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2022 Prep Football Previews: Cooper linebacker was among state’s leading tacklers in first varsity season

The NKyTribune is featuring players on each of the 21 high school football teams in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties leading up to the first games of the 2022 season on Aug. 19. We will then provide focused coverage of our local teams throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

In his first season of varsity football, Cooper linebacker Jack Lonaker made 142 tackles in 11 games for a 12.9 average that was 10th in the final statewide statistics posted on the khsaa.org website.

But surpassing that impressive total is not Lonaker’s primary focus going into his junior season with the Jaguars, who lost in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs last November and finished with a 7-5 record.

Cooper linebacker Jack Lonaker was among the state’s leading tacklers last season with 142 in 11 games. (Photo provided)

“My main goal is to make it past that first round of the playoffs,” he said. “Really, I wouldn’t be mad if my tackles went down because we’re shutting teams down so that they’re not on offense as much.”

Cooper’s defensive unit allowed just 12 points and 202 yards per game last season, but opponents scored more than 30 points in two of the four losses. In one of those games, Lonaker made a season-high 23 tackles during a 31-24 loss to Covington Catholic that went four overtime periods.

The 6-foot-215-pound middle linebacker was credited with 11 or more tackles in six other games last season. He said Cooper’s defensive linemen had a lot to do with his big numbers.

“I was going unblocked on almost every single play, so a lot of credit goes to them,” Lonaker said. “I can’t thank them enough because to me they’re basically like the O-line is to a quarterback.”

The only returning starter on Cooper’s defensive line is sophomore Austin Alexander, who recorded 61 tackles and had a team-leading 5.5 quarterback sacks. Lonaker said replacements for the three departed players up front “will step into their shoes very well.”

Jack Lonker

“I’ve been trying my best to help guide the younger players with what they’re doing,” he said. “I think it takes a group effort, seniors, juniors, everybody, to just try and get that team connection built and make sure everybody is on the same page.”

Lonaker will also see a lot of playing time on offense at tight end and fullback. Last year, he scored three touchdowns and three two-point conversions for 24 points playing those two positions.

Cooper lost starting quarterback Drew Warth and leading rusher Brendon Tye to graduation so the offense could be counting on Lonaker even more this season. To meet the demands of being a two-way starter, he devotes a lot of time to weight training. He often posts videos on Twitter showing his workouts with heavy metal. 

“It definitely helps a lot,” he said. “It helps with being able to get off blockers and makes you run fast. Mentally, it makes you tougher, too. It helps you in more ways that just physically.”

Lonaker was invited to football camps at several colleges during the spring and summer.  At one of them he learned about slip moves to evade blockers that he’s continuing to work on during Cooper’s preseason practice sessions.

“I’m trying to get college exposure,” he said of the camps, “but I’m also trying to get better while I’m there and learn new things that I can take back and help my team.”

2021 SEASON: 
 7-4 record, lost in first round of Class 5A playoffs.
DISTRICT:  Class 5A, District 5 with Boone County, Conner, Covington Catholic, Highlands.
HEAD COACH:  Randy Borchers (85-96 in 16 seasons overall, 78-82 in 14 seasons at Cooper).

Aug. 19 – GEORGE ROGERS CLARK, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 – at Dixie Heights, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2 – at Ryle, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 – at Campbell County, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 – COVINGTON CATHOLIC, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 – MADISON (Ind.), 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 – CONNER, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 – at Boone County, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 – at Highlands, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 – LOUISVILLE BUTLER, 7:30 p.m.

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