Class 5A Preseason Preview

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    by DevilMayCare is offline Premium Member
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    The King is dead?... Long live the King?

    This time last year, most followers of 5A football in the Bluegrass were wondering who, if anyone, could put an end to Bowling Green's stranglehold on the class. The Purples had run off five of the previous six titles in 5A, amassing an astounding 84-3 record along the way. Even with the graduation of 2016 Mr. Football Jamale Carothers, Bowling Green was still the overwhelming preseason pick to make it six titles in seven years - a testament to Coach Kevin Wallace and his staff’s ability to develop talent and reload year after year.

    Across town, South Warren had established itself as a prominent program in its own right, capturing the 2015 4A title in dominant fashion and stirring debate as to how Brandon Smith's Spartans would fare against the mighty Purples. South Warren's inaugural 5A campaign got off to a strong start, (6-0, including a blowout win over eventual 4A champ Franklin Simpson), before a humbling 43-7 loss to “big brother”. There was little reason to believe that the Spartans could reverse their fortunes in a regional championship rematch, but as the old adage goes, ‘that's why they play the game’. SW's defense forced four turnovers and sacked BG quarterback Beau Buchanan five times en route to a stunning 28-21 upset on the Purples’ home field. It was a result that sent shockwaves throughout the 5A landscape.

    Meanwhile, about three and a half hours northeast in Park Hills, most believed that Eddie Eviston had his program headed in the right direction. The talent on the field was evident and CovCath exorcised a demon, of sorts, in the form of a 63-26 destruction of Highlands in 2016, ending a 15 game losing streak to the Birds. For so long, the Colonels were reduced to the role of spectator (and quite frankly, occasional roadkill) as the Bluebirds romped their way to one state title after another. Now, CovCath appeared to be in the NKY 5A driver's seat. But the Colonels needed to add some hardware to their trophy case in order to declare, with supreme confidence, that they were truly back to their old ways. Much was expected from AJ Mayer, Kam Butler and Co. entering the 2017 season, as evidenced by the preseason #3 ranking bestowed upon them by BluegrassPreps. To say the least, Covington Catholic did not disappoint, laying waste to everyone in their path (including the very same South Warren team that took down Bowling Green a week earlier), cruising to a sterling 15-0 record and the school's seventh state championship. In fact, they were so thorough in their domination that a popular topic of conversation this off-season has been whether or not the 2017 incarnation of Covington Catholic is the school's best ever. Regardless of your feelings on that matter, I think it's safe to say that they're officially back.

    But can it be sustained? It's one thing to reach the summit, it's another to stay there with a giant bullseye on your back and everyone throwing haymakers at you. As they say, heavy is the head that wears the crown. Bowling Green wore it well for a number of years. Have we now entered the era of the Blue Colonel, or can Bowling Green (or Highlands, South Warren, or even South Oldham) pull a Lee Corso and say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

    Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

    Before Kevin Wallace spent his first day as the head coach of Bowling Green back in 1996, the Purples were already regarded as a state power. He inherited a program coming off a state championship in ‘95 under Coach Dan Haley. Wallace had spent a number of years coaching both football and baseball at Warren East High School in the 80’s and early 90’s. Truth be told, he found more success on the diamond than the gridiron in those days. After leaving Warren East in 1994, Coach Wallace spent a couple of years as an assistant on Coach Haley's staff at BG before being promoted to the head man. The success that followed has elevated Bowling Green football to one of the top two or three programs in the state. The numbers speak for themselves, but I'll list a few of them anyway - 5 state championships, 8 championship game appearances, a record of 254 wins against just 41 losses, a winning percentage of 86%, and countless players sent to the college ranks to play ball and receive a higher education. The impact he had at Bowling Green High School, as both a football coach and educator, is immeasurable. After 22 years at 1801 Rockingham Avenue, he has now taken his talents to 1609 Poplar Level Road, and the young men at St. Xavier will be all the better for it.

    Power(5) Trio

    For the upcoming season, Class 5A will feature, arguably, three of the five best players in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. South Warren senior defensive tackle Jacob Lacey, rated by most as one of the ten best at his position in the nation, is headed to South Bend to play for Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish. He's the most disruptive interior D-line force in the state, capable of single handedly changing an offensive game plan. Notre Dame beat out the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Clemson, Tennessee, and UK, among others, for Lacey's services.

    Covington Catholic junior Tight End Michael Mayer will be joining Lacey in a shimmering gold helmet of his own a year later. Mayer committed to Notre Dame in early July after holding offers from a who's who of college football blue bloods - Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, LSU, and Penn State, just to name a few. If he continues to develop as a blocker and route runner, with his already impressive physical gifts in tow, Mayer has a real shot at being the #1 TE recruit in the country.

    Bowling Green's Mr. Versatility Vito Tisdale’s list of suitors is impressive in its own right. To date, Oklahoma, UK, Louisville, Tennessee, and Purdue have extended offers for his diverse talents. He's rated by most recruiting services as one of the top Safeties in the country for the Class of 2020 and could also attract major offers as a Cornerback, as well. With an increased workload on offense possibly coming his way, it's not out of the question that he could draw some Power 5 interest as a RB too. He's that good.

    “It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get back up.” - Vince Lombardi

    For all the talk of a suddenly resurgent Covington Catholic program, there are a few familiar names we're accustomed to seeing at or near the top of the rankings that are hoping for a return to form after falling from their lofty perches. The obvious one here is Highlands. By now, you'd have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the growing discontent in Ft. Thomas. The Bluebirds have lost 20 games in the past three years after losing a mere 7 over the prior eight years combined. Whether it's the insistence on platooning, poor in-game coaching decisions/adjustments, or simply an overall lack of talent compared to the Mueller heyday, Highlands has fallen off dramatically the past couple of years.

