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Lakota East football: Top 7 Thunderhawks in program history

Former Lakota High School athletic director Stu Eversole brought Greg Bailie in to turn around the Thunderbirds’ football program in 1993.

Almost as soon as he did, Bailie was dealt a new challenge: Starting up a new program at Lakota East after the district split into two high schools.

Bailie guided Lakota to an 11-1 record and its first-ever Division I state playoff appearance in 1995 and two years later saw his team broken in half. Many of the seniors followed him, but Bailie — now an assistant at Thomas More College — couldn’t help but wonder what might have been for his team without the split.

LAKOTA WEST: Top 7 players in program history

“We went from close to 100 players at Lakota to 50-something the first year at East,” said Bailie, who spent 13 seasons with the Thunderhawks. “As I go back, every year we had bigger squads, and once we got going we were back to where we were before. I thought the administration and everyone making the decision did about as good a job as you could do handling the split. From a football standpoint we were scrambling, but after a while, both teams from a numbers standpoint started getting back to where we were before the split.”

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After never losing more than four games in his four seasons at Lakota, Bailie navigated around a 20-30 start through the first five years at East.

He guided East to its best season in 2004 with a 9-1 record (7-0 Greater Miami Conference) and the program’s first — and only — league championship, but said he always had good enough athletes to compete.

“I always looked at the other school and thought, if we were one school, I’d have that guy,” Bailie said. “It was a matter of where the kids lived. You take what you get, though. We had some really good players at East, and I think West has too. Some years the talent was probably even, some years somebody had the edge. I thought every year we were GMC-caliber in regard to talent.”

Here’s who we consider the all-time seven best football players at Lakota East in a continuing series. Have something to say about this alphabetical list? Email your comments to sports@coxohio.com.

Location: Liberty Township, Butler County

Affiliation: Greater Miami Conference

Division: D-1, Region 4

1. Jay Boyd, RB, 1998: A fleet-footed tailback, Boyd rushed for 1,608 yards as a senior, which ranked fourth highest in Lakota history at the time and put him at 2,740 yards for his career. Only nine other players from the district had ever topped the 2,000-yard rushing mark. He was named first-team All-GMC, All-Butler County, All-Cincinnati and All-Southwest Ohio and eventually was inducted into the Lakota Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.

Boyd played three years at Denison University, rushing for 1,039 yards and nine touchdowns over 29 games.

2. Paul Bowen, RB, 2006: The Butler County Offensive Player of the Year as a junior, Bowen catapulted East to its league title and 9-1 finish in 2004. He led the city of Cincinnati in scoring that year, amassing 23 touchdowns and 1,586 yards rushing in his first season as a starter. Bowen rushed for 952 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior, but his season was cut short after seven games. He was still named first-team all-GMC.

The 6-foot, 210-pound back walked on at Miami, but suffered from joint problems in his knee and shoulder and never made it on the field.

3. Cory Keebler, TE/OL, 2010: Perhaps a little under the radar in high school as a blocking tight end, Keebler still managed first-team All-GMC and All-Southwest Ohio selections his senior year. He went on to sign with the University of Cincinnati as a slender, lanky one-star recruit, but didn’t sniff the two-deep until he added 60 pounds to become a 6-foot-7, 294-pound offensive tackle. Keebler saw his first action with the Bearcats as a junior and was thrust into the starting lineup for the Belk Bowl in 2013. He was slated to start as a senior in 2014, but tore his ACL in the opener against Ohio State, ending a career that might have transitioned into the NFL.

4. Casey Kjos, WR/DB, 2005: Kjos helped the Hawks to a 23-7 record over his three years on the team. He was named first-team all-district, all-county and All-Greater Miami Conference as a senior after catching 19 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns and recording 58 tackles and five interceptions at safety. Kjos went on to play wide receiver at Oregon State, but missed the entire 2007 season with a back injury after playing on special teams as a true freshman the year before and never fully recovered. He retired from football prior to his senior year after starting just three games in his once promising career.

5. Jarrett LaRubbio, OL, 2014: A three-star rated college prospect, LaRubbio was ranked the 27th-best player in the state and 20th best offensive guard in the nation by Rivals.com coming out of high school. He had 80 pancake blocks combined between his final two of three seasons starting for East. As a senior, he helped the Hawks’ offense average 319.9 yards, including 6.2 yards per carry, and 26.1 points per game. LaRubbio was named first-team all-state by the Associated Press, as well as first-team All-GMC and All-Southwest Ohio, and he was a high school All-American, thanks to recognition on the U.S. National Football Team.

LaRubbio originally began his college career at the University of Kentucky, but played in just one game as a redshirt freshman in 2015. After transferring to Miami and sitting out last season because of transfer rules, he is starting at right guard for the RedHawks this season.

6. Mike Rabin, RB/DB, 2000: Rabin, a three-year letterwinner, is considered among the most versatile football players in Lakota history as he rarely left the field. As a senior, he was awarded postseason honors at three different positions.

As a return specialist, he was first team All-Cincinnati, leading the city in punt return average and returning one for the game-winning touchdown at the Cincinnati East/West All-Star Game with two minutes left. As a defensive back, he was named first-team All-Butler County, second-team All-GMC and All-Southwest Ohio honorable mention after recording 13 career interceptions, though none bigger than the game-sealing pick in the closing seconds of the inaugural Lakota East vs. West game. Rabin also was a second-team All-GMC running back.

Rabin went on to play baseball at Ohio State, where he was an All-Big Ten player, and he was inducted into the Lakota Athletic Hall of Fame for both sports in 2011.

7. Brad Williams, LB, 2003: One of the top defensive players in East’s history, Williams was the first player in the program to sign to play Division I college football. He went on to play four years at Bowling Green and served as captain as a senior in 2006. Williams finished with 153 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks over four total seasons, the final two and a half as a starter.

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