JDEaston's Avatar
This season of class 5A football features a lot of the same frontrunners that we have all been accustomed to seeing at the top of the class year after year. The Bowling Green Purples will once again carry the bullseye on their back as the defending champions, as well as the preseason favorite. However unlike last season, the Purples are in a bit of a reloading year so to say, so we will have to see if they will be as dominant as they were last season, or if there will be a handful of teams that could seriously challenge them for the title.

When looking at teams that could challenge the Purples, some teams to take note of are Christian County, Covington Catholic, Owensboro, Fern Creek, as well as a team that is loaded with D1 talent, the Doss Dragons. Of those teams Christian County has the least amount of question marks entering the season, not to mention they played the Purples closer than anyone else in the 2016 playoffs. While even the Purples have some question marks, they are still the favorite until someone steps up and really shows that they are a contender to knock the Purples off of the throne. That said, the gap between Bowling Green and the rest of the field is not as big as it was last season, which should make for an interesting season.

1. Bowling Green (15-0, State Champions)

For most teams, graduating 15 starters including a Mr. Football winner in running back Jamale Carothers would mean a rebuilding season to say the least. Not to mention the fact that they also had to replace their starting quarterback, Clark Payne who accounted for 3,652 yards of offense as well as 74 touchdowns last season. However the Purples don’t like to rebuild, they just seem to reload year after year. One of the nice things about being able to take control of the game early is the fact that it allows you to give your underclassmen plenty of playing time to gain experience. This played into the Purples hands last season as plenty of underclassmen logged a lot of playing time, much more than you would expect at most schools. Which in turn is part of the reason the Purples are reloading, rather than rebuilding.

Don’t expect the Purples to be as dominant right out of the gate as they were last season. But one thing to remember is that this edition of the Purples upperclassmen have had the opportunity to get their feet wet due to their predecessors success. So one thing you should expect is that the Purples will come along quickly and by the end of the season they will be the team to beat in class 5A.

The Purples also have another Mr. Football candidate this season in senior LB, Justice Dingle. While Vito Tisdale is likely a little too young to get Mr. Football consideration this season, Tisdale will be a name that we remember for a long, long time. The sophomore running back averaged 12 yards per carry as a freshman while spending time on the defensive side of the ball (DB) as well. Beau Buchanon will step in as a junior to replace Clark Payne at the quarterback position. It’s hard to replace anyone that puts up over 3,000 yards of offense, but with athletes all over the field, Buchanon is stepping in with a running start. One of Buchanon’s top targets at wide receiver will be Zion Kenner, who averaged 16 yards per catch last season.

2. Christian County (9-3, lost to Bowling Green in the 2nd Round)

The Colonels, led by four year starting quarterback Kolbe Langhi look to be the most capable team to challenge the Purples this season. In other words they have the least amount of question marks (outside of Bowling Green) when looking at the preseason top 5 contenders. Mr. Football candidate Langhi is approaching 10,000 career passing yards heading into his senior season.

While Christian County should not have any problems putting points on the board, their offense certainly isn’t the only thing they have going for them. Senior, Cory Trice will play double duty as a receiver on offense as well as a safety on defense. Trice has seven D1 offers and is currently committed to play at Purdue University. When you add seniors Shamar Foster (LB/TE) and DL Payton Leneave to the mix you have what looks to be a promising defense to go along with what will be one of the best offenses in the class.

The Colonels have lost to the Purples in the playoffs four of the past five seasons. However they played the Purples as well as anyone last season and quite honestly, most would say they were the most capable (5A) team of beating the 2016 edition of the Purples. With what Christian County returns and what Bowling Green lost, the Colonels have as good of a chance as anyone to dethrone the Purples this season.

3. Covington Catholic (9-4, lost to Fern Creek in the Quarterfinals)

These Colonels are also loaded with offensive firepower. Senior quarterback A.J. Mayer who is currently committed to Miami (OH) was just shy of 3,000 all purpose yards last season, accumulating 31 touchdowns along the way. Nearly 2,500 of those yards came through the air, along with 20 of his 31 touchdowns. Junior running back Casey McGinness will handle most of the ground work this season. Last season McGinness was responsible for over 1,300 yards rushing and another 300 receiving, tallying up 16 touchdowns in the process. The Colonels also return a couple of really promising receivers in junior Jack Coldiron and senior Malachi Pike.