    After four straight finals appearances (2013-2016), peaking with a state title in 2015, Pulaski County stumbled to a 4-7 record in 2017 with a first round playoff exit via a 40-0 shellacking at the hands of Harlan County. The Maroons stared down a rugged schedule consisting of 2A champion Danville, 3A runner-up Corbin, 5A runner-up Madison Southern, and 4A semifinalists Wayne County and Collins. So a reprieve may be in order for Coach Johnny Hines and his crew, especially considering the experience and talent that walked out the door following the 2016 season (chief among them, Jake Johnson, aka Kentucky's all time leading receiver). But a standard has been set at Pulaski County. Coach Hines has built a great program and competing for championships is now the expectation in Somerset.

    Like Pulaski, Owensboro dropped off quite a bit last year on the heels of a strong four year run that saw them rack up 43 wins and a state runner-up finish in 2014 after they had Highlands reeling in the championship game before the Birds stormed back. The Red Devils were very young last season and were plagued throughout by costly turnovers and penalties, sure indicators of their inexperience. Rare losses to Daviess County and Apollo - hadn't lost to either since 2004 - were the low points of a season that the Owensboro faithful want to quickly put in the rear view mirror.

    With the talent returning for each of these stalwart programs, forward progress should be expected from all three. How much? It's hard to say, but it's a reasonable expectation that all three will show signs of returning to their winning ways this year.

    The BluegrassPreps Top 10

    1. Covington Catholic (15-0, State Champions)
    After a decade out of the championship spotlight, the Colonels returned to it with a vengeance in 2017. They tore a swath through 5A, outscoring their opponents 679-116 (both of which led 5A), and rolled through the playoffs by a tally of 246-41, en route to one of the most statistically impressive seasons in recent memory. It all started with an eye opening 49-17 pasting of 6A #5 Ryle in Week 0 and culminated with a 49-13 drubbing of Madison Southern at Kroger Field. CovCath went through its opposition like a hot knife through butter. Anytime you win a championship and return an abundance of talent, attention quickly turns to the future. Such is the nature of sport. “Can they win it again?”, is on everyone's lips. Basketball came and went, as did baseball and track. Now, summer break is over. For the CovCath faithful, we begin a journey to answer the question above.

    First things first, AJ Mayer and Kam Butler are matriculating in Oxford. Their production won't be replaced easily, if at all. As great as they were, I'm leaning toward the latter. Malachi Pike (Butler University commit), Grant Dyer (Dayton commit) and Jack Maile are a few other major departures that will be missed. Otherwise, Coach Eviston's squad appears good to go, at least on offense.

    Where to begin? How about Notre Dame commit Michael Mayer? AJ's “little” brother has an all-world combination of athleticism, explosiveness, skills, hands, and a high motor packed into his 6’5”, 240 pound frame. He's a two way stud at TE/DE that will command attention on every snap. Then there's running back Casey McGinness (offers from Butler and Morehead State), who returns after posting 1,800 yards from scrimmage and 26 total touchdowns as a junior. His workload should only increase as CovCath breaks in a new QB. Running lanes should be vast and plentiful as the Colonels return four starters (Carter Black, Jackson Sora, Grant Hemmer, and Lucas Jones) from what was, possibly, the best offensive line in 5A a year ago. The race to fill the void left by the elder Mayer at QB will likely come down to Sr. Tyler Reusch, Jr. Noah Powers, or So. Caleb Jacob. Whoever winds up taking the snaps, he'll have a couple of twin towers to throw it up to, as 6’5” Jack Coldiron (also a Miami of Ohio commit) will join M. Mayer at receiver. Coldiron is CovCath's leading returning receiver with 28 catches for 683 yards and 11 TDs.

    Defensively, there are a few more holes to fill. Mayer (79 tackles, 7.5 sacks), Coldiron, and Ross Halverstadt return on the defensive line, but the linebackers and secondary are a different story. Kam Butler's presence in the middle of the defense was imposing, and both he and Grant Dyer made plays sideline to sideline with great quickness and a keen ability to read and react. Jacob Shriver (70 tackles) returns and will be called upon to lead the linebacking corps. One intriguing possibility, is moving Mayer to the middle linebacker spot vacated by Butler. Coach Eviston implemented this strategy in the scrimmage versus NewCath. Mayer would cut an imposing figure in the middle of the defense, should that be their course of direction. Andrew Shelton is the lone returning starter in the secondary after the graduations of Luke Lenihan, Adam Schneider, and Tanner Bayer.

    It might be asking too much for the 2018 Colonels to equal last year's dominance, but a state championship is still the expectation in Park Hills. With the talent they have in place, anything less than that would be a disappointment.

    2. Bowling Green (10-3, Regional Finalist)
    At 98% of the schools in this state, 10 wins and a regional finals appearance would qualify as an excellent season. But Bowling Green's not just any football program. When you're accustomed to 15 win seasons and winning large gold trophies, 10 wins and a regional runner-up barely moves the needle at all. The Purples don't really do runner-ups. But burgeoning crosstown rival South Warren made BG swallow that bitter pill last November. A great, veteran coach like Kevin Wallace is just what a team needs to move on from that disappointment. There's just one problem… as I stated above, Coach Wallace has changed area codes. His departure left one of the premier coaching jobs in Kentucky open. The administration didn't have to look far for Wallace's successor. Defensive Coordinator Mark Spader will be the new man in charge on the BG sideline this season and he'll inherit a cupboard stocked with talent. The Purples may have been knocked down a peg last season and undergone a change in leadership, but it's a safe bet that BG will not go quietly into the night.

    Beau Buchanan (offer from Morehead State) is back after a standout junior season that saw him spin the pigskin for 2,287 yards and 25 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions. He'll be breaking in a whole new group of receivers after that position was decimated by graduation following last season. Ziyon Kenner, especially, will be hard to replace. Rising 6’4” sophomore Tight End Jordan Dingle (offer from WKU) could emerge as Buchanan's favorite target. Versatile and ultra talented junior Vito Tisdale should be more of a centerpiece of the offense after splitting carries last year. Tisdale found the endzone ten times last year on the ground, as well as three kick return scores. Tre Cofer, Sam Vitale, Cam Withrow, and David Sansom return on the offensive line and will average about 6’3” and close to 300 pounds between them.

