The Cubs feature experienced lines on both offense and defense and will use that to their advantage this year. Senior Dylan Bilz (21) barks out signals as junior running back Reece Dryden (33) waits the handoff during a scrimmage last week at Salem. Madison will have a new offensive backfield this season. Junior quarterback Isaiah Hogan (bottom), the Panthers’ backup to John Michael Adams last year, will take over the starting role for the Panthers this year where the Panthers are trying to replace 11 starters. (Staff photo by David Campbell, above, Mark Campbell, below)
The Cubs feature experienced lines on both offense and defense and will use that to their advantage this year. Senior Dylan Bilz (21) barks out signals as junior running back Reece Dryden (33) waits the handoff during a scrimmage last week at Salem. Madison will have a new offensive backfield this season. Junior quarterback Isaiah Hogan (bottom), the Panthers’ backup to John Michael Adams last year, will take over the starting role for the Panthers this year where the Panthers are trying to replace 11 starters. (Staff photo by David Campbell, above, Mark Campbell, below)
Madison may have won only four games a year ago but it represented the highest total the program had achieved in nearly a decade. Head coach Patric Morrison is not content to look back, however, but instead is focused on taking the Cubs to the next step.

Year two of the Morrison coaching era begins on Friday when Madison hosts Charlestown in the season opener. With the largest roster in recent memory and experience at nearly every position, Morrison fully expects to see his team get even better.

"We had a good year last year and it's something nice to build off of coming into the season. But it really doesn't mean anything starting Friday," Morrison said. "This season is a like a flower; it's getting ready to bloom. It's either going to bloom into something beautiful that we'll all remember or it's going to wilt away. We have a great opportunity ahead of us and I look forward to us taking that opportunity with both hands starting Friday for the start of what will hopefully be a more successful season than last season."

Part of that optimism is a large roster with depth and experience at nearly every position. A total of 72 players are listed on Madison's roster, nearly twice the number the team fielded just five years ago. Twenty-six of those players are freshmen who are coming in off two very successful junior high seasons. But the Cubs also have 25 seniors, nearly all of which have playing experience.

As a result, Madison will field a team of hardened, experienced veterans the likes of which the school hasn't seen since the 2005 campaign, the last year the Cubs won at least five games in a season. Morrison was a senior starter on that team.

A majority of that experience is on the defensive side of the ball where Madison returns eight starters. While defensive standouts such as Richard Bach, Evan Young and Jordan Partee are gone to graduation, even their replacements saw plenty of action last year.

As a result, Morrison plans on leaning heavily on his defense, which held four opponents to 13 points or less last season. The three points it gave up to Bedford North Lawrence was the fewest the Cubs had allowed in five years.

"The defense is really going to be a strong point. They really came into it two years ago and this is the third year in a row we've run this system," Morrison said. "We're really looking forward to some big things this season. We really put an emphasis on takeways and we've really focused on tackling the past two years. We've got 10 seniors on that side of the ball really fighting for starting spots."

The leader of the defense is linebacker Carson Cheatham, who earned All-Hoosier Hills Conference honorable mention honors last year. Fellow linebackers Curry Morgan and Tanner Young are three-year starters with Cheatham. Defensive back Hunter Sego and linemen Calvin Willhite, Tanner Geer and John McCarty also have plenty of experience.

There is nearly as much experience on offense, but there are far more question marks as Madison tries to replace a pair of weapons that were unstoppable at times.

Partee, who tied a school record for touchdowns in a game last season as a receiver and a punt returner, and Mitchell Sandlin, who nearly rushed for 2,000 yards, have both graduated as has quarterback Kody Boles, as much a weapon with his legs as he was with his arm.

Madison has replacements set for Sandlin. Senior Kyle Tucker and juniors Reece Dryden and Carson Compton combine to give Madison a strong running presence.

Quarterback, on the other hand, was a question mark until this week when Morrison announced that senior Dylan Bilz will get the start on Friday. Bilz, who played defensive back last season, beat out juniors Chad Ison and Alex Wilson for the job.

