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1. Johnson Central Golden Eagles (4A, 12-3, State Runner-Up)- Franklin-Simpson took out some revenge on the Golden Eagles in the Finals but don’t feel sorry for Matney’s bunch. Johnson Central returns a wealth of starters and get back superstar RB Joe Jackson from a season ending injury.

2. Corbin Redhounds (3A, 13-2, State Runner-Up)- Corbin came up just short against a peaking Boyle County team. Corbin must replace their heartbeat in QB Camron Sizemore, but Chase Estep is dynamic. The Hounds should still be solid on Defense. Cross-Bracketing also is favorable for Corbin as they avoid the heavyweights of the Class until the Semi-Finals.

3. Belfry Pirates (3A, 11-2)- Untimely injuries at the LB position led to Belfry getting whitewashed by familiar foe Central and ending their streak as the Kings of their Class. Belfry must replace some key parts at the skill positions and will rely on one of the State’s best Offensive Lines which returns in tract.

4. Ashland Tomcats (4A, 10-3)- Ashland shocked rival Johnson Central in the regular season but had their dreams crushed when the Golden Eagles returned the favor in the playoffs. The Tomcats will try to rebound and will do so behind the arm and legs of dynamic QB Braxton Ratliff.

5. Raceland Rams (1A, 10-5, State Runner-Up)- The Rams got over the hump and finally fought their way to the 1A Final before falling to the Beechwood Buzzsaw. Raceland has plenty of experience back and will have the slightest of edges in what should be a stacked 1A Eastern Semi-State.

6. Pikeville Panthers (1A, 8-5, Lost in Semi’s)- It was called a “Rebuilding Year” as Coach MacNamee sent out a very young team and took several early season losses. The Panthers hit their stride and almost made a run to the State Finals and will return the farm.

7. Harlan County Black Bears (5A, 8-6, Lost in Semi’s)- The Black Bears were an after thought as the 5A Playoffs started. They entered as the 3-seed and with a 5-5 record, but they left with a shocking run that came a touchdown short of reaching the Championship. Expect continued improvement.

8. Southwestern Warriors (5A, 10-3)- Southwestern must replace one of the top players in school history with the graduating of Patric Edwards. It certainly helps when you have an all-purpose threat like Drew Sawyers to step up.

9. Pulaski County Maroons (5A, 4-7)- The 2017 season was a forgettable one for the Maroons. They hobbled to a losing record against a brutal schedule. Pulaski will not stay down for long under Coach Hines, but they have a lot of ground to make up to return to form.

10. Hazard Bulldogs (1A, 9-3)- Hazard was in the thick of the 1A race but were a couple defensive shootouts and a couple key injuries away. The Bulldogs will rely on their stud QB Bailey Blair and will once again be a major factor in what should be an exciting season for small school football.

The Next Ten:
11. Knox Central Panthers (4A, 8-4)
12. Paintsville Tigers (1A, 11-2)
13. Wayne County Cardinals (4A, 12-2, Lost in Semi’s)
14. Rockcastle County Rockets (4A, 8-4)
15. Bell County Bobcats (3A, 7-5)
16. Somerset Briarjumpers (2A, 7-5)
17. Montgomery County Indians (5A, 10-3)
18. North Laurel Jaguars (5A, 9-3)
19. Whitley County Colonels (5A, 7-5)
20. Russell Red Devils (3A, 5-6)

Large School Pre-Season Offensive Player of the Year:
QB Braxton Ratliff, Ashland

Small School Pre-Season Offensive Player of the Year:
QB Bailey Blair, Hazard

Large School Pre-Season Defensive Player of the Year:
LB Devin Johnson, Johnson Central

Small School Pre-Season Defensive Player of the Year:
DB Gunnur Lewis, Raceland

15 Players to Watch In 2018:
ATH Blevin Campbell, Knox Central
ATH Seth Conn, Pike Central
ATH Chase Estep, Corbin
LB Austin Fields, Belfry
RB Colby Frazier, Bell County
LB Grant Gibson, Corbin
ATH Jackson Hensley, Pikeville
LB Garry Henson, Harlan County
RB Joe Jackson, Johnson Central
RB Seth Johnson, Shelby Valley
RB Jayden Neace, Perry Central
RB/LB Jaden Payne, Rockcastle County
ATH Drew Sawyers, Southwestern
ATH Landan Swartz, Bath County
RB/DB Ethan Varney, Prestonsburg