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Headlines and questions surrounding the upcoming season

- With brand names like South Warren, Covington Catholic, Bowling Green, and Highlands roaming the 5A landscape, this class was already crowded at the top. But the KHSAA's quadrennial reshuffling of the deck has placed two of 6A's best from last year in 5A, as Scott County and Frederick Douglass have shed a few pounds and dropped down a weight class. Can the mainstays of 5A stand their ground or will the Cardinals and/or Broncos shift the power dynamic in their favor right away?

- Half of this year's preseason top 10 experienced an extremely high level of QB play in 2018. Gavin Spurrier, Cam Jones, Wiley Cain, Beau Buchanan, and Will Warren accounted for over 15,000 yards and 170 TDs with a collective TD/int. ratio of 5 to 1. All of those guys will be playing on Saturdays this fall, and they've all left behind enormous voids at the most critical position on the field for their old teams.

- 2018 champion South Warren lost more talent than arguably anyone else in the state. Can the Spartans scoff at their heavy graduation losses and make a push to repeat, or will Bowling Green reclaim its status as kings of WKY 5A football?

- Will Covington Catholic shake off last season's disappointing conclusion and its own significant loss of talent to continue the resurgence of CovCath football under Eddie Eviston?

- Where does Highlands fit into this puzzle? Will they continue to inch their way back to the top, or instead take a giant leap forward?

- Is there someone a little further back in the pack (South Oldham? Pulaski County? Owensboro?) that's ready to take the next step and upset the 5A apple cart?

The 5A Top 10

1.Frederick Douglass Broncos
Coach: Brian Landis
2018 Record and Result: 11-1, Second Round loss to Scott County in 6A
Key Returners: Walker Parks (OL/DL), Dekel Crowdus (WR), Jager Burton (OL), Lonnie Collins (OL), Dane Key (WR/DB), Darius Neal (RB), Devin Neal (S), Ramarcus Thompson (LB), Jaylin Bybee (DB), Ty Bryant (WR/DB), Romarion Warner (DL)
Key Losses: Cameron Jones (QB), DaMarco Fishback (RB), Haiden Hunt (WR), Micah Lowe (WR), Montaveon Bean (WR), Jake O'Buck (OL), Jeffrey Black (OL), Gabe Hillyard (LB), Fredrick Jewett (LB), Jayshaun Coffman (DL), David Arnold (LB), Daiyaan Perkins (DB)

Cause for optimism
Simply put, Frederick Douglass is the most attractive place to play football in Fayette County right now. They've drawn talent from all over Lexington and beyond. The Broncos will have perhaps the most talented pair of bookend tackles in the state with 6’6”, 275 lb senior Walker Parks (Clemson commit) and 6’4”, 280 lb junior Jager Burton (offers from Alabama, Ohio State, UK, WVU, and Penn St.). Leading the way from the skill positions will be junior wideout Dekel Crowdus (37 catches/831 yards/11 TDs), who looks ready to establish himself as one of the very best WRs in the Commonwealth. He already holds offers from the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State, and UK. He'll be catching balls from Paintsville transfer Josh McClurg, a shifty dual threat QB who could provide FD with an unexpected lift at that position. Rounding out the cast of D1 commits/hopefuls is S/RB Devin Neal (55 tackles/1 int./Cincinnati commit) and sophomore wide receivers Dane Key (Marshall and WKU offers) and Ty Bryant (Marshall offer).

Reason to pump the brakes
Six-foot-eight inch FBS quarterbacks with cannons for right arms don't just grow on trees. Cam Jones ranks among the top 10 all-time in Kentucky for career passing yards and TDs. It shouldn't be taken for granted that the Broncos can just plug someone into that position and not miss a beat. FD's leading returning rusher only carried the ball 25 times last year in the shadow of DaMarco Fishback. Can the "next man up" replicate Fishback's impact and production? Four of the top six tacklers from 2018, all in the front seven, have moved on. They represent a combined 210 stops and 29.5 TFL. That's a bad spot to have holes when you're looking at two likely meetings with Scott County just to advance beyond the second round.

Closing thought
With the talent returning for Coach Brian Landis and Co., there's no reason to believe the Broncos won't continue to climb the ladder of Kentucky high school football. In fact, this could be the year they reach the summit.

