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1. Highlands – What else needs to be said? It’s Highlands. Like Trinity in 6A, Highlands has been unbeatable. However, Patick Towles is gone and CovCath came within five points last year in the regular season match-up. The Birds return a lot on Offense. Towles is a big loss, but his spot should be capably filled by Sr. Donovan McCoy. Jr. Drew Houliston is a very capable backup who would be starting at a lot of high schools. Turner, Christian, Collinsworth and Green are all very talented receivers, who give the Birds many options. Colin Seidl (a RB last year) could either line up as a RB or in the slot. He’s not real big, but very fast and elusive like so many Highlands’ players in the past. Seidl, along with power back Harris and speed back Hayes will provide the Birds with three excellent offensive running options. The offensive line will be extremely good anchored by center Mitch Dee. Add to that the experience of Schweitzer, Whitford, and Thome and the Birds will be solid up front. On defense, Hope and Schultz return and the LBs are talented with Poston, Wrobleski, and Ayers set to play. The secondary is loaded with experience with returners Murray, Schutte, and Streeter. Bardo and Heck should also see time there. As always, Coach Mueller has crafted a perfect schedule to match the talent available in Fort Thomas. The Birds start off with state power Boyle County and then play 6A Runner-Up Scott County. Covington Catholic, Elder (OH), and Ryle will also face the clear favorite to win the 2012 4A State Championship.

2. Covington Catholic - 2012 is the year of the Colonel. All BGP QB candidate Blake Bir leads the Colonels offense and All-State doesn’t have anything on Bir. Add to the mix, the fact that the youth program, started by current Dixie head coach Dave Brossart, is paying off for the Colonels. Finally, and maybe the biggest factor of all, head coach Dave Wirth has a manageable schedule. The big non-district games are Dixie, LaSalle (OH), and Conner which is a far cry from what the Colonels have faced in many seasons past . The defense, led by stud middle linebacker Sam Burchell, will be even stronger this season and will be the meat and potatoes of this year’s CovCath Football team. The offense – especially the offensive line – will be a work in progress. But looking back to the 2006 state championship season, the O-line at this time then was highly suspect, but by the end of the season they were instrumental in winning the state title. The offense will be very capable hands. In addition to Bir, little brother Luke Bir, Bobby Beatrice, and Sam Dressman will all be threats running the football. 2012 is a make or break year for the Colonels. They either get past Highlands this year or hope the enrollment numbers change.

3. Lexington Catholic - The Lexington Catholic Knights are coached by Bill Letton, whose record as head coach of the Knights is 57-23. In 2007, Letton’s Knights won their second state title. Their first state title came in 2005 under Coach Bob Spire. The Knights have lost to the eventual state champion in their class the last two years. Both of those teams had Kentucky’s Mr. Football for that year on their roster. This year, the Knights are determined to bring that streak to a screeching halt and hopefully, have their own Mr. Football in University of Louisville commit Kyle Bolin. Bolin returns in his third year as starting quarterback for the Knights. Favorite receivers for Bolin will be returning seniors Casey Nash and Anthony Kersey, along with junior David Bouvier. Junior tailback Marcelis Logan and junior full back Noah Mitchell give the Knights a lot of options in the backfield. The Knights like to spread the field with a combination of passing and running plays to get the most out of their highly talented offense. On the defensive side the Knights return their two top tacklers from 2011. Senior defensive back Alex Nash and junior linebacker Josh Mesmer combined for 186 tackles last year. The Knights also return a lot of experience at the other defensive positions this year. Senior DBs Mike Lynch and Derek Hayden have been in the starting line-up since they were sophomores. The Knights run an aggressive 3-5 defense that works best with skill and experience and the Knights have both this year at every position. The Knights also have two stud men in the trenches in Trey Mattingly and Alex Buckles. The Knights schedule will have them ready for the postseason. They start off the year against state power Bell County and the rest of the schedule is loaded with the likes of Male, Madison Central, Boyle, and the defending 5A champion, Bowling Green.

