High school football 2023 preview: Get to know Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond

Aug. 24—Love of the game

Jacob Tighe followed in his older brother's football footsteps, taking up the sport in fifth grade. The Lovington native has some running back experience in his background, but he's grown into being a force on both the offensive and defensive lines for Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond. The team — four towns worth of athletes coming together — is what has stuck with Tighe the most. "Just being a part of the team is nice," he said. "You've got a bunch of guys who care about you and you care about. It's a good way to stay in shape, and it's a lot of fun bonding with your teammates." Jayce Parsons also started playing JFL in fourth grade, spurred on by YouTube highlights of Marshawn Lynch and watching ALAH play. "It's crazy because I remember looking up to those guys, and now I'm the older kid," the Knights' quarterback/safety said. Senior running back/safety Landon Waldrop also grew up watching the Knights, but didn't play until his freshman year. "I just grew a love for it," he said. "I love the dedication it takes."

Season outlook

The big question circling the Knights heading into the 2023 season revolves around replacing Kaden Feagin. Now a freshman running back at Illinois, the former ALAH star accounted for 2,300 yards of total offense and 37 touchdowns last season not to mention 82 tackles and two interceptions for the 8-3 Knights. "That's the big question that's been looming over us since November," ALAH coach Ryan Jefferson said. "I've been confident the whole time, but I just know that's what every opponent is thinking and maybe even some of our own fans have some doubt because of the attention Kaden brought was so huge. ... We have a very talented junior and senior class. We have 10-plus guys in each class out. I feel really good about our depth and hoping to continue our success. Obviously, we have to go out and prove that now."

Playoffs ... or bust

ALAH knocked off Vandalia in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs last fall before losing to eventual state semifinalists Johnston City in the second round when Feagin went down with an injury on the first play of the game and didn't return. It was the third playoff run in Jefferson's first five seasons as coach, and one of the missed years was a miss for everybody in the COVID-impacted 2020-21 season. Getting back will require traversing a nine-game Lincoln Prairie Conference schedule following the addition of Sullivan/Okaw Valley (the Knights' Week 9 opponent). "There's a lot of logistics that we no longer have to think about," Jefferson said. "I think Sullivan will be a nice addition for our conference, but also for us. It should just be a natural rivalry."

Odds and ends

Four towns worth of fans descend on Arthur for Friday night home games. The Knights always draw a crowd, which only adds to the gameday excitement. "You try to focus on school, but there's no point," Tighe said. "You're just thinking about what you've got to go out there and do that night." The gameday experience at Arthur will still include a train horn and smoke for when the team runs on the field. New this fall is the Lucas Otto Memorial Scoreboard in honor of the former ALAH football player who died in a car accident in June 2022. "It's everything to me because he was part of that first class that turned everything over, and he totally embodies our program's values of heart, faith and class," Jefferson said.