2.Scott County Cardinals
Coach: Jim McKee
2018 Record and Result: 11-4, 6A Runner-up to Male
Key Returners: Bronson Brown (RB/DB), Cade McKee (QB), Austin Taylor (OL), Peyton Saunders (OL), John Hulette (OL), Rylan Reed (LB), Sam Daniel (LB), Tasian Stakelin (CB), Campton Martin (DB), Alberto Campos (DL)
Key Losses: Bryan Hudson (OL/DL), Glenn Covington (WR/DB), Austin Barnett (RB), Payton Brown (RB), Cameron Carpenter (OL), Tyler Sammons, (OL) Berk Watts (LB), Winston Reibel (LB), Zack Coleman (DL), Christian Carter (DL), Matt Fannin (LB), Adam Greiving (CB),

Cause for optimism
The opening of Great Crossing this year means that the Cardinals have dropped to 5A. Without Louisville's “big three” (Trinity, Male, and St. X) standing in its way, Scott County's path to a state championship is slightly less treacherous than it was in the big school division. Fleet footed Bronson Brown (1,494 yards/21 TDs) returns as the centerpiece of the Cardinals' always potent running game and is slotted to fill a big role on defense as well. He'll have Austin Taylor (offer from Morehead State) and Peyton Saunders, two of 5A's finest run blockers, opening holes for him. And it always helps to get your starting QB back, but it's especially meaningful when he also happens to be the coach's son (Cade McKee), who surely knows his father's offense like the back of his hand.

Reason to pump the brakes
The o-line is always the most important unit on the field for any offense, but especially so for a heavily ground oriented team running the wing-t. Graduation took a big bite out of Scott County's offensive front in the form of Bryan Hudson, a once in a generation caliber lineman now suiting up for Virginia Tech. Glenn Covington accounted for 60% of Scott County's receiving yardage and all but two of the team's receiving scores, leaving the Cardinals with no proven pass catchers. Hudson's (team high 29 TFL and 8 sacks) void will also be felt on the defensive side, as will Covington's (4 ints., including two pick-six's). As many as eight defensive positions could be held down by first year starters.

Closing thought
Scott County has to feel good about its outlook going forward over the next four years in 5A. But if they're hoping for a return trip to Kroger Field, they'll have to overcome the same challenges as virtually all other 5A contenders in 2019… an abundance of new names and faces at key positions.

3.Covington Catholic Colonels
Coach: Eddie Eviston
2018 Record and Result: 14-1, 5A Runner-up to South Warren
Key Returners: Michael Mayer (TE/LB), Caleb Jacob (QB), Lucas Jones (OL), Zach Allen (OL), Daniel Felix (RB/LB), Andrew Molique (CB), Wyatt Schwartz (CB), Trey Gronotte (K)
Key Losses: Casey McGinness (RB), Jack Coldiron (WR/LB), Zac Coburn (WR), Carter Black (OL), Grant Hemmer (OL/DL), Jackson Sora (OL), Ross Halverstadt (OL), Jackson Blank (S), Jacob Shriver (DL), Andrew Shelton (S), Duncan Summe (WR/DB), Luke Summe (WR/LB)

Cause for optimism
Caleb Jacob (2,819 yards/28 TD passes) and Michael Mayer (46 receptions/1,029 yards/12 TDs) are one of the top pitch and catch combos in the state. Mayer (6'5", 240 lbs) is the top rated tight end in the country and will be heading to South Bend next year. He's also a game changing presence at middle linebacker, where he accumulated a team high 98 tackles in 2018. And look for Jacob to take a big step forward in his development after a full season as a starter plus another off-season under his belt. He could distinguish himself as the top QB in the class this year. Other returning standouts include Lucas Jones on the o-line, Daniel Felix (49 tackles/7.5 TFL) at linebacker, Wyatt Schwartz and Andrew Molique in the secondary, and kicker Trey Gronotte (71 of 73 on xp with four field goals).

Reason to pump the brakes
Who replaces Casey McGinness and his 2,481 yards from scrimmage and 40 combined TDs? CovCath's leading returning rusher had just 144 yards last season, so we could see more of a running back by committee approach in 2019. Beyond Mayer, the receiving corps was depleted by graduation, including the loss of Jack Coldiron. The rest of the returning roster combined for only 15 receptions and 108 yards with zero varsity touchdown grabs. Lucas Jones (6'4", 275 lbs) should be a force on the o-line, but four quality bodies from one of 2018's best units will need replacing. Defensively, the Colonels only return three of their top twelve tacklers from last year and must replace the entire d-line.

Closing thought
Go ahead and expect CovCath to be good again. But in order to compete with their new classmates, the running back and receiver positions as well as the line of scrimmage will need numerous unknowns to step up and make themselves known.