    The secondary should be the strength of the defense, at least early on. Tisdale, Jaylen Wardlow, Davis Tomblinson return to form a strong nucleus on the back end. The loss of Justice Dingle (Georgia Tech) alone puts a sizable dent in the LB corps, but Devan Jackson (Lindsey Wilson) was a great player in his own right and complemented Dingle nicely off the edge. Seniors Miles Smith (72 tackles, 4 fumble recoveries), Ethan Klein (75 tackles), and Evan Spader (coach's son, 71 tackles) will shoulder the load left behind by Dingle and Jackson. Durrell Gray (73 tackles) and Javon Martin return to anchor the D-line.

    If you haven't yet, circle August 31st on your calendar. The Purples travel to the ‘Ville to tangle with Coach Wallace's new squad, St. X. This game has been a marquee early season match-up for years. Now it takes on added significance.

    3. South Warren (11-3, State Semifinalist)
    For the past few years, there's been a lot of chatter coming from the South Warren camp about where they stand relative to the far more accomplished and established Bowling Green football program. Following the 2016 season, the Spartans were bumped up to 5A mid-alignment cycle, and were presented the opportunity to prove themselves on the field against their would be rival. Round 1 went about how most outside of South Warren thought it would. Round 2… not so much. The Spartans stunned BG to upset the 5A applecart. Unfortunately for Brandon Smith's bunch, they couldn't duplicate that feat the following week, as they were routed by a runaway freight train masquerading as Covington Catholic.

    Despite some key graduation losses, repeating their 2017 success is a very attainable goal. The offense is in good hands with Gavin Spurrier (grandson of Steve) back at QB after throwing for 2,509 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. The running game will be unproven with the loss of SW's top two rushers from a year ago, including Christian Winn, who did a lot of damage against BG in the playoffs last year. Leading receiver Clayton Bush (WKU commit) is back to provide Spurrier with an FBS caliber target to throw to. But Marcus Elmore and Cody Eblen have moved on after combining for nearly 60 catches and over 1,000 yards. All purpose RB/WR Cameron Harris should be prominently featured in the offense this season to offset some of those departures. Several returning offensive linemen saw significant reps last year, headed up by starters Cooper Barr and Colt Jackson.

    A key loss that can't go unmentioned is 1st team all-state kicker Alex Cohron. He possessed one of the strongest and most accurate legs in the Bluegrass. Perhaps even more important than his 47 extra points and 7 field goals, was his ability to consistently put the ball in the endzone on kickoffs. A weapon like that is a valuable asset in today's game.

    The calling card of Brandon Smith's Spartan teams has been suffocating defense, and this year should be no different. South Warren returns six starters among the front seven, including Notre Dame bound DT Jacob Lacey, fellow D-linemen Trent Rice and Logan Karoffa, and all three linebackers. The trio of Pete Cross (118 tackles), Tre Teague (97 tackles), and Rowdy Shea (71 tackles) should be one of the finest LB corps in 5A. The only real question marks on this side of the ball exist in the secondary. Clayton Bush (63 tackles, 1 int.) is one of the best Safeties in the state, and Tomi Mustapha returns at one corner spot, but a combined fourteen interceptions graduated last May in the form Greg Byrd and Tryce Jackson. If the secondary, as a whole, develops into even a solid unit, this could be one of Coach Smith's best defenses.

    4. South Oldham (10-2, Regional Finalist)
    In 2010, Coach Jamie Reed inherited a program that had won six total games over the previous three years, including a winless season in ‘08. His yearly win totals since?... 7, 6, 8, 8, 8, 10, 12, & 10. Coach Reed has quietly done one of the best coaching jobs in the state over the past eight years. The coaching is there, as is the talent to make deep playoff pushes. The Dragons just keep running into someone better on that given night in the postseason. Three years ago, they fell to Fern Creek by a point in a regional final; In 2016, Pulaski County bested South Oldham in a 62-55 shootout; And last year, well, no one was going to derail CovCath. But the Dragons are a program on the rise with better days still to come.

    The post-Drew Zaubi era begins as #5 is now walking on at Louisville. The competition to replace Zaubi could come down to junior Anthony Pierce and sophomore Alex Brown, who attempted a combined 11 varsity passes last year. Regardless of who wins the job, he'll have a plethora of skill around him. South Oldham returns virtually all of its major offensive contributors, minus Zaubi, of course. Junior RB Keaton Martin rumbled for 1,258 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2017. Joining Martin in the backfield will be senior Colton Bowlden (619 yards on a whopping 15.8 ypc) and junior JT Benson (339 yards, 9.1 ypc). Ethan Bednarczyk (429 yards on 17 receptions) was Zaubi's favorite target a year ago. They'll lose some good linemen, but there appears to be several talented younger guys that got reps last year to join starting center Garrett Chester. If the new QB clicks, this team could be very potent on offense.

    The D-line is in the same shape as the O-line; lost some good bodies, but return some as well. Tyrelle Love, Jack Harold, and the aforementioned Chester will anchor that unit. Returning starters Mason Bowman and Noah Mitchell will provide some pop from their linebacker positions with Colton Bowlden possibly being the missing piece of that LB trio. Benson, John Downing, and Isaac Lalli will provide experience in the secondary. All three either started or saw significant reps last year as sophomores.

    5. Highlands (6-6, Regional Semifinalist)
    For the past couple of years, the clean, classic look of the Highlands uniform is just about the only way to identify that this is, indeed, the proud and mighty Ft. Thomas Highlands Bluebirds football team. Because the results on the field have been very un-Highlands like - three wins two years ago, .500 last year. Highlands used to dish out running clocks, not take them. Not having the Birds in the conversation for a state championship is like not having the Yankees in World Series contention. The outsiders revel in it, but their absence leaves a giant void that's impossible to ignore.

