The Johnson Central Golden Eagles are looking to make a fifth straight appearance in the class 4A state title game this season.

It has nearly turned into an annual event for the Golden Eagles, who, have came away with one state title in their four straight trips. Johnson Central will have another legitimate shot and getting back to Kroger Field with a strong senior class returning.

Back to lead the offense for Johnson Central will be senior quarterback Ryley Preece. We mentioned his numbers from last season in last week’s Paintsville Herald and it’s no secret the kid can play. Through the air last season, Preece was 54 for-102 good for 1,039 yards and seven touchdowns. He only threw four interceptions on the year.

 “We’re just really looking forward to getting the season started. We’ve worked really hard and we hope to make it back to Kroger Field,” Preece said.

Preece is a dual-threat quarterback who can throw the ball down the field or tuck it and run, causing chaos for opposing defenses. He got it done on the ground last season as well, with 89 rushing attempts going for 852 yards and 19 touchdowns. Look for Preece to have a breakout senior season.

The Golden Eagles will also have experience on the defensive side of the ball.

Linebacker Hunter McCloud will be back for his senior campaign as well, and he was a nightmare for opposing teams last season. As a junior, McCloud was fourth in tackles with a total of 96. He also had 14 solo tackles and 82 assisted tackles, which included 19 tackles for a loss.

“ We just work really hard, and we can’t wait for the season to start. We play some tough teams but we just keep working and hope to get better,” McCloud said.

McCloud has a reputation of being wherever the ball is. Not only being fourth in tackles last season, he also came in third on the team with six sacks. He picked off opposing quarterbacks three times for a combined 46 net yards and recovered one defensive fumble for a TD.

The Golden Eagle defense will also be anchored by returning seniors Braiden Castle and Andrew Clifton. Clifton also pulls double duty at the center spot, snapping the ball to Preece.

Castle was tied for first on the team in fumble recoveries last season with two. One of his two recoveries he forced himself on the defensive side. Last season as a junior, Castle had 10 solo tackles along with 55 assisted for a total of 65 tackles, 14 of those tackles were for a loss, good enough for eighth best on the team. He echoed what was a common statement from his teammates— Hard work.

 “We’ve been working really hard all summer. We’re ready to get back and have a chance at that state title. We’ve been to four straight, we hope this season will be five,” Castle said.

Clifton is one of the top offensive lineman in the mountains. He was on the same page as Clifton.

“I don’t think anyone has worked as hard as we have. We can’t wait just to get out there and get started,” Clifton said.

Coach Jim Matney and his Golden Eagles will also have Devin Johnson return. Johnson can do it all on the football field. Bryce Tackett, Cody Rice, Zach Goodwin, and place kicker Jake Headley all contributed last season and will return as seniors as well.

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