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Big Time Recruits Dominate Small Class Football Landscape

It is not uncommon for Class 2A to have some of the best players in the Bluegrass State, but 2018 seems to be a special year as four different players have spent their summer collecting offers and taking visits to many high-profile Division 1 schools.

Newport Central Catholic RB/LB Kyle Kelly exploded with offers to basically a “Who’s Who” of MAC schools. Kelly recently committed to Ohio University, the first school to get on board with an offer, and is expected to play Linebacker at the next level.

Christian Academy- Louisville has a pair of blue chip standouts on their roster in Junior Linemen John Young and Senior Athlete Milton Wright. Young has exploded onto the national scene and has already earned a 4 Star ranking in the Class of 2020. Young has already picked up offers from both in-state flagship programs as well as Purdue, Tennessee, Iowa State, Syracuse, and Vanderbilt. Wright may be the early favorite for Mr. Football as he looks to put a capstone on a sensational career. The Wide Receiver/Safety/Swiss Army Knife remains in the All-American discussion and has an All-American offer sheet to match. Among the most prestigious offers are Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Miami, Michigan State, and South Carolina.

Though Wright has the best chance to capture post season accolades as a skill player, Glasgow’s Tanner Bowles may win the award for most eye-opening offer sheet. The mauler in the trenches is on his way to play for Nick Saban at Alabama, but prior to his commitment he owned an offer sheet filled with teams who have been accustomed to playing at the very top of college football. Notable schools were Florida State, USC, Oklahoma, LSU, Penn State, and Georgia.

These four players certainly lead the way entering the 2018 season, but don’t be surprised to see Class 2A produce a few more Division Signees before the end of Winter.

The Carousel Finally Comes Around

It is becoming an alarming trend how the coaching tree sheds it leaves at the end of every season. For the most part Class 2A has seen stability in recent years while chaos reigns elsewhere, but at the end of the 2017 season three of the Class’ top programs all saw a change at the Head Coach position.

John Edge leaves Owensboro Catholic to cross the river to the Hoosier State where he will take over at South Spencer. He will be replaced by Jason Morris. Morris was promoted from within after being an assistant at O’Cath the past two seasons.

Prestonsburg has parted ways with John Derossett after 22 seasons at the Blackcat helm. Brandon Brewer led Powell County on a surprise playoff run last season and will take his talents down the Mountain Parkway to take over. Early reports are that his enthusiasm has brought a fresh breath of air to the proud program.

At Newport Central Catholic, Dan Wagner departs after a five-year run that was ripe with success. Stephen Lickert will transition from 6A Campbell County where he was responsible for making the often-downtrodden Camels a respectable program in recent years. Expectations will be high at the flagship program for Northern Kentucky success in Class 2A

The numbers behind these three departing coaches are staggering:

- The three combined to coach in 22 Regional Finals.
- The three led their respective teams to 10 Regional Championships.
- The three accounted for 7 State Finals appearances.

All three coaches will be missed after leaving their mark, but in all three cases the community is excited for the winds of change to blow and for the anticipation of something new.

The Rankings:

1. Mayfield Cardinals (13-2, State Runner-Up)

It is time to face the realization, if you haven’t done so already, that Joe Morris is just a winner. Much like his legendary father, Joe has proved that no matter how many players graduate off the Mayfield roster, the Cardinals are always going to be a factor in the landscape of winning the State Title in whatever class they are in.

It would be unfair to say Mayfield was an afterthought in the Class 2A picture last year, but most considered them to be playing catch up to a loaded pack in an extremely “up” year. When the dust settled Mayfield was playing for a State Title and giving mighty Danville all they wanted before eventually falling 35-21.

Mayfield has some work to do to rebuild an Offensive Line that consistently got the job done despite being undersized, but outside of that the Cardinals should be loaded for bear and firmly in contention once again.

Jayden Stinson grew up in a hurry at QB and showed a ton of poise and efficiency. Kent Trey Matthews took the keys as the feature back and threw up a 1,000-yard season, while youngsters Travon Halliburton and Kylan Galbreath each shined in their limited action and will be a year stronger, faster, and more explosive joining alongside in the backfield. Matthews was also superb catching the ball and will continue to get opportunities in the passing game. Alonzo Daniel and Diaz Perry will also catch their fair share of targets.