4.Highlands Bluebirds
Coach: Brian Weinrich
2018 Record and Result: 10-3, Region Final loss to Covington Catholic
Key Returners: Brycen Huddleston (LB), Joe Buten (RB), Hunter Ahlfeld (WR), Max Dierig (OL), Brock Huber (OL), Dylan Turner (OL), Mason South (LB), Mason Schwalbach (LB), Jack Delagrange (LB), Zachary Lewin (DL), Connor Zell (DL), Jacob Brass (DB)
Key Losses: Grady Cramer (QB), Cooper Schwalbach (RB), Nate Roberts (WR), Austin King (WR), Ben Sisson (TE/DE), Jackson Hagedorn (LB), Alex Starkey (LB) Nick Bowman (LB/K), Bailey Armstrong (DB), Casey Greene (DB)

Cause for optimism
Brycen Huddleston, who's committed to Eastern Michigan, is a name that most fans of NKY football are very familiar with by now. He's been talked about on BGP since day one of his freshman year. When he's not flying sideline to sideline making plays from his linebacker position, he's taking kicks to the house, something he did four times in 2018. If Highlands can incorporate him into the offensive side of the ball, look out. And even if they don't, running back Joe Buten (537 yards/9 TDs) and wide receiver Hunter Ahlfeld (417 yards/6 TDs) give the Birds a couple of playmakers on offense to build around and accompany three returning starters on the o-line.

Reason to pump the brakes
Over 3,600 yards of total offense and 41 TDs were lost to graduation in the form of last year's QB, leading rusher, and leading receiver. It's hard to shrug off the loss of numbers like that from a trio of offensive leaders. There were significant losses at all three levels of the defense - Sisson, Hagedorn, Starkey, Bowman, Armstrong, and Greene leave behind a big void in production on that side of the ball. With the new playoff format and the additions of Scott County and Frederick Douglass, an arduous postseason path is almost assured from the second round on.

Closing thought
The CovCath game(s) looms large for the Birds once again. Their success, or lack thereof against the Colonels will dictate how most onlookers judge this coming season for Highlands.

5.Bowling Green Purples
Coach: Mark Spader
2018 Record and Result: 9-3, 2nd Round loss to Owensboro
Key Returners: Vito Tisdale (RB/DB), Jordan Dingle (TE), Evan Spader (S/RB), Tucker Prieskorn (CB), Scotty Brown (WR), Dezmond Wilson (WR), Elvin Fofanah (WR), Zakery Brassell (TE), Terrion Thompson (DL)
Key Losses: Beau Buchanan (QB), Tre Cofer (OL), David Sansom (OL), Sam Vitale (OL), Harrison Riggs (WR), Ivan Drobocky (TE), Javon Martin (DL), Durrell Gray (DL), Jaylen Wardlow (CB), Davis Tomblinson (S), Harris Tomblinson (LB), Miles Smith (LB), Ethan Klein (LB)

Cause for optimism
Any conversation about Bowling Green returning to the state championship picture in 2019 begins with Vito Tisdale. The senior star, who holds offers from the likes of Alabama, Oklahoma, UK, and UofL, is a sublime talent capable of changing the course of a game in all three phases. He's BG's leading rusher and totalled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 13 combined trips to the endzone last season. The Purples are well stocked with pass catchers, led by 6’4” tight end Jordan Dingle (39 catches/446 yards/4 TDs), who holds offers from UK, UofL, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech, among others. Scotty Brown, Dezmond Wilson, Zakery Brassell, and Elvin FoFanah combined for an additional 81 receptions for 1,020 yards and 13 scores. The secondary should the strength of the defense with the return of Evan Spader (68 tackles), Tucker Prieskorn (team high 4 ints.), and the aforementioned Tisdale.

Reason to pump the brakes
Bowling Green has been on a stellar run of QB play over the past decade or so, most recently with Beau Buchanan. After two years of Buchanan's steady hand, the task of extending that run appears to have fallen at the inexperienced feet of junior Conner Cooper. The offensive skill people are present and accounted for, but the offensive line will require some retooling following the losses of Tre Cofer, David Sansom, and Sam Vitale. The defense must replace several starters from a unit that surrendered just 9 ppg in the team's nine wins, but an unacceptable 42 ppg in their three losses. Most of those holes are in the front seven following the losses of Durrell Gray and Javon Martin on the d-line, as well as three starting linebackers. That group of 'backers includes three of BG's top four tacklers from a year ago.

Closing thought
Bowling Green's ego was dealt a severe blow last season, being relegated to second fiddle in its own backyard. A position they're unaccustomed to, to be sure. We should find out a little something about the Purples’ resilience in the weeks and months to come.

