Buchanan: “By late September and early October, our depth can be outstanding”
As Mercer County Head Football Coach David Buchanan enters his fifth season coaching the Titans, this year’s roster might be his deepest yet.
A roster full of 70 is something Buchanan is really proud of. He said it shows you how many kids are interested in playing the game of football.
The most impressive thing about that number is 24 of the 70 are freshmen.
“Nobody around us has numbers like that. I’d like for people to know that we’ve got 70 kids in grades 9-12 this season,” said Buchanan. “I think our depth right now is better than it’s been and by late September and early October, it could be outstanding. I think we’ve got some good young kids that are going to keep progressing and playing.”
High school football numbers are dropping at a lot of schools around the country and to have 70 kids on the team is something to be proud of.
Last year, the Titans only had eight seniors. This year, they have 12.
“I think overall as a group, they are trying to lead these young guys. I think their effort has been good as well as their attitude,” said Buchanan. “I’m fairly well pleased with our seniors in the early part of the preseason. There is always room for improvement, but I’ve been pleased with those guys.”
The Titans return their coaching staff from last year with two new additions: Chris Crawley-Goodman and Tommy Craig, both who lettered in football during their time at Mercer County.
“All of our position coaches have done a nice job developing depth at their position. I’ve been really pleased with that,” said Buchanan. “As for Chris (Crawley-Goodman) and Tommy (Craig), I love their energy, their relationships with the kids and I think that they’ve really been big assets for us already. I think they’re a perfect fit for our program and our kids.”
Another familiar face on the sidelines will be former Titan D Smith. Most recently, Smith was a member of the University of Kentucky football team that won the Citrus Bowl this past January. Smith returns as the team Chaplain.
“I’m really excited about D coming back and joining us,” said Buchanan. “He’s been wonderful and I’m just really excited to have him around our kids.”
Buchanan said he would be really disappointed if this is not the best team he has had at Mercer County in his five years.
“This group has the most experience. We’ve had some great players in the past, but this is definitely the most experienced group that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Buchanan. “We’ve got the most depth.”
According to Buchanan, there has never been a Titan team to run the same system five years in a row.
“That’s never happened. Continuity helps,” he said. “For what it’s worth, the system has stayed the same the last five years. That’s what I really like. A lot of guys at different positions really understand the concept of what we’re trying to do.”
One major note this season is that the Titans have moved to Class 3A (district 4) from Class 4A (district 5).
In 4A, the Titans took on Taylor County, East Jessamine, West Jessamine and Marion County.
In 3A, the Titans are now in a district with Western Hills, Henry County, DeSales and the Christian Academy of Louisville.
We broke down each position for the Titans on offense and defense, beginning with the quarterback.
Senior Kaelin Drakeford returns as the starting quarterback for Buchanan. Drakeford is listed as an athlete on the official roster sheet and is capable of playing multiple positions on both sides of the ball. Last season, Drakeford threw for 852 yards and four touchdown passes. He also ran for 531 yards and had four rushing touchdowns.
“With a year of experience at quarterback, I’m going to try to make better decisions and be the best leader and teammate I can be,” said Drakeford. “Especially as a senior, my team counts on me to be smart and set up my teammates.”
Drakeford said he knows he has to be at his best as one of the seniors on this team.
“I have to bring my best effort everyday to practice and hold others accountable. That is one of my main focuses,” he said.
Drakeford’s versatility is something that is very valuable to the Titans and Buchanan talked about his growth going into year two under center.
“I think Kaelin (Drakeford) has made dramatic improvement in throwing the ball,” said Buchanan. “He’s always had a great football IQ and he’s always been good at bailing us out when plays break down. Those have been his strengths. His ability to make plays when things went bad saved us. This year, he’s throwing the ball substantially better and I’m really pleased and excited with his progress.”
Over the summer, Drakeford received his first offer from The College of William and Mary and also took a visit to the United States Naval Academy.
Sophomore Trosper Buchanan, Coach Buchanan’s son, will be the backup quarterback to start the season.
This position might just be Mercer County’s strongest and deepest. With five running backs that are capable of making a big impact on the ground. Senior Malachi Yulee, junior Bryson Yeast, along with sophomores Brayden Dunn and Jackson Peavler will be the primary backs for the Titans.