Defensively the Cardinals have a true playmaker in DE Brady Smith to build around. It Is an especially strong year for DE’s in Class 2A as the top teams are littered with stars with prototypical size, and Smith may be as good if not better than all of them. Connor Guthrie and Daniel are both exceptional DB’s and Markeacio Jackson should be expected have a breakout year in his Junior Campaign.

If 2017 was a bridge year for Mayfield, watch out in 2018. It may take a little time for the Offense to hum as they cycle in new starters on the O-Line, but the Cards should be flying high and will definitely be a tough out once more.

2. Christian Academy- Louisville Centurions (11-3, Lost to Mayfield in Semi-Finals)

For a time, last season, the mighty CAL Centurions were starting to be written off. Two times over a three game stretch Christian Academy- Louisville saw another 2A team celebrating after the final horn, one of which was a humbling 21-3 loss to rival DeSales. The Centurions were down a QB, their Offense was sputtering, and their Offensive line was struggling to keep teams from penetrating.

Coach LeFors’ squad did not go gently into the night, instead rallying to beat Walton-Verona and Desales on the road before losing an extremely hard-fought game to Mayfield in the Semi-Finals. It was a bittersweet loss for the 2016 Champs, but at the same time far from a disappointing one as CAL had managed to hush doubters who thought they would not even make it to Thanksgiving.

As the calendar flips, expectations will once again remain high buoyed by the sheer elite individual talents the Centurions return, if nothing else. John Young should be an All-State contender at Offensive Line and has major FBS programs salivating. Brandt Babin shined as a Freshman and will tote the rock as the primary rusher. Nate Clark will be a solid threat catching the ball along with Luke Leeper.

Defensively CAL will be solid if not great. Austin Collins and Luke Paulson make it very difficult for any team to get outside of the tackle box while Jake Taylor patrols the interior from his MLB spot. Braden Hafling is also underrated and routinely can find the football. Elijah Smith barely missed the Top 20 list and is one of the better DB’s in the Class.

Oh, and we forgot something. Back for his Senior year is Milton Wright. Wright will open as perhaps the early favorite for Mr. Football and legitimately does it all. Not only is he the top Defensive Back in the State, he may be the top WR, and is a dynamic threat anytime he touches the ball. As rival DeSales learned, even when you can contain the rest of the CAL team, it only takes two or three plays for the Centurions to beat you with their Defensive prowess and Wright’s game breaking ability.

CAL will look to fill the shoes of Austin Carr who has transferred to Ballard and will hope to do it without having to move Wright to the spot full-time. If CAL can find a QB, the sky is the limit for their potential.

3. DeSales Colts (12-1, Lost to Christian Academy- Louisville in Regional Finals)

For twelve weeks everything was going to plan. DeSales was undefeated, they were in the driver seat in their District, and their Defense was flat wearing teams out. Entering their November 17th game with CAL, DeSales had allowed 9 points in total over a seven week stretch. Then, Milton Wright struck, and after two Offensive TD’s and a Special Teams score, the Colts were sent home with a 24-3 defeat.

The Colts have big dreams again and have the depth and weapons to make them come true. QB Aaron Pfaadt returns under center and has several key members from his stable of backs to hand it to. Savion Stivers and Carlos Ordway should pick up where they left off in 2017. Expect the Colts to continue to ground and pound teams. The Colts do have some holes to fill on the line, but by and large it should be expected that the Offense should show certain improvement.

Defensively is where a Harold Davis team makes its presence felt, and the 2018 DeSales squad should be right in line with some of the better teams he has had. Demetddri Scott is a physical specimen and will be tough to stop off the edge. Amos Griffith and DeJuan Watkins are both going to be forces to contend with on the line as well. Shawn Kaufman is a solid defender in the back half of the Defense. The biggest question mark will be replacing some big losses at LB, but you can rest assured that DeSales will be clicking with little incident once the temperatures start to fall. We also should learn a lot about the strength of DeSales from the starting block. DeSales opens with powerhouse St. Xavier.

4. Danville Admirals (15-0, State Champions)

The Defending Champions lost a superb Senior Class that went to three Semi-Finals appearances, earned a Title and a Runner-Up, and collected a Mr. Football award in the process. Danville will have to replace nearly every top receiver and rusher on the team, while also having to fill major holes throughout a Defense that carried them throughout the playoffs.

Coach Clay Clevenger certainly has his work in front of him after a three-year run that has Admiral fans reliving the glory days of Sam Harp and Tom Duffy. With that said, don’t just proclaim Danville lost at sea just yet. There is still plenty of powder in their cannons to go to battle with.

