The 2009 season was arguably the best in the short history of the school for Lakota West. For the first time ever the Firebirds clenched the GMC title when they defeated their rival, Lakota East. West finished a perfect 7-0 in the conference and earned a spot in the playoffs for the third time in six years.
Unfortunately the Firebirds came up short to the Anderson Redskins in the first round of the state playoffs, losing 24-21.
Coming off a great season the Firebirds will be back for more. This could be an interesting season with the loss of talented and deep senior class, including All-American linebacker Jordan Hicks (Texas) and four-star tight end Alex Smith (Kentucky).
2009 RECORD: 9-2, 6-0 GMC
COACHING: Head coach Larry Cox will return for his thirteenth season with the Firebirds with a record of 73-60. He has led nine of his teams at Lakota West to top 10 rankings in the Cincinnati Metro area and has made appearances at the state playoffs three times. The defense is led by the very experienced Carlton Gary, who has been with the Firebirds since 2004.
OFFENSE: The Firebirds' strength this season unquestionably begins up front where most of the team's offensive line returns. Center Ryan Kelly is one of the most coveted 2011 recruits in the nation having already drawn over 20 offers. Phillip Brinkman also returns after being named Second-Team All-Conference as a junior.
The Firebirds lack experience at most of the skill positions on offense, but Cox believes his program has reached the point of the "next man in" philosophy. What the unit lacks in experience it makes up for in athleticism.
Senior Ben Gooch and Zach Crabtree will likely battle for the starting quarterback job. Neither player has attempted a pass at the varsity level. Whichever player wins the quarterback battle will have to work with a receiving corps that's equally inexperienced. Senior Darren Gaines is the team's leading returning receiver as he caught five balls for 110 yards in '09.
Lakota West ran their way to a share of the GMC title last season by rushing for over 183 yards per game. Deionte Carlock will be the early favorite to see the bulk of the carries after he rushed for 197 yards and a pair of scores as a junior. Fullback Emmanuel Hill is a fierce blocker and should open up big holes.
DEFENSE: Similar to the offense, the Firebirds' strength of defense resides on the line. Look for senior Matt Fox, who had seven of his 24 tackles go for a loss last season, to lead the way.
Linebacker Dylan Romero is the unit's most proven player returning. He played in all 11 games as a junior finishing with 25.5 tackles. Expect Connor Cross to also be a factor.
There are major question marks heading into the season in the secondary where the team has little to no experience. However, Cox is optimistic that young players will emerge and become solid options for the team.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Like so many other parts of the team, Lakota West will need to replace both kicker Aaron Phelan and Hicks, who also served as the team's punter. Finding options in the returning game will also be a priority leading up to the season.
Aug. 28 - vs. LaSalle (Nippert Stadium) - 12:00 p.m.
Sep. 3 - @Lancaster - 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 10 - FAIRMONT - 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 17 - MIDDLETOWN - 7:30 p.m.
Sep. 24 - @Colerain - 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 1 - @Hamilton - 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 8 - SYCAMORE - 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 15 - @Mason - 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 22 - FAIRFIELD - 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 29 - LAKOTA EAST - 7:30 p.m.
FINAL TAKE: The stars were aligned for Lakota West in 2009. Not only did they have one of the strongest senior classes in the Tri-state, but they also benefited from not having to play GMC powers Colerain and Middletown. They won't be as fortunate this upcoming season. While they have some studs up front and a ton of great athletes, there are simply too many questions to expect them to repeat as conference champions and a playoff team. While a winning season is within reach, anything beyond that will be a surprise.