Football Preview: Coming off championship appearance, BGA returns top talent plus new coach

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Battle Ground Academy returns plenty of top talent in 2019, just a season removed from a runner-up finish in Division II-AA.

One new face on campus, though, is head football coach Jonas Rodriguez. He was hired in April to replace Roc Batten, who had guided the Wildcats for eight seasons with two championship game appearances. 

Rodriguez led a rebuilding effort at Evangelical Christian School for two seasons, going 13-10 in that span with playoff appearances both seasons, while being named the DII-AA West Region Coach of the Year in 2018. 

“It’s been great to get to know these kids and work with a new set of coaches,” said Rodriguez, who has 15 years of coaching experience and was former multi-sport standout at Montgomery Bell Academy. “The parents of our players have been fantastic and I’m just really excited about this season and building on the success of this program.” 

Rodriguez can turn to senior quarterback Nick Semptimphelter on the field to help lead BGA. The Bucknell commitment threw for more than 3,100 yards with 36 touchdowns in leading the Wildcats to the championship game a season ago. 

Semptimphelter has two of his top targets back in Purdue commit Antonio Stevens and Northwestern commit Garnett Hollis Jr. – two-way players who lead the defense as well.

At running back, Briston Bennett and Kaleb Seay will continue their ball-carrying duties on offense and also be relied on defensively. The pair combined for more than 1,200 yards on the ground last season as BGA pieced together a seven-game win streak to reach the final, averaging a shade under 40 points per game.

“I think our offense can be really exciting to watch,” Rodriguez said. “We have a number of guys who can do some really good things with the ball in their hands. … Our major focus is developing our young line.” 

BGA returns 10 starters overall, but lost seven players to graduation from the trenches. Several freshmen and sophomores will be playing key roles on the line, Rodriguez said.

“They are coming along,” he said. “We really are still trying to identify our best lineup on both the offensive and defensive lines.”

Senior Cade Jenkins is the veteran of the group along with junior Iman Lohrasbi and sophomore Zion Morris in the trenches. 

“We will be doing some adjustments as we go,” Rodriguez said. “The guys coming back at least have a moderate understanding of what it takes to (get to the championship), but the crucial piece is for us to stay process-focused not outcome-focused. 

“The task right now for us is to continue to develop our team chemistry.” 

BGA opens the season with two road games at McGavock and at Father Ryan before returning for their home opener and region opener against Goodpasture. 

The Wildcats championship rematch against Christ Presbyterian Academy will be in Week 5 on Sept. 20. Other non-conference games include home contests against Franklin-Simpson of Kentucky on Sept. 13 and against East Nashville (Sept. 27) and Lincoln County (Oct. 17.) BGA closes the regular season on the road at Spring Hill and Lipscomb Academy.

“We have some really talented kids who played a lot last year as juniors and will definitely be leaders for us this season with a nice mix of young faces,” Rodriguez said. “It’s really just exciting to see the kids working hard and then getting that reward to play on Friday nights.

“It’s finally here.”

This story and photos are included in the 2019 Williamson Herald High School Football Media Guide! Pick up your copy for stories like this, full schedules, predictions and more!

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