Covington Catholic has a very mature team this season, with over 25 seniors on the roster. The biggest question mark for the Colonels is how well their offensive line will come together to give the skill players a chance to do work. While last season their defense wasn’t anything to write home about, they should be improved in that aspect this season with Miami (OH) commit Kam Butler anchoring the defensive line. With the firepower they possess on offense any improvement on the defensive side of the ball will open up a new world of possibilities for the Colonels, as long as the offensive line comes together. Which will need to happen quickly given the Colonels strong early season schedule.

4. Owensboro (10-3, lost to Bowling Green in the Quarterfinals)

With the loss of running back Landon Board, whom was responsible for just over 1800 yards of offense as well as 31 touchdowns, quarterback Zack Gross, as well as a slew of linemen, some will question the Red Devils top 5 preseason ranking. The truth is, the Red Devils did lose a lot. However, time after time they have proven that they are one of the top teams in the class, no matter what they lose.

It will certainly be tough to replace the production of Landon Board, but thankfully for the Red Devils, they have the ability to reload rather than rebuild. In other words, don’t expect much of, if any dropoff from the Red Devils this season. Sophomore running back Imonte Owsley will do his best to fill Landon Board’s shoes and he has one of the most talented groups of underclassmen in recent memory to help him out with that task at the skill positions.

As you would expect out of the Red Devils, the line play will be one of the best in the class and the defense will be great as well. The loss of Landon Board and Zack Gross hurts, however there are plenty of skill players ready to step up behind what will once again be one of the best OL/DL’s in the class. District one, is one of the two toughest districts in the state, but Owensboro will certainly be a deciding factor in who gets the number one seed in in the playoffs.

5. Fern Creek (11-3, lost to Bowling Green in the Semifinals)

Of the top five preseason teams, Fern Creek arguably has the toughest task of replacing the talent lost from last season. However after two straight semifinals appearances, the momentum is in place for the Tigers to not skip a beat again this season. The biggest question for the Tigers will be whether they can replace all of the offensive production that was lost due to graduation. Senior RB, Devon Blincoe was expected to be a big help on offense this season after the graduation of Kyree Hawkins who averaged nearly 10 yards per carry for his career. Blincoe however is no longer enrolled at Fern Creek and his return is questionable.

While determining who will step up at the RB position, look for the Tigers to go to the air early and often this season. Former Moore High School quarterback Justin Brown has taken over the play calling and has several promising options to replace Shamar Bryant who graduated last season. Early indications are that junior Rayshawn Nelson will win the starting position. As long as the Tigers offensive line comes together and can protect the line of scrimmage, don’t expect Fern Creek’s offensive production to look much different than last season.

The Tigers defense should remain solid as usual, so that is not a big concern even with a bit smaller defensive line than they are used to seeing. The big question mark for Fern Creek is how well the offense will come together. While off season 7 on 7 tournaments, scrimmages, etc don’t mean a whole lot in general. The Tigers passed the eye test in all of those, including their recent scrimmage versus 6A Pleasure Ridge Park.

6. Doss (6-6, lost to Covington Catholic in the 2nd round)

Doss is a very intriguing team. They are one of the most loaded teams in the state when you take all of their D1 talent into aspect. However they finished 6-6 and lost in the second round of the playoffs last season, albeit to a very good Covington Catholic team. Were they just going through the growing pains with a group of young kids? Does all of that talent not gel well together? Those are certainly questions to be answered, but look for Doss to turn the corner this season and start playing up to their potential. We will learn a lot about these Dragons when they travel over to face the 5A #8 Dragons of South Oldham in week 1. Seven days later, they face 6A #3 Male. Those will be huge tests to see how well Doss has matured during the offseason.

Speaking of maturity, Doss returns the majority of their talent from last season, including 25 seniors and 20 juniors. They return their entire offensive line, which has multiple kids with D1 offers. Even with the loss of receiver Terez Traynor, they still have a strong group of options at TE and WR. Wide receiver Shawnkel Knight Goff which has nearly two handfuls of offers, including Notre Dame, Louisville, Kentucky, Purdue, Cincinnati, Indiana and Iowa State.

But again, Doss is a very intriguing team, we will just have to wait and see what all of that talent accomplishes this season. They could finish in the middle of the 5A top ten, or they could be one of the top teams to beat. Time will tell and honestly we will know a lot early in the season, so stay tuned.