Having your QB back is always a great starting point, and Zach Thornton may be the best returning QB in Kentucky small-school football. The Admirals also return a budding superstar in Junior LB Darrian Bell, a lockdown CB in Brennen McGuire, and three strong linemen in Pierce Haines, Jaylon Brashear, and Kishon Bartleson.

Danville’s fortunes will turn in the development of their Offensive skill players where they basically must work off a clean slate after losing a veteran crew that racked up yards and TD’s with ease. If Danville can find a "Ying" to Thornton's "Yang" in the running game, and can develop receivers to catch accurate balls, expect Danville to once again be right in the thick of the race to the Finals.

5. Glasgow Scotties (10-4, Lost to Danville in Semi-Finals)

There is something to be said for peaking at the right time and Glasgow demonstrated that in 2017 when the young Scotties hit their stride en route to a somewhat surprising Semi-Finals appearance.

Glasgow has plenty of punch returning. Nick Mitchell and Donta Oates are both excellent play-makers and will be one of the better 1-2 backfields in the classification. Tanner Abernathy will take over the QB spot full-time and has two things on his side. First of all, it always helps having Alabama Commit Tanner Bowles protecting your best interest up front as well as excellent Guard Peyton Gibbons. Additionally, a QB’s best friend is a tall WR who can go up and get the ball and 6’6 Jaden Franklin and 6’4 Kris Horn are both that prototype.

The Scotties will need to improve on Defense. No question about that. Glasgow had some ups and downs against some solid Offenses and will lose some key pieces. Ryan Jones pulled a team high 4 Interceptions and will be a welcome return to build around.

6. Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (6-6, Lost in 2nd Round)

It’s a new day in Newport.

Dan Wagner stepped down after five seasons following a disappointing finish to 2017 where the Thoroughbreds failed to win the District Title and failed to reach the Regional Finals. Two things that are foreign for the proud program.

Stephen Lickert’s pedigree suggests that Newport Central Catholic can see improvement on Offense immediately. He has been especially strong at developing RB’s, and with Kyle Kelly returning this could be a recipe for instant success. The bruising back averaged just shy of 100 yards rushing per game against a stout schedule and will be the focal point of the Offense. The Breds have a backfield stacked with young talent as well to supplement Kelly.

Paul Kremer returns at QB and will have one of his favorite targets back in Aubrey Posey. Hunter Cain emerged as one of the most consistent players on a Defense that struggled at times last season. He will get help from Daniel Craig anchoring the LB spot and Tanner Daunt at DE. Expect to see a noticeable Defensive improvement with such a veteran core returning.

7. Owensboro Catholic Aces (8-5, Lost to Mayfield in Regional Finals)

Speaking of new days, perhaps the biggest mystery in Class 2A for 2018 may be what to expect from Owensboro Catholic.

When the Aces take the field against Daviess County, two noticeable pieces will be missing that many expected to see wearing green starting the 2018 season. Coach John Edge will be coaching on the other side of the Ohio River, and Veteran Quarterback Will Warren will be taking the field down the road for Owensboro High School instead.

The Aces have talent, depth, and experience to be counted on. Vonn Williams and Drew Hartz will both return as Catholic’s primary bread winners. Hartz did a solid job taking over for Warren early in the season and should show improvement in year two at the trigger position. Williams’ numbers dipped after a superb Sophomore season as he failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark. Expect him to round back in form a bit. The Aces’ have one of the top receiving threats in 2A in Nick Mills back as well. You can argue Mills was their most consistent player in 2017 with 968 yards and 14 scores.

Yaya Gray will be called upon to take a bigger role on both sides of the ball after a respectable campaign. Noah Todd will anchor a Front 7 that will miss the graduation of a pair of tackling machines in LB’s Nick Blair and Josh Sloan.

8. Lloyd Memorial Juggernauts (8-4, Lost in 2nd Round)

What is the value of a playmaker?

The answer to that question may very well decide if Lloyd Memorial can win a District Title for a second consecutive season or if Newport Central Catholic can return to their catbird seat.

Travon Mason is dynamite in a small package and hopes to assume the role of this years’ Dmauriae VanCleave. Though Mr. Football aspirations may be a bit of a stretch, there is no denying the dynamic Mason is poised for a monster season after running for a hair below 1,500 yards last season.