4. Boyle County - 2011 brought a season of change for the Rebels of Boyle County. It was the first time during Larry French's tenure that the Rebels didn't play after Thanksgiving. That cut deep in TitleTown. Work began immediately to erase the pain and ensure that the same doesn't happen in 2012. The Rebels return plenty of experience. The Rebels did lose their top two rushers but junior running back Seph Burke looks poised to take advantage of that opportunity. Burke ran for 518 yards and four touchdowns last season and his workload is looking to double this season. Signal caller, senior Casey Whittle, returns to lead the offense as well. Along with Whittle, senior wide receiver Lloyd Hall will be bringing his speed back to the turf, and senior Blake Mason will be bringing his reliable hands back as well. Senior kicker William Harris will also see time at receiver, as the Rebels look to have a formidable receiver corps for 2012. The success of the offense will largely depend on the offensive line. With some new faces on the line, this may be the one question mark for the Rebels. The Rebels should once again have one of the premier defensive units in the state. Senior defensive end Trey Yeager returns. Yeager had a very strong off-season – performing well at various offseason camps throughout the region. Senior linebackers Austin Muntz, Kyle Kephart and Keegan Kendrick will consistently make it hard on any team to run on this defense. The defensive backfield will be anchored by senior safety Clint Hellyer, who started last season. Hellyer, who is the only returning starter in the defensive backfield, is currently out with an injury, but he should be back to the field in early September. The new defensive backfield may undergo some early growing pains in the Rebels first game against Highlands, but they should learn and gain valuable experience from that game. Developing depth will be key to the Rebels success this season. As always, the goal is to end the season celebrating on the WKU football field. While Highlands is Highlands and Lexington Catholic is believed to be even better, the Rebels have had some success over both of those teams and they know they must go through both schools to even make it to WKU. With a strong senior class leading the way, these Rebels are ready for whatever challenges may lie ahead.

5. Lone Oak - In 2007, they were just happy to be there. The 2009 season ended in heartbreak, with a state title slipping from their grasp in the fourth quarter – eventually to be decided by a matter of inches. It's the last football season for Lone Oak (part of the pending McCracken County consolidation) and it's the last chance for the Purple Flash to make a run at that elusive state championship. With quarterback Cole Ousley and a big, veteran offensive line in tow, the ingredients are there to put together an explosive spread attack, even if some of the top skill-position players are underclassmen. Lone Oak's defensive line has been the strongest part of this team the last two seasons, and they’re hoping an experienced front four can control the line of scrimmage effectively enough to give the secondary time to develop. The Flash will have to win a playoff game or two on the road (something the program has never done) to get to Bowling Green, but it's certainly possible.

6. Johnson Central - Like him or not (and there are plenty on both sides of the fence), Jim Matney certainly merits credit for building what some considered a longtime underachiever into one of the mountains' perennial powerhouse programs. Matney is a master motivator, and one of his selling points is that there is indeed life after the loss of record-setting tailback J.J. Jude. Strong line play should go a long way toward offsetting Jude's departure, and the Eagles have certainly shown the ability to reload in previous years.

7. Collins - It's hard to argue with what Jerry Lucas has done in two seasons at Collins, which opened when Shelby County was split into half. All the Titans have done is go 22-5 since the school's doors were opened – with close losses in the regional finals and state semifinals. Last year's exit was particularly tough to take, a 20-15 loss at Franklin-Simpson in the final four. Collins' strength was a defense that posted four shutouts and held half its opponents to one touchdown or less. If the Titans make it back to the semifinals, they will be playing host, with an eye on making it to Bowling Green.

8. Ashland - Coach Leon Hart begins his 10th season at the helm of the Tomcats needing to replace one of the most talented classes of athletes the school has seen in some time. The most notable of the new faces will be Aaron Elam, who will replace the longtime starter under center, Sam Hunter. Elam is more of a dual threat QB, who will command as much attention from the opponent with his feet as his arm. The skill people for Ashland will not be easily accounted for, combining experience and speed. Seniors Logan Salow and Malik Massey will be the men on the outside, while Evan Youngue and freshman sensation Quentin Baker (son of former UK running back Al Baker) will be commanding most of the carries. The core of Ashland's success, however, will likely be the experience and talent that they return up front on both sides of the ball. They'll be anchored by returning all-area performers in Cade O'Bryan and Drew Walters as well as four-year letterman Shannon Justice. Expect Ashland to control the line of scrimmage this season by being tougher in the trenches. Just like everyone on this side of the playoff card, the championship will run through Northern KY, however, Ashland will be a significant obstacle along the way, if they can control the tempo and impose their will on their opponent.

9. Russell County - It's safe to say the Lakers are still stewing over last year's quick playoff exit. After missing out on an undefeated season and a district title (with an overtime loss to Rockcastle County), they were victims of a first-round upset by Mercer County in the playoffs. Tailback Nick Britt is one of the state's better all-around athletes and leads an offense that averaged close to 40 points per game last season. Russell could be part of one of the state's best district races, along with Rockcastle County and Knox Central. The teams split their three meetings last season, with two of them decided by a touchdown or less.

10. Rockcastle County - "The Rock" is back in the 4A picture with 13 starters and a defense with enough team speed to, as coach Scott Parkey says, "eliminate the big play and send pressure from many different places." Linebacker Damien McDaniel was clocked at 4.43 in the 40-yard dash in the offseason and gives the Rockets an element of quickness on the outside to go with 235-pound inside linebacker Boone Saylor. Corey McPhetridge is back at quarterback and has capable receivers, but the backfield is unproven after 80 percent of the team's rushing yardage was lost to graduation.