    Grady Cramer will take the reins full time at QB after finishing last year as the starter in both playoff games. He's a good athlete with a big arm and is actually the team's leading returning receiver, as well as an excellent punter. With Nick Veneman and Jared Wogan lost to graduation, and Cramer moving permanently to QB, some fresh faces are going to have to step up at the WR position. Nate Roberts figures to be a primary target after posting 15 catches for 235 yards a year ago in eight games. Hunter Ahlfeld and Ben Sisson are a couple of other names to look for in the passing game. Running back Cooper Schwalbach returns after churning out 882 yards and 17 TDs on the ground and figures to see a lot more touches this season. Tough, talented sophomore RB Joe Buten could see opportunities to shine at the varsity level after a standout season on the freshman team. In addition to Schwalbach and Buten, Highlands fans could finally get a good look at Brycen Huddleston on offense, as he looks to make an impact out of the backfield. If Highlands is going to show signs this year of returning to their glory days, they'll have to hope that an inexperienced O-line grows up fast. Senior Trent Johnson is the lone returning starter.

    The Birds’ defense has been much maligned in recent years, especially against the run. In 2017, Highlands surrendered 278 ypg rushing and nearly 366 ypg to Scott County, Ryle, CovCath, Greenwood, and South Oldham. This year's front seven will see several familiar names back from last year. LB Brycen Huddleston, LB Mason Schwalbach, LB Alex Starkey, LB Nathan Bowman, NG Zachary Lewin, DE Ben Sisson, and DE William Salmon were all either starters or saw a lot of reps last season. This group possesses a lot of quickness, but was a little undersized a year ago. The back end of the defense wasn't completely wiped out by graduation, but some important cogs will have to be replaced. Secondary mates Casey Greene and Bailey Armstrong are back to provide stability to a unit that lost Joe Steiden and Harrison Traylor.

    Coach Brian Weinrich has taken a lot of heat for the recent dip in Highlands football. Being the head coach, some of it is rightly deserved. But the talent level of 5-10 years ago just hasn't been there. Highlands’ losses last year came against teams that went a combined 62-16, so a little slack might be in order. With CovCath returning so much talent, expectations of making it to Kroger Field are probably at least another year away, but this could be the year the Bluebirds begin to migrate back to contender status and make up some ground on the top dogs in 5A.

    6. Southwestern (10-3, Regional Finalist)
    I'm sure Coach Larry French and his Warriors would love to rid themselves of the title above. The regional final has been Southwestern’s final destination in three of French's four seasons at the helm. All three times that they've lost, the Warriors were expected by most to win. Last year, just when it appeared that Southwestern was poised to break through, Harlan County played the unexpected role of spoiler.

    One of the first steps toward making that breakthrough in 2018 will be getting the ball into the hands of JP Vaught as often as possible. The senior wideout, perhaps the fastest football player in the Commonwealth, caught 52 balls for 930 yards and 7 TDs (in addition to 386 yards and six more scores on the ground) a year ago. Some of the responsibility for getting the ball to Vaught will fall on the shoulders of senior Drew Sawyers. The former WR turned QB accounted for 2,387 yards of total offense (1,386 rushing and 1,001 passing) and 21 TDs in 2017. Sawyers will no longer have the luxury of handing the ball off to Patric Edwards, a four year starter who amassed 5,620 rushing yards and 92 touchdowns during his Southwestern career. Junior Austin Barnes and sophomore Dylan Bland will be tasked with trying to fill Edwards’ shoes. Their efforts will be aided by the return of four starters on the offensive line (Heath, Downey, Williams, and Truett).

    Aside from of a pair of poor performances, Southwestern's defense put together a solid season in 2017. That side of the ball looks to be in good shape with several returning starters/contributors. Josh Williams (Sr.), Luke Gregory (Sr.), and Mason Heath (Jr.) return to anchor the D-line. The linebacking corp should be a strength of the defense with Christian Bach (Sr.), Austin Barnes (Jr.), and Kenny Robinson (So.) back as a unit. At 6’4”, Bach is a rangy, versatile defender, equally adept at chasing down QBs or dropping into coverage. Sawyers (4 ints.) and Devon Strunk (Sr., 3 ints.) head up the secondary. Sophomore Dylan Bland should see time there, as well.

    7. Anderson County (8-4, 2nd Round)
    Anderson County could have been Madison Southern last year. It could have been the Bearcats on the turf at Kroger Field instead of the Eagles. Late in the 4th quarter, trailing by three in a 2nd Round playoff rematch against a team that convincingly won the first meeting, Anderson had pushed the ball into Mad South territory with a shot to win, or at least tie it up. After the drive stalled near the 20 yard line, Madison Southern safety Jordan Casteel picked off a 4th down heave to the endzone to extend his team's season and send the Bearcats home for good.

    Anderson County returns a lot of talent from a year ago and could be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. Last year, Zach Labhart paired with Blake Franklin to form a very productive RB duo. Franklin's gone, but Christmas came early for the Bearcats in the form of Montgomery County transfer Charles Collins. The junior RB topped 2,000 yards last season and, together with Labhart (983 yards, 12 TDs), will give Anderson County arguably the best 1-2 punch of RBs in 5A. They'll have plenty of running room behind an offensive line that returns mostly intact. Brandon Aldridge, AJ Castle, and Colton Cornish return to provide a solid foundation up front with 6’5”, 340 pound sophomore Ryan Stratton adding his considerable stature to the mix. Quarterback Jagger Gillis is back to run the offense after gaining valuable starting experience last year as a freshman.

    Anderson County returns the bulk of a defense that, outside of the Meade County, Montgomery County, and first Madison Southern games, had a respectable season. Over half of their points allowed for the year occurred in those three contests. Cornish (LB), Labhart (LB), Joe Taylor (LB), Darian Dearinger (DE), Brandon Aldridge (DT), Justin Wilhoit (CB), and Aaron Chilton (CB) are back as the core of that unit.