7. Greenwood (9-3, lost to Owensboro in the 2nd round)

Greenwood is a 5A team that is really building its program up, day by day, year by year. How far they can climb the mountain remains to be seen, but nonetheless they are certainly a program to keep an eye on. To be frank, one of the biggest issues that could keep Greenwood from working their way up the ladder is their offense. That sounds odd, since they seemingly have no trouble moving the ball down field and their defense, for the most part does a really good job of it’s own. However in a district that also hosts Bowling Green and the newcomer South Warren, the lack of an air attack will make it really hard to continue to climb the proverbial ladder.

Even at that, Greenwood returns the best quarterback, or should we say athlete, that the program has ever had. Jackson Adams is his name and although his designated position is quarterback, he picks up many more yards on the ground than he does through the air. Part of the reasoning behind that is that Greenwood runs a veer style offense and Jackson happens to be exceptional at running the veer.

The fact is, with Greenwood’s solid defense and Jackson Adams being exceptional at running the veer, along with a slew of talented backs to work with, they don’t need much of a passing game to stay competitive with anyone in the class, at the moment. The Gators will face two of the best rush defenses in the class in district play as they have to face off against Bowling Green and now the addition of South Warren in Region 1, District 2.

8. South Oldham (12-2, lost to Pulaski County in the Semifinals)

After the best season in school history the Dragons have earned the respect of the rest of the class. Senior quarterback Drew Zaubi was responsible for nearly 2,700 yards of offense last season, tacking on 45 touchdowns while punishing defenses through the air as well as keeping them honest with his ability to run. Even with one of the best quarterbacks in the class, the Dragons run a reasonably balanced offense, thanks in part to sophomore fullback Keaton Martin. As a freshman Martin put up an impressive 1,558 yards resulting in 19 touchdowns. The crazy thing about his numbers is that he was responsible for so much production primarily coming off the bench. This season however, he will be the Dragons featured back which should open up South Oldhams offense even more.

With a solid defense as well, the only real question mark this season for the Dragons is how quickly will the new offensive line come together. If the oline turns out to be solid, South Oldham could work their way up the rankings rather quickly. It won’t take much time to learn a lot about this edition of South Oldham as they open the season at 2A #2 Christian Academy of Louisville in week 0, take on 5A #6 Doss the following week in a clash of two top ten Dragons.

9. Southwestern (9-4, lost to Pulaski County in the Quarterfinals)

Last season Southwerstern closed the recent proverbial gap between themselves and district foe Pulaski County, winning the district championship for the first time since 2014. However Pulaski County got revenge in the 2016 playoffs, ultimately ending the Warriors season. While it appears that Pulaski County will be searching for their identity early on this season, Southwestern is poised to take control of the district and will be focusing on making it deeper into the playoffs this season.

The Warriors return 15 starters from last season, including running back Patric Edwards and wide receiver JP Vaught. Last season those two combined for over 2,800 yards of the Warriors total offensive production. Southwestern returns 8 starters from a really solid defense last season so expect teams to continue to have a tough time moving the ball against these Warriors.

Head coach Larry French has really built Southwestern into a solid program year after year, so with Pulaski County looking to take a step back this season and the rest of the district coming off from losing seasons, this could be the Warriors year to really build momentum and make a run in the playoffs. In recent years Pulaski County has always been a major roadblock for Southwestern in terms of making a deep playoff run, yet the two teams have still had many close games during that time. Pulaski County has been to 4 straight 5A title games, could this be the year Southwestern gets their opportunity?

10. Dixie Heights (6-6, lost to Fern Creek in the 2nd Round)

Dixie Heights was one of the best surprises last season. Due to their tough schedule and basically winning the games they should, as well as losing games to larger schools in general they seemingly remained off from the radar for the majority of the season. Up until October, 7th when the Colonels in red knocked off Highlands 40-20. Yes, Highlands was down last year, but anytime a team beats them by 20 in a district game it’s going to put that team on the radar, which in this case was Dixie Heights. A couple of weeks later, Dixie Heights held their own against Covington Catholic until late in the game when Covington Catholic pulled away to a 35-12 win. That game was seemingly closer than the final score showed.

All in all Dixie Heights is entering the 2017 with a lot of momentum even though they lost their star running back Jose Torres due to graduation. Brandon Barker looks to take over that role and while he only produced 450 yards last season in limited action, he averaged 5 yards per carry. With what will likely be the best offensive line in the district, Barker will likely have a spectacular season.