Jonathan Williams and Keesean Crim both should see their roles and production increase. Anthony Hall is a sleeper prospect at DE with D-1 measurables. These three guys will have to play their supporting roles to perfection as Mason shines.

The big question for Lloyd Memorial iremains who will take over at QB after the dynamic dual threat Jordan Fann graduated. If the Juggs look to go to a more traditional QB, Junior Austin Daniels makes the most sense, but if they want to keep the rushing threat in place, which Fann excelled in, then the competition this Late Summer will be vital.

9. Somerset Briarjumpers (7-5, Lost in 2nd Round)

If any team was pulling for a reprieve from District Competition with the next alignment, it would have been Somerset. The Jumpers had a team who might have contended for a Regional Title, or even a Finals appearance most years in Class 2A’s Eastern bracket over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, they were stuck with two excellent teams in their District, relinquishing them to a 3rd Seed and early playoff exits. The bad news is they can expect their District to remain intact. The good news is they should pick up a little ground, thanks to graduation at both LCA and Danville.

The Jumpers have some graduation issues of their own to address, but returning MLB Peyton Hatcher will keep the stat sheet stuffed on Defense. Joining him to create a formidable unit will be DE Trevor Lipscomb and S Treavor Brock. Offensively Kade Grundy and Chance Stayton will be solid at two of the skill spots, while Junior RB Alex Miller will give them enough firepower to compete in nearly every game.

10. Monroe County Falcons (9-4, Lost to Glasgow in Regional Finals)

Monroe County is one of those teams that just seems to come out of nowhere every few years and makes a playoff push as they hit their stride at the right time.

Very few people gave the Falcons a shot as they drove all the way to Northern Kentucky to take on red hot Lloyd Memorial last season, but the Falcons took care of business 35-20 to earn a Regional Finals appearance.

Much like the Juggernauts mentioned above, Monroe has a major vacancy at the QB spot after losing one of the best dual threat QB’s in the Classification, when Ty Mink accepted his diploma. What Monroe will utilize to fill the void are a pair of “Jack of All Trade” standouts who will make plays all over the field.

Braden Murphy can run it, he can catch it, he can tackle it, and he can also disrupt it as Monroe’s leading tackler. Landon Stinson is his running mate at LB and almost equally as dangerous with his nose for the football.

Jholdi Brooks should take on an increased role on Offense. Jamison Geralds will be asked to do the same after a solid season on Defense.

Lexington Christian Academy Eagles (11-2, Lost to Danville in Regional Finals)

Lexington Christian’s Senior Class in 2017 took the Eagles to some significant heights, but in the end LCA fans must be wondering “What might have been”, had their run not coincided with Danville’s phenomenal crop of talent. In the past two years, LCA has only lost to one team, but that team was Danville. The Admirals took down the Eagles three times in total, including a pair of Regional Final losses.

LCA regularly exploded scoreboards and will now search to fill nearly all of that Offensive firepower. Between Dillon Wheatley and Logan Nieves, they lose over 4800 yards of Offense alone.

LCA will have to start their re-build around Defense this time around. Blane Hardin and Xavier Strothman, as well as Dustin Wheatley, all have prototypical size at their OLB and DE spots. Deairious Smith will be the cornerstone of the secondary.

If the Eagles can develop some youth on Offense and can take care of business, they should be able to avoid some of the hangover. However, sharing a District with Danville and hungry Somerset means that LCA will have to grow up VERY fast.

Murray Tigers (5-7, Lost in 2nd Round)

It is rare to see a Murray team finish with a losing record as the Tigers did in 2017. Murray simply could not stop teams on Defense. The Offense showed promise at times and did their part. The Tigers will welcome RB Chase Merriss and versatile ATH Mark Thompson back after combining for over 2500 all-purpose yards. The only RB in 2A who had more TD’s than Merriss’ 22 was Dillon Wheatley from LCA. Hunter Utley had his ups and downs as a Sophomore under center, but also showed very positive development and will only improve in 2018.

At the end of the day though, it will be the Tiger Defense that will have to show monumental improvement. The Tigers gave up an average of 44 points in their 7 losses and will need to cut that number in half to have a shot at making a playoff push. DB Tommy Waldrop returns but by and large, Murray will have a lot of maturing to do.