    District 6 should be one of the most competitive in the class this year. It's hard to say that Anderson County is the clear district favorite entering 2018, but with what they return, coupled with what Madison Southern loses, bringing home the district title is a very reasonable expectation in Lawrenceburg.

    8. Owensboro (4-7, 1st Round)
    Frustration probably only begins to scratch the surface of what Owensboro coaches, players, and fans felt last year. As if the losing record wasn't bad enough, the Red Devils failed to win their district for the first time since 2011. Losses to Apollo, Graves County and Christian County relegated Owensboro to fourth place in the district and a 1st round playoff trip to Bowling Green, which begs the question, “Is it better to have made the playoffs and gotten crushed by BG in the 1st round than to have not made the playoffs at all?” I kid, of course.

    All-purpose RB Imonte Owsley (1,062 yards from scrimmage, 17 TDs) is capable of changing the complexion of a game any time he gets his hands on the ball, which, for his team's sake, should probably be more than the mere 70+ times he touched the football last year. The young man responsible for getting Owsley the ball will, presumably, be former Owensboro Catholic QB Will Warren. Warren comes over from OCath after missing most of last season due to a concussion. His arm will add a new dimension to the offense. Ezekiel Brown (585 yards rushing, 9 TDs) and Trevon Green (330 yards rushing, 6 TDs) will compliment Owsley in the offense, as well as leading pass catcher Tyren Hayden (16 catches for 271 yards and 2 TDs). Carson Brooks and Logan Webb are the returning starters on the O-line.

    The defense was very young last year, starting several sophomores and a freshman. A big step forward should be expected on this side of the ball. Austin Gough (LB, 82 tackles), Trace Grenier (LB, 70 tackles), Diamond Glover (DT, 38 tackles), Aireon Philips (DB), Jordan Sorrells (LB), Qualon Tinsley (DT), Cameron Thompson (S, 33 tackles, 2 ints.), and Owsley (CB) are all back, a year older, stronger, and more experienced.

    9. Montgomery County (10-3, Regional Finalist)
    After a dismal 2000’s and a sub .500 start to the 2010’s, the Indians broke through last year with their best season since 1996. A hard fought six point loss to Madison Southern in the regular season had Montgomery County believing that a regional championship clinching victory over the Eagles was well within their grasp. Mad South had other ideas, though. A 14-14 1st half score got out of hand quickly as Madison Southern ripped off 47 unanswered points to pull away for a 61-20 rout.

    The Indians boasted a potent running game in 2017 that topped Class 5A with 323 yards per game. The old school wing-t was the engine that propelled Montgomery County to 41 points per game, second in the class behind CovCath. That vaunted running game was dealt a severe blow with the departure of Charles Collins to district rival Anderson County. But don't feel too bad for the Indians, for the cupboard is far from bare. Justin Korossy and Josh Wheaton were 2nd and 3rd on the team in rushing a year ago, combining for 1,370 yards and 22 TDs. Junior Trey Ishmael returns under center and has the luxury getting his top target back from 2017. Ishmael didn't put the ball in the air much, but when he did, it was a safe bet that Pharoah Davis (672 yards and 8 TDs on 28 catches) was on the receiving end. He accounted for 70% of the teams receptions, 82% of the receiving yardage, and all but one receiving TD. Davis’ length (he's 6’4”), athleticism, and role in the offense make him one of the most valuable big play weapons in 5A. One issue that needs to be addressed, are the losses on the O-line. Four of last year's starters are gone, biggest of all being 2nd team all-stater Luke McCune.

    Statistically, Montgomery County's defense was squarely in the middle of the pack, and allowed 25 ppg. A few key starters were lost to graduation, but several starters and contributors are back from a relatively young defense. Jay Eads (LB), Ty Eads (DB), Tyler Hamm (LB), Bradley Dunn (DL), Daniel Pecina (LB), Joseph Newell (DL), Justin Korossy (DB), Tyler Jacobs (DB), Pharoah Davis (DB), and Kade Bowlin (DL) were all either starters or saw significant action last season.

    10. Apollo (7-4, 1st Round)
    Coach Phillip Hawkins comes over from Doss to take charge of the Eagles program. He'll have a solid core to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Colby Clark (61% completion percentage, 1,342 yards passing, 14 TDs) and 1,000 yard rusher Mariano McKenzie are back, as well as four starters on the O-line. WR Sam Parm (18 catches for 332 yards) will be looked upon to replace the production left by Peyton Peters (48 catches, 724 yards and 10 TDs in nine games) as the go-to receiver.

    Parm (3 ints. with two pick six's from his LB position), CB Gage Hayden (62 tackles, 3 ints.), LB Daelin Kennedy (79 tackles), DE Chris Schwartz (51 tackles), DE Quentin Miller (52 tackles), and DT Tre Sanders (35 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries) are returning defensive starters. That core of defenders will be tasked with substantially lowering the 28 ppg that Apollo surrendered a year ago. That number has to come down if the Eagles are going to have a breakthrough season.

    Last year marked Apollo's most successful season in over a decade. Despite being in a crowded district with heavyweights Christian County and Owensboro, now could be the time for the Eagles to seize the district crown. With a solid foundation of returning starters and a new voice preaching a winning culture, Apollo is primed to have its best season in ages.

    The Best Of The Rest (in alphabetical order)

    Bullitt Central (7-5, 2nd Round)
    The Cougars might not be on anyone's championship radar, but they've quietly built a winning culture in Shephardsville, going 30-17 over the past four years. Last year featured the two headed rushing attack of Daylin Huff (1,507 yards) and Zac Clark (1,165). Only Huff returns, and he figures to be the focal point of the offense in 2018. He took most of the snaps at QB last season but is more of a RB playing out of position. He'll operate behind returning O-linemen Kaleb Adams, Alex Barnhard, and Curtis Yankey. Huff (52 tackles, 4 ints.) will pull double duty at Safety. Joining him as returning starters on defense will be DE Jacob Robertson, DT Jonathon Seay, LB Cody Sanders, CB Jacob Dillman, and S Warren Coogle.