6.South Warren Spartans
Coach: Brandon Smith
2018 Record and Result: 15-0, 5A State Champions
Key Returners: Tomi Mustapha (WR/CB), Colt Jackson (OL), Ethan Hildreth (OL), Logan Karoffa (OL/DL), Luke Burton (LB), Isaac Young (DL), Chidi Afam (TE), Jantzen Dunn (WR/DB)
Key Losses: Jacob Lacey (DL/OL), Gavin Spurrier (QB), Clayton Bush (WR/S), Cameron Harrison (RB), Tanner Gallihair (WR), Pete Cross (OL, LB), Tre Teague (LB), Rowdy Shea (LB), Trent Rice (DL), MJ Boley (DB)

Cause for optimism
We're not going to sugar coat this… South Warren loses waaaaay more than it returns from last year's championship squad. No one in the state lost the quantity of high impact players that the Spartans did. But there are some bright spots worthy of mention here. Wide receivers Tomi Mustapha (38 catches/464 yards/4 TDs) and Jantzen Dunn, as well as tight end Chidi Afam should make for a promising crew of pass catchers. Offensive tackle Colt Jackson (offer from Morehead State) returns after missing nearly all of last season and will be joined by returning starters Ethan Hildreth and Julian Boley on the o-line. D-linemen Isaac Young (52 tackles/8 sacks) and Logan Karoffa, plus Mustapha and Dunn in the secondary should make for a solid foundation to help offset some of the loss of so much talent and production on that side of the ball.

Reason to pump the brakes
Where to start? How about the departures of Jacob Lacey (Notre Dame), Clayton Bush (WKU), and Gavin Spurrier (Duke)? Generally speaking, you don't lose guys like that all at once and not feel it the next year. Those three plus several other graduates now playing on Saturdays at the small college level will leave the Spartans looking like a very different team this season. Position group wise, linebacker was hit the hardest, losing all three members of one of the most productive, experienced, and all around best linebacker trio's in the state. Spurrier's successor at QB will be hard pressed to come anywhere close to his predecessor's incredibly high level of play - 41 TD passes/only 3 ints./nearly 70% completion percentage. Additionally, replacing Cameron Harrison's production (1,800 yards from scrimmage/25 TDs) and versatility out of the backfield should prove a tall task. He quietly put together a superstar type year in 2018.

Closing thought
At first glance, the reigning champions should take a step back this season. But with so much program momentum and a coach the caliber of Brandon Smith, it would be foolish to doubt South Warren's ability to compete with the best.

7.South Oldham Dragons
Coach: Jamie Reed
2018 Record and Result: 12-2, Semifinal loss to South Warren
Key Returners: Keaton Martin (RB), Ethan Bednarczyk (WR), Anthony Pierce (QB), JT Benson (SB/DB), Evan Nash (OL), Garrett Chester (OL), Zack Dudek (OL/DL), Luke Clark (DL), Joey Sprake (DL), Isaac Lalli (DB), John Downing (DB)
Key Losses: Colton Bowlden (RB), Seth Ford (OL), Zack Mason (OL), Mason Bowman (LB), Jack Harold (DL), Cade White (LB), Noah Mitchell (LB), Tae Winfield (LB), Ian Zapanta (DL)

Cause for optimism
Martin (the state's active career rushing leader with 4,325 yards), Bednarczyk (665 receiving yards/8 TDs/offers from Morehead and Murray State), and Benson (965 yards from scrimmage/15 TDs) give Coach Reed a stellar trio of skill people to build his offense around. Quarterback Anthony Pierce doesn't sling it much, but he's very efficient and effective when he does. He only completed 48 throws in 2018, but they went for over a thousand yards and 15 TDs against just a single interception. The d-line and secondary look to be in great shape with three starters/major contributors returning at the first and third levels of the defense.

Reason to pump the brakes
The linebacking corp was completely gutted by graduation. To be that green at such a crucial position has to be cause for concern. The schedule is lacking the type of challenging games that could have a team battle tested and prepared come playoff time. After the season opener versus CAL, it appears to be smooth sailing to the regular season finish line. South Oldham has yet to prove that it can clear that final hurdle and make it to championship weekend. This doesn't look like the type of schedule that will help them get where they want to go, especially in a class this loaded at the top.

Closing thought
South Oldham has reached a level of success in recent years (44-9 since 2015 with a couple of regional championships) that places them a notch below the top tier. And they have the talent to at least hold steady for another year. But do the Dragons have it in them to fly a little higher in 2019?

