Last year, the Mercer County Titans earned their best regular season record (8-2) since Head Coach David Buchanan began calling the shots for the Titans five seasons ago. While the Titans played well in big games and were led by some exciting and talented athletes, they are losing 12 seniors from last year, three of whom are now playing Division-l college football.
Stepping in to fill that void are Jaden Vance and James Mathe, transfers from Anderson County and Ocean Springs, Mississippi, respectively. Both players will have an immediate impact on the team getting significant minutes on both sides of the ball. “He’s good,” Buchanan said about Bearcat transfer Vance. “Jaden is a good player and he can start for us.”
Mathe is impressive in the weight room, squatting upwards of 600 pounds, and Buchanan is happy with his work ethic.
“James has got a lot of potential and we really like his motor, he really works hard and he wants to lead for us. We’ve been really pleased with him, we’re crazy about him,” Buchanan said.
The coach hopes both players can make the offensive line stronger giving the team even more depth. The Titans return experience and certainly aren’t lacking in leadership up front; Buchanan expects the offensive line to be one of the more impressive aspects of the team this season.
“I think they should be able to play at a really high level. I think our offensive line should be one of our stronger points. We’ve got experience there, we’ve got some depth, and I think we’ve got a little talent as well, so that should be a strength for us,” said Buchanan.
Seniors Richie Macias, Jesus Garcia and Blake Brown are returning after opening holes for a Titan backfield last year that rushed for 2,501 yards and 35 touchdowns. Macias is a three-year starter at center.
“I’m super excited about our offensive line. We’ve got some new talent and I think we will be a strong force in our games,” said Macias.
“Being known as the leader makes me wanna work harder and push the rest of the ‘O’ line so we can be our best,” said Macias.
The Titans have just as much talent to replace on the defensive line with the departure of Darian Baker, Noah Sewell and Isaiah Dismuke. Buchanan wants junior Dakota Browning, senior Blade Reynolds and junior Zeydan Jackson to fill in for Baker, who now plays for Eastern Kentucky University. On the inside, Buchanan is looking for a big season from juniors Brent McKitric and Andres Lopez and expects Mathe and Browning to play inside as well. At the end of the day, the coach always has two other options at defensive tackle as well, Garcia and Macias can fill at both interior defensive lineman positions.
“Those guys are going to get an opportunity to start, but we can come in there with Jesus Garcia and Richie Macias and they’re both very, very good. I think our defensive line is highly competitive right now,” said Buchanan.
The Titans are losing a lot of star power on defense from last season. Safety Kaelin Drakeford is now playing for Division-l Eastern Illinois University, leading tackler Bryce Yeast is now at the University of the Cumberlands, Baker is at EKU, defensive back Dillon Warren is at Georgetown College and outside linebacker, Malachi Yulee is on the Cardinals squad in Louisville. Four other graduates, Sewell, Dismuke and defensive backs Lane Horn and Jamisen Lewis were also play makers on the Titan defense. Some may consider the amount of talent the Titans are losing this offseason damning, but Buchanan’s expectations for his defense have only been reinforced. He admits it won’t be easy, but he is confident in the players at his disposal this year.
“We want to replace good players every year. Our expectation is not that we’re going drop off, our expectation is that guys will work and prepare to fill those roles. Now, are we replacing some very talented players? Absolutely, it’s not going to be easy, but our expectation is that our defense should get better every year,” said Buchanan.
Jackson Peavler will make a much bigger contribution to the Titan’s defense this season. The junior is currently the first choice to start at outside linebacker opposite Brayden Dunn, and Buchanan has been very impressed with Peavler’s progression this offseason.
“I think Jackson Peavler is going to surprise some people. The guy off the top of my head that has really stood out during the preseason has been Jackson,” said Buchanan.
Peavler will be relied upon heavily by Buchanan on both sides of the ball. He is expected to play outside linebacker on defense and on the opposite side of the ball, he is expected to replace many of Yulee’s carries from a season ago.
The defensive backfield will be full of new faces this year. Juniors Aaron Caton, Riley Peavler, Cayden Devine and Eathan Baker are fresh faces in the Titans secondary. Their level of play is uncertain but they’re performance this season is critical to the success of the young Titan defense.
The Titans offense will rely heavily on young talent as well. Dunn leads a mostly inexperienced running back corp. Jackson Peavler, juniors Wyatt Sanford and Matthew Brodeur, senior Bryce Walton and freshman Denim Griffieth will all take handoffs from a new quarterback. Trosper Buchanan, another player from the strong junior class will take over as QB1.
Buchanan is confident in Trosper’s ability to consistently make good passes, and Trosper’s lack of varsity experience won’t affect the play calling for Buchanan.
One hindrance for the new quarterback could come from a lack of experienced receivers to throw the ball to, but Buchanan is confident in the new receiving corp to get the job done.
“I really like the receivers that we’ve picked up. As a group our skill guys have really worked hard on their own,” said Buchanan, who isn’t worried about whether the Titans focus on running the ball or passing. “I’m not really thinking in terms of are we going run it or pass it, I’m thinking in terms of getting it to the guys that can score,” said Buchanan.
Buchanan understands replacing so much talent will be difficult and with this untraditional offseason it has been difficult for some coaches to evaluate a player’s talent due to lack of live scrimmages and contact in practice. Many starting positions are still up for grabs according to Buchanan, and he may not know who his best players are until the Titans have played a couple of games.
“We’ve still got a lot of competition for positions right now. We want to win our first game, but I would say it will probably be the first or second game or two before the dust settles and we figure out who some guys are and who some are not,” said Buchanan.
One player Buchanan is sure of is senior kicker Noah Davis. Davis is heading into his last season as a Titan as perhaps one of the best kickers in the state of Kentucky. Davis has been looking forward to his final season and reminisces about the training he has battled through for the past four years.
“I’m excited to finally play my senior season of football. As I look back, I see how much hard work and effort we’ve all put in. I can see how we’ve gotten better. Not only has it made us better football players, but better people,” said Davis.
Buchanan’s goals for this team are similar to all of his teams. Making it to the playoffs and getting yourself in a good position to compete is all Buchanan is looking for, after that, anything can happen.
“I want to get to November, at a minimum, I’d like us to have a chance to win every Friday in November. At a maximum, I’d like us to be the better team when we step on the field,” said Buchanan.
Buchanan highlighted the tough schedule the Titans will be playing this year, and the only unknown is keeping the players healthy and ready for November postseason competition.
“I think it’s going to be a tough season, but if we can have a little luck and stay healthy- if I can put a depth chart on paper and put that team out in November, I think it’s going to be tough to beat them,” said Buchanan.