    Christian County (11-1, Regional Semifinalist)
    5A’s “other” Colonels matched the eventual champs stride for stride through eleven games (11-0) in 2017 before running head first into a South Warren defense that stuffed the Christian County run game and picked off Kolbe Langhi three times, sending the Colonels home with a disappointing 2nd Round playoff exit. It was their lone blemish on the season.

    After four years as a starter, Langhi has moved on to UK as a preferred walk-on. His successor looks to be sophomore Donta Abren. Abren doesn't have Langhi's size or arm strength, but he performed well in mop up duty last year as a freshman and appears to have plenty of ability. Leading rusher and leading returning receiver Jadonavin McNeal (952 all purpose yards, 9 total TDs) should see a heavy workload early on, until other playmakers emerge. The graduation loss of top WR Jaquon Long (North Dakota University) was only compounded by the transfer to Hopkinsville by Ellis Dunn, an explosive, big play WR who's sure to start popping up on some D1 recruiting radars. Markus Green and Adrian Ybarra return on the O-line, but won't see the imposing 6’4”, 300 pound frame of Jude Langhi lining up alongside them. Langhi, a rising prospect, elected to attend the McCallie prep school in Chattanooga, TN this year.

    The Colonels return some quality bodies on the D-line, including Jaylen McGee, Cambrin Hayes, Jase Polley, and Traicoryon West. The big guys up front are going to have to do work because the linebackers and secondary were ravaged by graduation losses, all of whom will be playing on Saturdays. Gone are 1st team all-state FS Cory Trice (Purdue), LB Shamar Foster (Kentucky Wesleyan), LB Kendarius Major (Lindsey Wilson), CB Cordarien Trice (Lindsey Wilson), CB Trevian Wimbush (Campbellsville University), and SS Corey Stubbs (Kentucky Wesleyan). It doesn't matter if it's Power 5 or NAIA, that's a lot of good football players to replace on just one side of the ball. Linebacker Niko Bussell (63 tackles, 1 int.) returns following a very promising sophomore season and CB Zadae Jones-Wilson will be looked upon to lead an inexperienced back end.

    Christian County is, in my estimation, the most difficult team in this class to get a read on. They lost more talent and quality bodies over the off-season than anyone in 5A, but they return a huge (though largely unproven) senior class and they're never hurting for athletes. This is a team that could quickly play their way back into the top 10, or have a losing season. Honestly, I could see it going either way.

    Doss (8-4, 2nd Round)
    Philip Hawkins out, Mike Crowe in. Crowe was hired from within as the new head coach following the departure of Hawkins to Apollo. He inherits a roster littered with talent (but short on depth) and he already knows the kids he's working with after previously being on Hawkins’ staff. That continuity will be important as the Doss program strives for more consistency.

    Aside from the RB position, the offense was hit hard by graduation. Dalion Young (1,304 yards rushing 12 TDs) and Quion Lee (637 yards, 8 TDs) will provide a formidable duo out of the backfield, but they'll be running behind a mostly rebuilt O-line that returns one starter. The graduation of QB Deon Pumphrey leaves the Dragons with virtually no varsity experience returning at the position - his back up only attempted one pass last year. The outlook at WR isn't much better - Doss returns a combined 5 catches for 138 yards and one touchdown's worth of production from the receiver position.

    If the Dragons are going to build on last season's 8 wins, the defense will have to carry the team. Four of the top five tacklers return, including future Power 5 talents Ricky Barber (DE/DT) and Shawnkel Knight-Goff (LB/DE/S). Both hold offers from Purdue, Indiana, and Cincinnati, and Knight-Goff holds additional offers from UK and Louisville. Quion Lee (LB) led the team in stops a year ago and linebacker mate Chavez Moore is back, as well. Michael Richardson (3 ints.) and Devon Pearson return to lead the secondary. The defense should be good enough to keep them in most games till the offense catches up.

    The October 4th showdown with Fern Creek looms large as a likely district title game.

    Fern Creek (6-5, 1st Round)
    Speaking of the Tigers... After 23 wins and consecutive semi-final appearances in 2015 & 2016, Fern Creek just never got it going last year, finishing a disappointing 6-5. Coming into 2018, they'll have some major rebuilding to do in the trenches after graduating four offensive linemen and the entire D-line. All three starting linebackers, plus their best and most experienced DB have also moved on. Overall, Fern Creek loses seven of its top nine tacklers from last year.

    Opposing defenses should see a heavy dose of talented/shifty/speedy junior RB Anthony Teague (818 yards and 9 TDs on 97 carries). Running back LeSean Gray (342 yards rushing, 6 TDs) and QB Isaiah Hester (479 yards passing, 6 TDs) are the only other returning offensive producers to speak of.

    A brutal four game stretch featuring Manual, Central, Butler, and DeSales will show the Tigers what they're made of early on, and should have them well prepared for district play.

    Graves County (6-5, 1st Round)
    The Eagles haven't been able to build on the state runner-up team from a few years ago, going a combined 17-16 over the past three seasons. They were competitive in most of their losses in 2017, including setbacks to Mayfield, Christian County, and Apollo. The offense will center around QB Ryan Mathis (1,693 yards, 17 TDs passing). He'll see a lot of new faces around him, with the graduation losses of last year's top two rushers, top two receivers, and four of five offensive linemen. Cornerback Nelson Browning, CB Tavis Brown (2 ints.), LB Koby Lamb (82 tackles, 1 int.), DL Grant Womble, and DB Riley Thompson return to lead the defense.