8.Pulaski County Maroons
Coach: Johnny Hines
2018 Record and Result: 11-3, Semifinal loss to Covington Catholic
Key Returners: Jake Sloan (WR), Tristan Cox (RB/LB), Ian Ware (WR/RB/DB), Grant Oakes (WR), Jacob Shepherd (WR), Ethan Fuentes (OL), Paul Judd (OL), Michael Hines (OL), Dylan Hughes (OL), Konner Hargis (LB), Evan Mercer (LB), Chase Parmelee (LB), Devon Tolson (DL), Jordan Lanter (DL), Ethan Mills (DB)
Key Losses: Wiley Cain (QB), Ethan Casada (DB), Trae Griffith (DL), Dalton Hays (OL)

Cause for optimism
Two of the top players in 5A will be clad in silver and maroon this year. Wide receiver Jake Sloan, who topped the state in catches (116, forty-six more than the next guy) and yards (1,666) last year, has a shot at finishing #2 all time in career receptions and could crack the top five in career yards. Tristan Cox, who posted over 1,100 yards from scrimmage and 21 total TDs last year, has been a major factor for Pulaski's offense since his freshman year. Last season, he emerged as a force on defense with 106 tackles. He holds offers from UK, UofL, WVU, and Purdue, among others. With only five seniors on the roster last year, the Maroons return mostly intact, especially on defense. Aside from Cox, linebackers Konner Hargis (124 tackles/21 TFL/4 int.) and Evan Mercer (88 tackles/5 sacks) are some other standout names on that side of the ball.

Reason to pump the brakes
The obvious question surrounding Pulaski County this season is, who steps up to replace Wiley Cain? The three year starter tossed 35 TD passes last season and led the state with nearly 4,000 yards through the air. Needless to say, he left some very large shoes to fill.

Closing thought
With so many starters returning, and two elite talents to work with, Coach Hines just needs to develop a serviceable replacement at QB for the Maroons to potentially have a big year.

9.Owensboro Red Devils
Coach: Jayson Fallin
2018 Record and Result: 10-3, Region Final loss to South Warren
Key Returners: Tyren Hayden (WR), Treyvon Tinsley (WR), Ben Flaherty (WR), Dartanyan Tinsley (OL), Austin Gough (LB), Trace Grenier (DL), Cameron Thompson (DB), Ethan Avery (DB), Jordan Sorrells (LB), Jaiden Greathouse (DL), Yovani Sales (DL), Grayson McFarland (K)
Key Losses: Will Warren (QB), Imonte Owsley (RB/WR/DB), Trevon Green (RB), Carson Brooks (OL/DL), Logan Webb (OL), Qualon Tinsley (OL), Mariano Eastwood (OL), Diamond Glover (DL), Jaiden Kendall (DL), Aireon Phillips (DB/WR)

Cause for optimism
The Red Devils return several bodies on defense, including linebacker Jordan Sorrells, who will have to assume a much bigger role in terms of both leadership and production. He'll be patrolling the middle behind a strong returning core of d-linemen that includes Trace Grenier, Jaiden Greathouse, and Yovani Sales. Secondary mates Ethan Avery (47 tackles/2 ints.) and Cameron Thompson (51 tackles) are back to round out an experienced defense. Tyren Hayden, Treyvon Tinsley, and Ben Flaherty are all back after accounting for 1,500 yards receiving and 19 TDs in Owensboro's uncharacteristically air oriented offense.

Reason to pump the brakes
To put it mildly, Will Warren's 2018 season was a transcendent year for Owensboro QBs. He was the trigger man for an explosive offense, shattered school records for passing yards and touchdowns, and played no small part in Owensboro getting the Bowling Green monkey off its back. Without him, can the Red Devils continue to be more diverse on offense, or will they revert back to the run heavy identity we're accustomed to seeing? Nothing takes the starch out of a promising outlook on your season quite like the injury bug. The loss of Owsley to a season ending knee injury doesn't mean that Owensboro can't still have a great year. But in the eyes of many outside the program, it's a potential kill shot to any dreams of a trip to Kroger Field. This is one of the most versatile and dynamic playmakers in the state suddenly taken off the board. To make matters worse, returning starter Mariano Eastwood (OL) has also been lost for the season. And most recently, 2018 AP 1st team all-state linebacker Austin Gough suffered an injury expected to keep him out for an extended period of time, if not the whole season. Only time will tell if he sees the field this year. For a program looking to make up ground on the South Warren's and CovCath's of the world, the schedule leaves much to be desired in terms of challenging games. Similarly to South Oldham's, this doesn't look like a schedule that will prepare them for a deep playoff run.

