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2017 Prep Football Previews: Cooper counting on senior safety to provide steady leadership

Cooper safety Justin Schlarman, No. 13, made a team-high 83 tackles for the Jaguars last season. (Photo by Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com)


The NKyTribune is featuring each of the 21 high school football teams in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties leading up to the first games of the 2017 season on Aug. 18. We will then provide focused coverage of our local teams throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

Several returning starters on the Cooper football team were moved to new positions during pre-season practice to offset the loss of last year’s talented senior class. But the idea of playing Justin Schlarman anywhere else but safety didn’t make much sense to the coaching staff.

Schlarman was called up to the varsity team as a freshman to play safety, the most important position in the Jaguars’ defensive scheme. Last year, he made a team-high 83 tackles and intercepted five passes so the coaches definitely wanted him back there for his senior season.

Schlarman is preparing for his fourth season as a varsity starter on the Cooper football team (Photo by Terry Boehmker)

“Most people say if your safeties are your leading tacklers you’re not doing very well, but we kind of have a different philosophy,” said Cooper head coach Randy Borchers. “Our defense is designed for our best athletes and our best tacklers to be back there (at safety) and let them make plays for us. We adjust our defense a little bit to try and keep him them in the box, like a linebacker at safety depth, to stop the run as much as we possibly can.”

Schlarman is a gifted athlete who has played several positions on both sides of the ball and been used on special teams over the last three varsity seasons. He expects to spend a lot of time on field once again this year, providing steady leadership for the first-year starters that will dominate the Jaguars’ lineup.

“The coaches rely on me a lot,” Schlarman said. “I like it. It puts a lot on my shoulders and makes me step up and let everybody look to me (for leadership). It feels good.”

Listed as 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Schlarman had two older brothers who played football at Boone County High School. He enrolled at Cooper as a freshman because that’s where a lot of his friends from middle school were going.

He played in nine varsity games as a freshman and Cooper made it to the semifinals of the 2014 Class 5A playoffs. When he was a sophomore, the Jaguars moved to Class 6A and qualified for the playoffs as a district champion. Last year’s team had some problems on defense and finished with a 7-5 record. In four of the five losses, the opponent scored 46 points or more.

Most of the starters on last year’s defensive unit graduated so the Cooper coaching staff is rebuilding it around veteran players like Schlarman, senior linebacker Jalen Horner and senior defensive end Nick Myers.

“We know Justin’s going to be our anchor defensively,” coach Borchers said. “With how young we are, he’s got to be the one in the secondary making all the calls and really kind of taking charge of the defense.”

Schlarman will be getting a lot of playing time on offense as well. He’s actually the team’s top returning scorer. Last season, he caught 28 passes for 392 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 115 yards and two TDs.

There’s a good chance he’ll attract attention from college football recruiters playing on both sides of the ball and special teams. But the only thing on his mind is providing the leadership this year’s team needs to continue the winning tradition of the Cooper football program.

“I think everybody (on the team) knows we’re going to be young and have a lot of positions to fill,” he said. “But everybody’s coming in (to practice) ready to fight and get those positions. They want to be playing on Friday nights.”

The Cooper players will vote on team captains before their season on opener on Aug. 18 against Highlands. Coach Borchers said he’ll be shocked if Schlarman isn’t one of them.

“This year, he’s come in with a great attitude, with that mentality that this is my team and we’re going to go as far as I can take them,” Borchers said. “So I think he’s coming in with the right mindset and I’m sure he’s going to do a great job for us this year.”

2016 SEASON:
7-5 record, lost in second round of Class 6A playoffs.
DISTRICT: Class 6A, District 5 with Conner and Ryle.
HEAD COACH: Randy Borchers (63-64 in 11 seasons overall, 56-50 in nine seasons at Cooper).

Aug. 18 – HIGHLANDS, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 25 – at Newport Central Catholic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 – at Covington Catholic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 – CAMPBELL COUNTY, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 15 – at Simon Kenton, 7:30 p.m..
Sept. 29 – DIXIE HEIGHTS, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 6 – RYLE, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 13 – at Boone County, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 – at Conner, 7 p.m.
Oct. 27 – at Lexington Henry Clay, 7:30 p.m.

Other NKyTribune prep football previews:

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