    Harlan County (8-6, State Semifinalist)
    After a 5-5 regular season, not many outside of the deep, dark hills of Harlan County thought the Black Bears would be practicing on Thanksgiving and have a shot to get to Kroger Field. But that's just what happened after Harlan County went on the road to beat Pulaski County, North Laurel, and Southwestern to capture an improbable regional championship.

    Quarterback Colby Cochran was set to lead the offense once again, but it's been reported that he suffered a potentially season ending knee injury back in the spring. New playmakers will have to step up after the graduation losses of RBs Quintin Mickens (966 yards, 11 TDs) and Tyrese Simmons (1,104 all-purpose yards, 10 TDs, 10.6 ypc), as well as leading receiver Devon Rodrigues (43 catches for 543 yards and 5 TDs). Nearly all of the team’s receiving yardage was lost to graduation. Running back Garry Henson (305 yards, 4 TDs) is the team's leading returning rusher. Some quality O-linemen will have to be replaced, but if recent history tells us anything about Harlan County, it's that the Black Bears aren't lacking in big, strong mountain boys in the trenches.

    Losing 22 seniors from 2017 is reflected heavily on the defensive side of the ball. Henson (LB) led the team in tackles a year ago with 134, but the next twelve top tacklers were all seniors. There's a lot of work to be done to shore up the defense before Harlan County can even entertain ideas of another deep playoff run.

    Madison Southern (11-4, State Runner-up)
    2017 was a banner year for Mad South football - a school record 11 wins and the program's first ever trip to a state championship game. Duplicating that success in 2018 could prove an arduous task after the graduation of a talented and productive senior class. Landen Stacy, Carter Smith, Hunter Richardson, and Nate Eads were responsible for 90% of Madison Southern's offense a year ago. Throw in the departure of Marshall Thundering Herd commit Trey Livingood on the O-line, and this has all the makings of a complete rebuild on the offensive side for Coach Jon Clark and his staff. The lone bright spot for the offense is the return of three starting O-linemen (Jackson, Schadt, and Isaacs) from last season.

    The losses of Smith (207 tackles), Eads (111 tackles, 2 ints.), and Richardson will also be felt on defense, along with CB Zachary Howard (82 tackles) and DE Jeremy Thompson (72 tackles). There are some standout players returning from last year's defense, though - LB Alex Knuckles (123 tackles, 2 ints., and maybe the best name for a linebacker in the state), CB Jordan Casteel (50 tackles, 10 ints.), DE TJ Estes (78 tackles) and CB Austin Hansel (54 tackles). Madison Southern will likely lean heavily on its defense early on while the offense breaks in new, inexperienced personnel.

    Perry County Central (7-4, 1st Round)
    Jayden Neace right, Jayden Neace left, Jayden Neace up the middle. That's what opposing defenses should expect to see from the Commodores in 2018. The senior RB is a load (6’0”, 220 lbs), with deceptive speed and nimble feet. He rushed for 1,754 yards and 18 TDs a year ago and topped 1,600 yards as a sophomore. He's one of the best kept secrets in 5A and could make a push for 2,000 yards behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Linebacker Jacob Brown (119 tackles), DE Jordan Feltner (66 tackles), DT Noah Canady, DT Joey Griffie, DB Mason Rice (55 tackles) comprise the nucleus of the defense.

    After 37 years of coaching football, the great Tom Larkey retired back in February. Larkey won 303 games during a career that featured tenures at Laurel County, Rockcastle County, Harlan County and PCC, where he's spent the past three years. Larkey’s long time defensive coordinator Ovie Canady was hired to fill his predecessor's rather large shoes. Assuming a smooth transition, Coach Canady’s squad could be a sleeper this year and work their way into the top 10 at some point.

    Pulaski County (4-7, 1st Round)
    “Sometimes you have to do the wrong thing to figure out what the right thing is.”

    Those were the words of head coach Johnny Hines as he returned to his post at Pulaski County after leaving a month earlier to be an assistant at Georgetown College. His abrupt departure caused quite a stir, as did his equally abrupt return. Whatever his reasons are for coming back, he's taking back control of a team that returns an abundance of young talent looking to atone for last year's disappointing 4-7 campaign.

    It all starts at the QB position, where senior Wiley Cain is back to cap off a very productive, but oft-injury plagued career. He finished last year on the sideline with a bum shoulder after throwing for 2,562 yards and 20 TDs in nine games. Wide receiver Jake Sloan, the heir apparent to Jake Johnson, returns after a breakout sophomore year, catching 73 balls for 936 yards and 6 TDs. Grant Oakes (24 catches for 469 yards and 5 TDs) will step in to replace Matt Hendricks as the #2 WR. Sophomore RB Tristan Cox (listed at 6’3”, 230 lbs) will look to improve upon a freshman season of 709 yards rushing and 10 TDs. First team all-stater Zack Ferris (Marshall commit) will be hard to replace on the O-line, but Ethan Fuentes, Ethan Holt, and Jordan Lanter return to form a solid nucleus.

    The defense should see improvement with the return of five of the team's top six tacklers from last year. Konner Hargis (151 tackles), Nate Kean (111 tackles) and Chase Parmelee (53 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries) will comprise a stout LB trio. Ethan Casada (60 tackles, 3 ints.) and Ian Ware (30 tackles, 3 ints.) return in the secondary. Devon Tolson (59 tackles) is the lone returning starter on the D-line, but Holt and Lanter could step in to fill some voids in the trenches.

    The schedule is highlighted by home games against Wayne County, Corbin, and Collins, with road games at Danville and rival Southwestern. If the Maroons can reverse their fortunes from last year in most of those games, they could find themselves back in a familiar place - the BGP 5A top 10.