Closing thought
The Red Devils appear to have the speed and athleticism to take another step, but the development of the quarterback position and avoiding further injuries will be of paramount importance to Owensboro's chances of playing into late November.

10.Graves County Eagles
Coach: Nick Kemp (interim)
2018 Record and Result: 5-6, First Round loss to Grayson County
Key Returners: Cody Goatley (RB/LB), Race Richards (WR), Nelson Browning (WR/DB), Sam Thompson (OL), Mitchell Cotton (OL), Lincoln Harris (OL), Jacob Mills (OL), Aidan Lyman (LB) Grant Womble (DL), Alex Ramage (DL), Caleb Beck (DB), Brady Nall (LB), Riley Thompson (DB), Clint McKee (RB/DB), Tavis Brown (RB/DB)
Key Losses: Ryan Mathis (QB/DB), Drew Cooper (WR), Kody Lamb (LB), Max Wilson (OL)

Cause for optimism
The Eagles only graduated a handful of starters last spring, and return one of the better players in the class that you probably haven't heard of, Cody Goatley. Goatley (offers from Air Force and Murray State) was Graves' leading rusher in 2018 and logged 87 tackles from his linebacker position in just eight games. Coach Kemp has a strong foundation to build on that also includes wideouts Race Richards and Nelson Browning - who combined for 54 catches/902 yards/9 TDs - plus four returning starters on the offensive line and several returning starters on defense. Included among those defensive returnees are secondary mates Riley Thompson, who holds an offer from Morehead State, and Tavis Brown (team high 4 ints.).

Reason to pump the brakes
The losses of QB Ryan Mathis, WR Drew Cooper, and LB Kody Lamb will probably be felt early. Those three were too productive not to miss. Mathis, especially, was a leader and terrific all-around football player. The front end of the schedule - Murray, McCracken County, Paducah Tilghman, Mayfield - will present its share of challenges. A bad start could hinder the outlook of what appears to be a promising squad. And getting beyond the second round of the playoffs likely means beating Owensboro, a team that clocked them 47-6 last year and returns the majority of its starters.

Closing thought
If Graves County can brush aside the off-season turnover of their head coaching position - Lance Gregory resigns, Morgan Cruce is hired before stepping down a few weeks later, and finally, Nick Kemp is tabbed as interim coach - the Eagles could be the surprise team of this class. On paper, this has the makings of their best team since the 2014 5A runner-ups.

On the outside looking in (in alphabetical order)

Bullitt Central Cougars (7-5, Second Round loss to South Oldham)
To say that Bullitt Central will be inexperienced at QB is quite an understatement. The Cougars return exactly one pass attempt from a season ago. The backfield duo of Kylor Close and Warren Coogle, who combined for 2,400 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns, should be leaned on heavily until the new signal caller settles in. Coogle (105 tackles/2 ints.) and Close (51 tackles/4 ints.) are also the only two of last year's top eight tacklers returning. On a more positive note, realignment has placed the Cougars in a more favorable district. Bullitt Central no longer has to best South Oldham (who battered BC twice last year) for a district championship. They'll now tangle with the Jefferson County quartet of Doss, Western, Iroquois, and Fairdale.

Christian County Colonels (4-7, First Round loss to Bowling Green)
Graduation and transfers really took a toll on the Colonels last season. The former appears to have again left its mark on the program, as Christian County said goodbye to 24 seniors from last year's squad that only featured 44 players in grades 10-12. The offense will feature a mostly new cast with the losses of their primary skill people, most of the offensive line, and starting QB JLin Powell, who was lost to transfer. The trio of Niko Bussell (LB), Cambrin Hayes (DL), and LRay Coleman (DB) will be called upon to lead at each level of the defense. The line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball will be very green early on and will be tested against the likes of CAL, Madisonville-North Hopkins, and Hopkinsville before South Warren and Bowling Green come calling in district play. Coach Lovelace has endured the ups and downs (far more ups) at Christian County over the past twelve years. He's no stranger to the challenges in front of him, and he always seems to put a competitive team on the field no matter what they lose from one year to the next.

Collins Titans (1-10, First Round loss to Knox Central in 4A)
Through the first four years of the program's existence, the Titans lived up to their name, going 46-11 from 2010-2013 and claiming a 4A state championship. Afterwards, the talent level dipped and Collins struggled for a couple of years before climbing back to contention and falling just short of returning to the championship game in 2017. The Titans are once again looking to make that climb back to relevancy on the heels of the worst season in their brief history. That trek will be made easier with the return of all but a few starters on both sides of the ball. Among them: QB Joe Lucas, his top target Mikaii Stoner, and linebacker DJ Webb (team high 106 tackles).