"We have some question marks at quarterback but hopefully those questions will get answered on Friday," Morrison said. "We're going to give the senior the chance to start but those juniors are biting at the bit to take his position. I really appreciate their attitude and the way they've approached that. They would love to have the job and they're pushing Dylan."

Protecting the quarterback and punching holes for the runners will be an offensive line that returns two starters, Dustin Dirksen and Nathan Farris, both of whom bench press more than 300 pounds. Madison's new starters are nearly as strong.

"We've had to replace three offensive lineman but we've got some guys stepping up," Morrison said. "When you look at our offensive line, it may not be as big as we were last year but I think we're stronger."

Morrison also has a weapon in the kicking game, something that is a rarity at Madison. Sego enters the season as one of the top-ranked place kickers in the state and just narrowly missed a 57-yarder wide left last season. He also routinely puts his kickoffs in the endzone, forcing opponents to go a long way against Madison's stout defense.

"Hunter is one of those guys that goes to every camp he can in the summer, both in defense and in kicking, and just does everything to make himself better. He's even added a few more yards onto his kicks," Morrison said. "He's a senior, he's been kicking in some big situations last year and we feel very confident in that area."

Last year the Cubs made Morrison the first Madison coach in 22 years to begin his career with a win when they defeated Charlestown 24-7. It was a big win and one that drove Morrison to tears, but he also knows that this is a new season and the Pirates would love nothing better than to hand their new coach, Darin Ward, a win in his debut.

"It was a great start for us last year and I think it fueled the fire for the rest of the season," Morrison said. "But it's going to be a competitive game this year. They look great on film, they have a new coach who has had a lot of success. I've heard a lot of great things about him and he's going to have them ready. I'm looking forward to meeting him."

This season marks the 17th-straight year Madison has had the exact same schedule. After opening against Charlestown, the Cubs host South Dearborn on Aug. 29 before opening HHC play Sept. 5 at Floyd Central.

Carroll opens at home

It will be a new-look Carroll County team that hits the field on Friday when the Panthers host Pendleton County in the season opener.

Gone are 11 seniors that made up one of the most successful classes in school history and left is a 32-man roster that has plenty of holes to fill from a team that went only 6-6 but reached the second round of the playoffs in 2013 for the first time in 10 years.

Among the standouts Carroll needs to replace are lineman Josh Gibbs, who signed with Eastern Kentucky, quarterback John Michael Adams, halfback Jacob Wise, receiver/defensive back Blake Newby and lineman Kiefer McIntyre.

Carroll County has 10 seniors on this year's roster, including Caleb McCarty, Colin Prosser and Devin Dermon. The Panthers also have several underclassmen who should play big roles this season such as starting quarterback Isaiah Hogan, Ben Shelton and Cameron Rose.

Following the season opener, Carroll travels to North Central Kentucky Conference foe Henry County before returning home for four-straight games at Panther Field starting Sept. 5. The Panthers begin district play Oct. 3 at Gallatin County.

Raiders on road for six

Trimble County's football team opens the 2014 season at Jackson County on Friday and will not play a game at home until mid-October as work on a new stadium and field is still being completed.

As a result, the Raiders will play six-straight games on the road to start the season with only the bye week on Sept. 12 breaking up the travel. Trimble's home opener is scheduled for Oct. 10 against district foe Owen County and the Raiders will play three of their final four games in Bedford.

Trimble County carries an 18-game losing streak into the season and has not claimed victory since a 10-8 win over Clinton County on Aug. 24, 2012. That victory ended an eight-game losing streak meaning that the Raiders have lost 26 of their last 27 games.

Despite the losing streak, Trimble County brings an experienced team into 2014. Of the 46 players on the roster, 13 are seniors and 16 are juniors.

Switzerland launches JV

Switzerland County will field a junior varsity team this season after playing a freshman schedule last year. The plan is for the Pacers to play jayvee again next year before starting varsity in two years.

Two of Switzerland's games will be played on Friday night - including the season opener on Friday at Scottsburg and the Pacers' visit to Oldenburg Academy on Sept. 5 - to go with four Saturday home games with Bracken County (Ky.) Aug. 30, Trinity Lutheran Sept. 20, Lawrenceburg Oct. 14 and Gallatin County (Ky.) Oct. 18.