While the starting quarterback position is still up in the air, don’t worry too much about that as these Colonels love to play smashmouth football on offense as well as defense. Expect them to run, run some more, then dare you to stop the run again. If you do stop the run, they will rely on a very solid defense to get them the opportunity to wear their opponent down by you guessed it, running some more. Whether that results in the same success or even more success than last season remains to be seen, but they keys are in place to allow the Colonels in red to challenge for the district title.

Teams to keep an eye on

South Warren (9-4, lost to 4A Franklin-Simpson in the Quarterfinals)

South Warren is a newcomer to class 5A, moving up from class 4A. This has been a long awaited move for us spectators. They won the class 4A State Championship in 2015, which just so happened to be their first season in class 4A. In 2016 they were hit hard with the injury bug, however still managed to play within a point of 5A Greenwood and 6 points of 4A Franklin-Simpson in their early season matchups.

Fast forward to 2017 and the fast growing Spartans have been bumped up to class 5A, district 2. This is where things will become interesting going forward as they will have to consistently beat Greenwood if they want to finish second in the district. Then of course there is Bowling Green, a matchup that fans of both teams have been wanting to see for years, yet it never came to fruition. That’s not the case now that they are district foes, with a likely rivalry forming over time. With a lot of question marks heading into the season, this may not be the opportune time for the Spartans to challenge the likes of Bowling Green and Greenwood, but don’t underestimate their ability to keep a game close just based on their defense alone.

North Laurel (7-5, lost to Southwestern in the 2nd Round)

The Jaguars reside in district 8, which while it’s not an incredibly strong district it is a very competitive district. The Jag’s won the district in 2015 only to lose the title by a point last season to Whitley County. Look for North Laurel, Whitley County, as well as Harlan County to all fight it out for the district championship this season. Whichever team comes out on top will certainly be battle tested and a formidable opponent once the playoffs begin. Keep your eye on all three of those teams and expect them to be neck and neck come district play crunchtime. Possibly invoking the sometimes complicated tiebreaker rules in determining the district champion.

Highlands (3-8, lost to Doss in the First Round)

Let’s put out a disclaimer first and foremost, these teams to keep an eye on are in no particular order, just wanted to get that out there. So now that we have a disclaimer in place, Highlands is certainly a team to keep an eye on. If for no other reason, well, just because they are Highlands. In 2015 they were a handful of plays away from making an appearance in the 5A finals, yet last year they finished with their first losing season in 62 years. Was it just a bad season, which you should be allowed every once in awhile, or are their bigger issues? Most of us would be lying if we could answer that truthfully.
What we do know about these Bluebirds is that they have return a handful of starters on offense and have a couple of very capable kids (Jr, Grady Cramer and Sr, Carl Schoellman) fighting it out for the starting quarterback position. We also know that last season, the Bluebirds defense gave up a little over 40 points per game. We also know that they have a great feeder system and a large roster, which in turn makes a quick turnaround from last season entirely possible. While Highlands has a lot to overcome to improve on last seasons results, if they can get the issues on the defensive end worked out it’s not entirely impossible for them to challenge for the number two spot in the district.

Madison Southern (8-4, lost to North Bullitt in the 2nd Round)

Madison Southern is once again essentially a lock to win their district. However it is a rather weak district which makes it hard to get a good read on the Eagles most seasons. They always have a solid team, but how solid they really are is generally a matter of opinion. Carter Smith, LB/FB is an all around athlete and team leader that you want on your team. The Eagles have several other kids receiving division 1 interest, so there is certainly talent there to make them a threat in the playoffs. The midseason matchups versus Southwestern and Pulaski County should help the Eagles prepare for their playoff run.

Pulaski County (12-3, lost to Bowling Green in the State Finals)

The loss of Jake Johnson would certainly hurt any team and there are even more question marks heading into the season for the Maroons. However don’t ever count out head coach Johnny Hines and his ability to coach players up, especially in times of need. Jr, Wiley Cain will step in at QB and receiver Jake Sloan will be one of his top targets. There still remains a lot of question marks, but don’t forget that Pulaski County has made an appearance in the last four 5A title games and have had to replace many great players on a regular basis to achieve that. So don’t count the Maroons out just yet.