Conner Cougars (9-4, Region Final loss to Madison Central in 6A)
Usually, dropping down a class can be a good thing for a football program. There's a reasonable expectation that you'll find yourself in a more favorable position to win games and advance deep into the postseason. But that's not necessarily the case for Conner. Gone are the automatic playoff berths that came with their old three team district in 6A. The Cougars traded in Ryle and Cooper for a district with Covington Catholic and Highlands (along with Cooper and Boone County). To make matters worse, several positions on offense will be occupied by first year starters, including multiple RB, WR, and OL spots. Quarterback Jared Hicks is back though, and will likely be joined in the backfield by Douglas Abdon. The damage was slightly less severe on the other side of the ball, though the Cougars did lose their top four tacklers from last year. There will be multiple starters/major contributors back at each level of the defense.

Cooper Jaguars (5-7, Second Round loss to Conner in 6A)
You'll have to forgive me if this makes the Jaguars seem like a one man show (they're not), but junior Jeremiah Lee (1,735 yards of total offense/25 total TDs) will likely be the primary catalyst for much of Cooper's success this year. He's an electrifying playmaker that scored via the pass, run, pick-six, fumble return, and even kickoff return last season. And his versatility will be on full display again. In a surprise move, Coach Randy Borchers has shifted Lee from QB, where he obviously touched the ball on every play, to receiver. This paves the way for sophomore Drew Warth to take the reigns behind center. Only time will tell if this strategic move proves beneficial for the Jags this year. Elsewhere in the offense, Anthony Witschey (624 yards rushing) returns at RB, but a receiver or two will have to emerge to replace 2018's leading pass catcher, Mikey Armour (744 yards/9 TDs). And there will be a few new faces on the o-line. Linebacker Ethan Bosway (team high 90 tackles) and DB Joe Poage (76 tackles/4 ints.) return to provide leadership to the defense.

Madison Southern Eagles (2-9, First Round loss to Highlands)
The Eagles have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse over the past two seasons. From the state finals in 2017 to a mere two wins and a first round playoff exit via first half running clock last year. Exiting the outhouse begins with improving a defensive unit that surrendered a 5A worst 469 points last season. Linebackers Clay Bunch and Levi Benton are the top returning tacklers after combining for 170 stops in 2018. If Coach Jon Clark can engineer a defensive turnaround, those two will be right at the heart of it. Offensively, it all starts up front with Dane Jackson, the top rated center in the Commonwealth and a North Texas commit. He'll be snapping the ball to returning starter Tobias Storm (782 yards passing/1,010 yards rushing/16 combined TDs).

Montgomery County Indians (9-3, Second Round loss to Covington Catholic)
The Indians have enjoyed noteworthy success the past two seasons, going a combined 19-6 in '17 and '18. If they're going to continue their upward trend, the losses of two major weapons on offense and several positions on defense will need addressing. The Indians' all time leading rusher Justin Korossy has departed, and it's not likely that any one player will fill the void left by Pharoah Davis, a long, athletic 6'4" WR/DB who contributed one big play after another throughout his career. And with all but one offensive lineman returning, and a bulldozer in the backfield (Josh Wheaton - 1,233 yards rushing/17 TDs), MoCo might lean on its wing-t ground and pound more than usual. The district went from manageable to brutal over the off-season, with the additions of Scott County and Frederick Douglass. A third place finish and a road playoff game in Lexington or Georgetown might be the ceiling for Coach Egli's guys.

North Bullitt Eagles (4-6, Missed the playoffs)
A promising 3-1 start to the 2018 season preceded a 1-5 finish down the stretch to keep the Eagles out of the postseason for the second year in a row. Five of their six losses came against teams that won at least one playoff game and had a combined record of 49-16, so the schedule was no cakewalk. The good news is that this year's slate of opponents should be a little easier to navigate for a team that only lost eight seniors from last year's squad. Returning standouts include RB Cole Durbin (team high 779 rushing yards/13 TDs), WR Drew Hadley (845 yards from scrimmage/5 TDs), and DB Ty Howard (team high 5 ints.). Additionally, the Eagles bring back nearly all of their linemen.

North Laurel Jaguars (4-6, Missed the playoffs)
Following a successful string of winning seasons from 2012-2017, Chris Larkey's Jags finished last year under .500 and missed the playoffs. That can largely be attributed to the youth and inexperience North Laurel endured. A roster of nearly 70 featured a senior class of merely six. Despite that, they were still in position to possibly win seven games or more. In pursuit of a bounce back season, the Jags return their QB, the majority of their skill people, and their top eight tacklers. Sophomore linebacker Jayce Hacker paced the team in tackles with 106 in his freshman year. With over 90% of the roster in tact from a year ago, a return to their previous winning form should be expected.

