Schwepker, Calloway poised for big 2019

EDWARD MARLOWE | The Sun

Calloway County running backs Aaron Fennel and Jacob Watters, and receiver Luke Schwepker finished their school year on top of the state.

As three-fourths of the Lakers' winning 4x200-meter relay at the KHSAA Class 2A state track meet in Lexington, they took some momentum into football season, perhaps with the sheer speed of the 1-minute, 29.40-second trip across the finish line.

But now, the trio has another state championship to work toward -- and this one will take the entire roster to make it happen, not just four individuals.

Coming off a minor turnaround, going from 0-9 two seasons ago to 3-8 in Chris Champion's first year as the Lakers' skipper, Calloway is poised to make another move this season and perhaps make some noise in Class 4A's First District.

"We have a really good offense," said Schwepker, armed with an offer from Kentucky Wesleyan and who tallied nearly 1,300 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns for the Lakers last season. "We can do a lot of good things on offense. I'm hoping (for us) to score a lot of points, no matter how we do it."

He said he thinks the schedule lends itself to some success early on.

The Lakers open at home with Todd County Central on Aug. 23, before the Crosstown Classic against Murray, and games at home against Trigg County and Marshall County round out the first four weeks.

"I think we can go on a nice win streak in the beginning of the season and keep our confidence up," Schwepker said. "We'll just take that confidence and hopefully go to the playoffs and make a run for it. Hopefully, we just get better every game."

The efforts of the two seniors, Schwepker and Watters, and the junior Fennell to take it on themselves to thrive at another sport, which helped their conditioning and strength for football, were not lost on Champion, who is also an assistant track coach at the school.

"Luke is a fighter," he said. "He does everything his own way. As a coach, he's everything you hope a kid will be. He's obviously talented, naturally. But, he put a lot of faith in our coaching staff and what we're trying to do. In the weight room, the kid just poured in a ton of time. We'd be done lifting and he'd go in and lift extra. If he didn't feel like he was getting in extra work, he'd go to Murray State and run routes and catch balls with his friends. He'd just put in hour after hour after hour and if any kid deserves the accolades he's gotten, it's him because he's done things the right way.

"Sometimes, kids don't put in the work. And he did. I've got a bunch of kids that want the football. They know we're going to give the best player the football. There's not going to be a game where the best player doesn't touch the football multiple times. If they want a piece of that action, they've got to put in the work, too. Jacob Watters is a guy who'd never run track. Aaron Fennel is a track veteran and a football player who was on that. He (Schwepker) sees two guys who were going out there and were going to be faster than him and he doesn't want people to get faster, so he joins the track team with them.

"They (the rest of the team) saw Luke (and Watters and Fennel) working hard and they want to work hard. The key to a championship-caliber team is having those kind of leaders."

This season, the key for Champion, he said, is providing consistency for his players, two years removed from a coaching change.

"The biggest thing for this group is buy-in," Champion said. "They really bought in to what we were trying to accomplish, here. We got a new weight room renovation and really preached the Gospel with training, which the program needed badly. Those guys really responded and busted their butts every single day in there. I believe they're starting to see the rewards of that. We're stronger, faster and more physical. Some of the kids are, by far, in the best shape they've ever been in.

"As a coaching staff, it's been a year for us to learn about our kids, which is such a big deal. When you come to a new program, you don't know your kids. You don't know their personalities, strengths or weaknesses. As a coaching staff, we were learning about them all year and they were learning about us and our system all year. And, it showed."

So, now, with renewed confidence, Champion said it's time to move the bar up a notch.

"We're definitely way beyond where we were at this point last year," he said. "By no means are we perfect or where we want to be, but we're definitely happy with our growth."

Quick hits from Class 4A

Madisonville-North Hopkins is the overwhelming favorite to win a Class 4A state title this year. If that happens, it will likely come behind the efforts of Jeriah Hightower, who ran for 1,769 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. He has offers from Illinois State and UT Martin.Hopkinsville should be a team to watch, should quarterback Jay Bland remain healthy. He threw for 528 yards and three touchdowns, before a torn ACL sidelined him in Week 5 of the 2018 season. Receiver Reece Jesse is also a threat. The junior, who has offers from Purdue and Missouri, had 417 yards in the air and one touchdown a season ago. His role is expected to expand this year.

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