Yulee led the Titans in rushing last season with 1,066 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Yeast was second on the team with 606 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
Senior Peyton Owens, who Buchanan said will be the primary fullback, will also get carries.
“We got five different guys that can carry the ball and I’m very excited about that,” said Buchanan. “It’s good to have depth at the running back position.”
Buchanan also talked about the blocking ability of Owens, one of the main reasons why he is the primary fullback.
“He understands our offense and how to run our fullback running game,” he said. “He’s also doing a great job blocking for us, but he gets it.”
Buchanan said the fullback position for the Titans is a little different than a normal fullback, one who is dedicated primarily to blocking.
“Our fullback is a tail back who can block,” said Buchanan. “That’s what Peyton (Owens) is. He is a tail back who can block. It’s not a traditional fullback and he does a good job with that.”
All five running backs will have a big impact on the offense this year, both blocking and running the ball.
Yulee, one of the senior leaders on the team, talked about his senior year and what he expects of himself from a leadership standpoint.
“I try my best to lead by example on and off the field. On the field, I go hard in every drill while also encouraging everyone else around me to work harder,” said Yulee. “I’m very excited for this year and the team we have. We have a lot of senior leadership and I believe we have the ability and skill to go as far as we want to go. Our end goal always has been, and always will be to win state.”
Offensive line/Defensive line
Seniors Darrian Baker, Isaiah Dismuke and Gunnar Fister will be playing the end spots on the defensive line. All three are big strong players, Baker being the biggest at 6 feet 4 inches and 255 pounds, can be a force at the end positions.
Baker returns as the top tackler for the Titans, compiling 86 of them in 2018. Baker is coming off a summer where he earned offers from the United States Naval Academy and Eastern Kentucky University.
“The biggest thing I’ve been pleased with is his motor. His effort in practice is much better than it has been,” said Buchanan.
Along with Baker, Dismuke and Fister, sophomores Brent McKitric and Dakota Browning will make up the defensive tackle positions.
“We have some ability and I think we’re strong, but we’ve got to do a better job of attacking the guy in front of us,” said Buchanan. “That was a concern early in the preseason. For us to play our defense properly, our guys have to use their hands and attack the man in front of them.”
Junior Richie Macias returns as the starting center for the Titans.
“I’m really glad we started him last year. He did a good job then and he continues to do so. He does a really good job for our program. He’s a good player, and an even better kid.”
Buchanan talked about the offensive line around Macias, that will consist of Dismuke, Fister, Browning, Sewell, McKitric, junior Blake Brown and junior Jesus Garcia. They will all see time on the offensive line.
“We just need to work on our assignments. I think our offensive line is one of our biggest strengths,” said Buchanan. “I think those guys are doing a really good job.”
The Titans have close to 10 players that will line up at wide receiver this season. Seniors Dillon Warren, Kobie Wessling, and Jamisen Lewis, along with juniors Jalen Lukitsch and Bryce Walton make up the upperclassmen wide receivers. Sophomores Aaron Caton, Cayden Devine and Riley Peavler make up the underclassmen.
Warren returns as the most experienced wide receiver. He had 246 receiving yards to go along with three touchdowns to lead the Titans last season. Warren returns and is one of the best athletes on the team.
“I’m going to try and start him (Warren) one way, but he will play a lot on the other side of the ball as well,” said Buchanan. “Dillon is a really good athlete and a really good football player. Not only did he play baseball and run track, he continued to work extremely hard in the weight room and I can’t say enough good things about Dillon Warren. He’s a talented young man and a worker.”
Kobie Wessling returns to the Titans after not playing the previous two seasons and Buchanan is excited to have a guy like Wessling in the locker room.
“Kobie has been a really good addition and he can really help us on the field,” said Buchanan. “He’s a really good kid and it’s good having him in our program.”
Lewis, who has breakaway speed, is going to be another wide receiver to watch out for. Lewis’ agility and speed are his strong suits and he always has to be accounted for on the field.
“His speed is a big plus for us and he is a good runner of the football,” said Buchanan. “I’m really excited that he’s healthy and ready to go this season.”