Prestonsburg Blackcats (7-5, Lost in 2nd Round)

When you are parting ways with your Head Coach of over twenty seasons it is always a time of both anxiety and anticipation. Returning a star in RB Ethan Varney always helps with that transition. Varney has posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and eclipsed the 1500-yard mark last year. The Blackcats should be the District favorite but will struggle to find the depth needed to compete deep into playoffs. Winning the District will be a must to secure a home playoff game and significantly lighten the First-Round game awaiting them.

Walton-Verona Bearcats (9-3, Lost in 2nd Round)

Walton-Verona certainly had what most would consider to be a solid season winning 9 games and giving CAL a stiff test before succumbing. The Bearcats lose a strong Senior class including most of their top skill players. FB/LB Micah Alford will have to step up in his role, as will RB/DB Peyton Smith. Walton-Verona should still enter as the favorite in District 5, but the field should make up some ground after the Bearcats made short work of them in 2017.

Washington County Commanders (7-5, Lost in 2nd Round)

It is a tough gig to share a District with Christian Academy-Louisville and DeSales, a lesson the Commanders learned all too well in 2017. Washington County was still able to move their program forward by going on the road in Round 1 to knock off Owen County.

Washington County loses QB John Floyd but returns one of the more underrated players in Class 2A in Jbias Dawson. Dawson is a load to bring down and had a breakout year hitting the Century mark on the ground. Mike Ellery is a promising looking player who made plays as a Freshman and will see his role increase. Miguel Alacantara had a big year at LB and will be asked to play big for a Defense that will be tested often.

Others to Watch:

Ballard Memorial Bombers (3-8, Lost in 1st Round)

The team who may see the greatest improvement in 2018 may be Ballard Memorial. The Bombers really struggled with a young team in 2017 but return most of their key players. QB Erick Marinelli threw for 2802 yards and 33 TD’s, he will return his favorite target Drew Cox who had nearly 1400 receiving yards and a remarkable 19 TD’s. Hunter Bray and Dequin Donlow also return as well as leading rusher Bryce Haynes. There is no doubt that Ballard Memorial will score points, but can they stop a team on Defense?

Leslie County Eagles (4-7, Lost in 1st Round)

The Eagles have been a team consistently in the running for a 2A home playoff game and have reason for optimism in 2018. Leslie was very young in 2017 and took a step back, but they should rebound led by talented Sophomore LB Preston Spurlock. The big question for Leslie is if QB Darron Whitaker will play football or focus on other sports. If he returns they become a contender for the District Title, without him it may be tough to catch Prestonsburg or Shelby Valley.

Shelby Valley Wildcats (6-5, Lost in 1st Round)

RB Seth Johnson finished as Class 2A’s leading rusher by over 50 yards per game as he clipped the 2,000-yard mark. The Wildcats have a legit shot at a District Title but will have to get through Prestonsburg. RB Dalton Meade nearly hit the 1,000-yard mark and will have to have a bid season to take the pressure off Johnson. DL Peyton Blackburn had to lead the State in Fumble Recoveries with seven.

Todd County Central Rebels (6-5, Lost in 1st Round)

Todd County Central was one of the best feel good stories in the State as they went from an extensive losing streak to a competitive 6-5 season and a winning regular season. The Rebels will have some work to do to repeat that accomplishment as they lost their Head Coach and their two top Offensive weapons. QB/DB Asa Young does return after a solid season, specifically on the Defensive side of the ball where he intercepted an impressive seven passes.

Pre-Season Class 2A Top 20 Players

1. ATH Milton Wright, Christian Academy- Louisville
2. OL Tanner Bowles, Glasgow
3. RB/LB Kyle Kelly, Newport Central Catholic
4. OL John Young, Christian Academy- Louisville
5. QB Zach Thornton, Danville
6. LB Darrian Bell, Danville
7. RB Vonn Williams, Owensboro Catholic
8. RB Travon Mason, Lloyd Memorial
9. DE Brady Smith, Mayfield
10. ATH Braden Murphy, Monroe County
11. ATH Donta Oates, Glasgow
12. QB Jayden Stinson, Mayfield
13. WR Nick Mills, Owensboro Catholic
14. DE Demetri Scott, DeSales
15. ATH Ethan Varney, Prestonsburg
16. RB Jbias Dawson, Washington County
17. RB Seth Johnson, Shelby Valley
18. DE Austin Collins, Christian Academy- Louisville
19. LB Peyton Hatcher, Somerset
20. LB Landon Stinson, Monroe County