Southwestern Warriors (10-3, Region Final loss to Pulaski County)
A successful five year stint under Larry French helped Southwestern achieve a level of consistency and respect they'd never seen before. This past January saw French leave the Warriors for a rebuilding job in Middlesboro where, if history is any indicator, he'll make an immediate impact. Enter Jason Foley, who guided Taylor County to twelve wins and a regional championship last year. Foley is inheriting a program in far better shape than the one French turned around. That's not to say that the Warriors didn't lose some talent - QB/DB/KR Drew Sawyers was clearly their best player and MVP, and JP Vaught was a home run threat in the passing game, with speed to burn. But the cupboard is not bare by any means - RBs Chase Doan and Dylan Bland combined for over 1,600 yards and 19 TDs, and Southwestern returns a strong nucleus on defense, including defensive leaders Austin Barnes (93 tackles/6 sacks), Rowan Pennington (88 tackles) and Xavier Streeter (4 ints.). Foley should be able to hit the ground running. But to start the season, they'll be looking up at a very strong Pulaski County squad in their district.

Ten games to mark on your calendar

Scott County vs. Great Crossing on August 23rd - It's unlikely this game will be very competitive, but there will be no shortage of eyeballs (and possibly some conflicts of allegiance) on the inaugural meeting between the established Cardinals and the upstart Warhawks.

South Oldham at Christian Academy of Louisville on August 23rd - This marks the third year in a row that these two have kicked off the season against each other. The first two haven't exactly been blowouts, but the Centurions have won comfortably. It's a season opening statement opportunity for each, but especially the Dragons.

Owensboro vs. Evansville Central (IN) on August 30th - With Owensboro ending its series with Bowling Green, this game stands out as the Red Devils' only real marquee regular season challenge. The Bears were Indiana's 4A runner-up last year and begin this season ranked #2 in their class.

Highlands vs. Knoxville Catholic on August 30th - The Birds fly south to Corbin for the Cumberland Falls Pigskin Classic where they'll meet a loaded Knoxville Catholic squad. The Irish's roster is littered with future D1 college talent. A victory here might be Highlands' biggest win since the 2014 4A championship game

Frederick Douglass vs. Scott County on September 27th - This has become a heated series in its brief history. Last season, the teams split their two meetings, with Scott County laughing last as they ended the top ranked Broncos' season in the second round.

Bowling Green at South Warren on October 4th - The Purples look to get back in the win column after dropping two straight to the Spartans. Those back-to-back wins and last year's 5A title have placed South Warren at the top of the BG area football food chain.

Covington Catholic vs. LaSalle (OH) on October 11th - LaSalle has taken six straight over the Colonels since 2004. This clash of greater Cincinnati Catholic powers hasn't gone CovCath's way since 2001. The Lancers are loaded again and could be one of the 5-10 best teams in all of Ohio.

Covington Catholic vs. Highlands on October 18th - No hype is really necessary here. Following a long losing streak to the Bluebirds, CovCath has claimed four straight. Last year's regular season meeting in Fort Thomas was a tight, four quarter affair. The playoff rematch in Park Hills... not so much.

Pulaski County vs. Southwestern on October 25th - Over the last several years, this has been a very intense and competitive, but slightly under the radar rivalry, at least on a statewide level. Neither side has had a stranglehold on the other. Pulaski County took both meetings last year by a touchdown each.

Bowling Green vs. Trinity on November 1st - The Shamrocks lifted four in a row from the Purples from 2007-2010 before the brief series went on a near decade long hiatus. This clash of titan programs is definitely the highlight game of the final week of the regular season.

New Class 5A Alignment

District 1 - Breckinridge County, Graves County, Grayson County, Muhlenberg County, Ohio County, Owensboro

District 2 - Bowling Green, Christian County, Greenwood, South Warren

District 3 - Bullitt Central, Doss, Fairdale, Iroquois, Western

District 4 - Atherton, Jeffersontown, North Bullitt, Seneca, South Oldham

District 5 - Boone County, Conner, Cooper, Covington Catholic, Highlands

District 6 - Frederick Douglass, Grant County, Great Crossing, Montgomery County, Scott County

District 7 - Collins, East Jessamine, Madison Southern, West Jessamine, Woodford County

District 8 - North Laurel, Pulaski County, South Laurel, Southwestern, Whitley County