Lewis missed all of last season after injuring his leg in the preseason.
Outside of Lewis, Wessling and Warren, guys like Caton, Lukitsch, Walton, Devine and Peavler will also be key to the success of the Mercer County offense. It’s good to have depth in football, and the Titans have that at most positions, something not every team can have the luxury of saying.
This is another position where Buchanan has the luxury of experimenting. Yeast, Yulee, Lukitsch, Dunn, junior Michael Sheperson, sophomore Wyatt Sanford, along with sophomores Brady and Jackson Peavler will all see reps at linebacker.
Yeast and Yulee return after combining for 116 tackles last season. They will lead the group and set the example for the younger players on what Buchanan looks for in his linebackers.
“Coach Rowland has done a great job creating a lot of depth in that area and I am really pleased with that,” said Buchanan.
A lot of the names listed under this position will look familiar to the offensive side of the ball. Drakeford, Warren, Devine, Walton and senior Lane Horn will be the primary defensive backs. Defense is where the game is won, and Buchanan has a lot of depth at this spot. Having depth on the outside is a big bonus because you can get fresh legs out there on the field and not have fatigue be a major problem.
“Our defensive backs provide a lot of speed and athleticism for us and that will be big for us in the open field,” said Buchanan.
As mentioned previously, Buchanan is very excited about his freshmen class.
“I’m excited that we have a lot of young kids that love the game of football,” he said.
This year’s freshmen class includes: Thaddeus Mays, Tytus Weldon, Myles Haygood, Andrew Sheperson, Forte Bess, Kamrin Walker, Nathan Mills, Andrew Domaschko, Garrett Fister, Jae’vyn Bottoms, Austin Cole, Jackson Perry, Conner Robinson, Brandyn Barnes, Byron Collier, Ryan Burrus, Anthony Glover, Nathaniel Phelps, Zaryn Jackson, Elijah Buford, Elijah Roberts, Jay Vest, Xzareon Denny and Lleyton Penn.
First game preview
The Titans will take on the West Carter Comets and Buchanan has a special connection with their head coach, Daniel Barker. Buchanan hosts an annual quarterback camp and Barker attended that camp in high school when Buchanan was at Mason County.
“I think a whole lot of Daniel (Barker). He’s a wonderful young man, a wonderful young coach and he’s doing a great job at West Carter,” said Buchanan. “He’s really building something special there.”
Barker had nothing but nice things to say about Buchanan.
“He’s a guy I’ve always had a lot of respect for. When I got by teaching job, he helped me get an interview at Mason County, but I ended up with a job in Carter County,” said Barker. “He’s kept in touch with me the past two years as I transitioned into a head coach and when he offered us a spot in the bowl game, we were excited for the opportunity.”
Barker said going against a coach he admires and looks up to makes this bowl game more meaningful.
“At the end of the day, it’s a great bowl game and atmosphere against a classy, well coached opponent,” said Barker.
Buchanan said the Comets provide a three-headed monster. Leetavious Cline, Ethan Jordan and Tristen Jordan are players that the Titans should have their eye on before taking on the Comets.
“They are really good football players. They’ve got other good players, but those three are exceptional,” said Buchanan.
Cline lines up at safety and is the focal point of the Comet offense at running back. Ethan and Tristen Jordan play linebacker and are the anchors of the West Carter defense.
The Titans will be taking on the Comets on Saturday, Aug. 24, in the Little Caesar’s Ft. Harrod Bowl at Alvis Johnson Field, at 8 p.m.
Mercer County Football Schedule
Aug. 24/West Carter (Ft. Harrod Bowl)*/Home
Aug. 31/Allen County-Scottsville (Rebel Bowl)**/Boyle
Sept. 6/Anderson County/Away
Sept. 13/Boyle County/Home
Sept. 20/Garrard County/Home
Sept. 27/Christian Academy-Louisville/Away
Oct. 4/Western Hills/Home
Oct. 18/Henry County/Away
Nov. 1 /West Jessamine/Away
All games scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (* 8 p.m. start, ** 5 p.m. start)
Find the rest of the story on page 1B of this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald or click here to subscribe.