilled players return, the offensive line will feature plenty of youth. Senior tackle John Fulton will be in charge of leading both lines of scrimmage.
“The line is steadily improving. Experience is going to be a big factor there,” said Black. “We have a bunch of guys that are inexperienced, but we haven’t fallen off much ability wise.”
Tilmon Jackson and Samuel Vanover will be leaders on the defense at linebacker and defensive end respectively.
After a fourth-place finish a season ago, the Colonels will likely move up the district standings in 2012.
“I feel like Harlan County is the team to beat. They will always be steady, well coached and really physical. I thought Perry Central made great strides last year, and I also feel like coach Raines will do a great job at Letcher,” Black said. “It is a four way race again with Harlan County leading the pack.”