The Madisonville North Hopkins High School football team comes into the 2019 season with high hopes following a run to last year's regional final.
The Maroons' road came to an end with a 12-10 defeat to Franklin-Simpson in 2018, but despite losing some talent on both sides of the ball, North is confident on tacking another step up.
"We are talking about winning another 10 games like last year. We are actually talking about getting more than that this year," said North's head football coach Jay Burgett. "Our players have set the goal of making it to the state championship game, and we will be fighting for that all year long to make it happen."
That mentality is everywhere in the Maroons' locker room.
"First, we are going to win district, then region and then win the state," said starting linebacker Krey Cunningham. "We have the team to do it."
Since Burgett took over the Maroons head coaching job, North has taken step forward in every season starting at 4-7 in 2015, then repeating the record in 2016 before going 7-5 in 2017 and exploding for a 10-3 record
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last year, which included the school's first district title since 2000
"We know the work you have to put in, and we have the talent to do it," said starting running back Jeriah Hightower. "It's about working hard and executing now; helping pass down a good mentality throughout the team."
Last year the Maroons were adept at both sides of the ball, with the offense averaging 30 points per game, while the defense held opponents to just 14 a contest -- including two shutouts of Hopkinsville.
"Shutouts are pretty and great for the stat book, but it's all about getting one point more than the other team," said Burgett. "And to do that, you have to play well on both sides of the ball."
The Maroons offense racked up 4,076 yards of total offense last year, but the majority of it came on the ground.
Rushing made up 2,922 yard of the total, which comes to a staggering 72 percent of the whole offense. Hightower is the top returning rusher with 1,769 yards and 23 touchdowns last year, but after him the top returning rushers had 50 yards.
This year the Maroons have a goal of making everything more balance.
"Most people think we are a predominately running team -- running zone or two back stuff -- but we are trying to spread things out a little more this year," said Burgett. "We are having some good success throwing the ball. Hayden Reynolds is doing a great job coming in and leading us right now on the offensive side of the ball."
Reynolds, a senior, started the first four games last season, going 2-2 before being replaced under center by J.D. Gilbert. This year he has responded by putting the past behind him and working hard on the new season.
"We are shaping everything together," said Reynolds. "Quickly the timing with everyone is getting better and better."
Burgett believes he has talent everywhere on the field and wants to show it.
"We have some very dynamic receivers and a very good offensive line to go with that," he said. "Most people think good offensive line -- they think run game, but our offensive linemen are also athletic and ready to maximize and extended plays."
Senior offensive lineman Willie Posey echoed the feeling.
"We have a great group in the line that can get it done," he said. "We can keep the quarterback safe and open holes for Jeriah (Hightower)."
On the other side of the ball, things are less complex.
"On defense, it's simple -- we preach fast, aggressive, physical football. I've been saying it all the time," said Burgett. "Fast, aggressive, physical football. Rip and run and get there, cover back side over and over again."
A system Burgett has been passing down throughout his time at North.
"A lot of us are back, and we know exactly what we need to do," said defensive back Nick Grant. "We've been playing together for years. We know what we have to do in games; we have nonverbal ques to communicate, and we are showing all that to the young guys."
North may have lost some talent from the defensive side last year, but plenty of guys return to keep spreading the gospel.
"Defensively, we return seven starters from last year, and we have some good sophomores in Zach Carl and Chris Price stepping up as linebackers," said Burgett. "The key is our seniors out there like Krey (Cunningham) and Nick (Grant). It's one thing for me to be screaming on the sideline; they are the ones on the field, they are the quarterbacks of the defense making it all happen."
North opens the season Friday, Aug. 23 in Morganfield at Union County for a 7 p.m. game.