    Whitley County (7-5, Regional Semifinalist)
    A lot of new names will be called upon to replace a ton of offensive production from a year ago. QB Dylan Wilson (2,066 yards passing, 21 TDs), RB Dawson Swain (nearly 1,600 yards from scrimmage, 17 TDs), and WRs Cameron Rose and Logan Lambdin (a combined 75 catches for 1,210 yards and 14 TDs) are all gone, as well as four of five offensive linemen. The defense will build around the LB duo of Preston Yount (team leading 128 tackles a year ago) and Caleb Rains, defensive linemen Austin Huddleston and Curtis Summers , and DB Luke Wohlfarth.

    Ten Must See Games for 2018 (in alphabetical order)

    Anderson County at Montgomery County on October 12th
    This is, perhaps, the biggest under the radar district battle in all of 5A. Both teams return a lot of talent from 2017 and could find themselves positioned in the top 10 together. Adding a thick layer of intrigue to this game is the transfer of RB Charles Collins (2,004 yards and 29 TDs in 2017) from Montgomery County to…… you guessed it, Anderson County.

    Apollo at Owensboro on October 12th
    Last year, the Red Devils walked off the field with a loss versus the Eagles for the first time since 2004. It was, arguably, the high point of Apollo's best season in over a decade. The District 1 race should be a tight one between Owensboro, Apollo, Christian County and, perhaps, Graves County, so each of these district games is of paramount importance. The fact that these two schools are backyard rivals separated by a mere three miles, just adds a little more fuel to the fire. The stars from last year's game are all back - Apollo QB Colby Clark (181 yards, 3 TDs passing), RB Mariano McKenzie (131 yards rushing) and LB Daelin Kennedy (15 tackles), as well as Owensboro RB Imonte Owsley (8 touches, 248 total yards and 3 TDs).

    Bowling Green at Owensboro on September 7th
    The Purples have owned this series for about a decade, winning 13 in a row dating back to 2009, but anytime these two WKY powers get together, it's noteworthy. Bowling Green's recent dominance has given them a 39-38-3 lead in the overall series for the first time since World War II. A point of emphasis for Owensboro this year: cut down on the turnovers. The Red Devils turned it over a combined eleven times in their two games against BG last year.

    Bowling Green at South Warren on October 19th
    The intensity level of this young, cross town rivalry went all the way to 11 after the Spartans stormed the El and snatched the soul right out of the Purples. South Warren's stunning victory dashed any and all hopes of a dream BG/CovCath semi-final clash. Emotions will be stirred, pads will pop, and the bleachers will overflow with bodies clad in their school colors. I'm confident the electricity flowing through the stands that night will be unmatched elsewhere in the state.

    Christian County at Apollo on October 5th
    The Colonels have handily defeated the Eagles in each of the seven years they've shared a district since 2011. But Apollo's coming off its best season in over a decade and is expected to be even better in 2018, with numerous starters back. The Eagles are a potential dark horse to watch this season and should be right in contention for a district title. Last year's 43-21 victory for the Colonels was aided heavily by four non-offensive touchdowns.

    Covington Catholic at Highlands on October 12th
    The Birds dominated this storied rivalry from 2007-2015, but the resurgent Colonels have taken Highlands to the woodshed two years in a row and given the series a sharp, 180 turn. This has always been a streaky rivalry, so if history is any indicator, this could just be the beginning. In order to stem this tide, Highlands fans might want to sneak on to the CovCath campus to light some candles and say a few Hail Mary's at the grotto.

    Owensboro at Christian County on September 28th
    This game is usually oozing with district title implications. That wasn't the case last season, due to the Red Devils having an uncharacteristic down year. Current UK walk-on QB Kolbe Langhi helped carry the Colonels to victory with 310 yards of total offense and 6 TDs in 2017. Someone new is going to have to step up for Christian County if they're going to keep Owsley, Warren and Co. at bay and hang on to the district for another year.

    Perry County Central vs. Harlan County on October 19th
    The mountains don't get a whole lot of love in 5A, but this could turn out to be, low key, one of the biggest district battles in the class this year. Harlan County took care of business at home last season, defeating the Commodores 38-14 on their way to a surprise semi-final appearance. PCC returns a lot on both sides of the ball and has a good shot at being 8-0 going into this game. If that's the case, and the Black Bears can replace the playmakers they lost, this game will command attention beyond its mountain borders.

    South Oldham vs. Doss on August 24th
    This game needs to become an annual meeting. We can call it… The Dragon Bowl. Quick, somebody get on that! This intriguing non district, intra-class series began in 2015, with South Oldham winning the the first three meetings. Last year was a decisive 33-14 victory in Louisville that started a three game skid for Doss. South Oldham's backfield churned out 363 yards rushing in that game, 281 of which is back for another go round. The Dragons from Crestwood are a top 5 team, the Dragons from Louisville have the potential to be.

    Southwestern vs. Pulaski County on October 19th
    For the past few years, this has been one of the best district rivalries in 5A. During Pulaski’s tremendous run of four straight state title games from 2013-2016, Southwestern won the district a couple of times (‘14 &’16), only to have the Maroons get some payback in the playoffs. The Warriors spanked Pulaski last year, but look for the Maroons to start climbing their way back to the top this season. Warriors WR JP Vaught torched the Maroons for 182 total yards and 3 scores on just 4 touches a year ago.

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    theguru's Avatar
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    Amazing work @DevilMayCare !

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    One of the best previews I've ever read!

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    Hell's Kitchen

    Quote Originally Posted by JDEaston View Post
    One of the best previews I've ever read!
    Aw shucks, JD. I'm blushing over here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DevilMayCare View Post
    Aw shucks, JD. I'm blushing over here.
    Excellent work.. Seriously. Anyone that knows me on BGP knows I generally speaking my mind. That said, this is an excellent preview.

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    Outstanding job!

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    Looking California, and feeling Minnesota...

    Dynamite work!

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    Union, Ky. Up on top the pressbox @ Ryle football games.


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    You nailed it!!!! Great job.
    Last edited by Ram; Aug 17, 18 at 03:26 PM. Reason: Rule 13