We have conducted a tireless study of the returning rosters of the teams vying for the top spot and come up with the below based on who these teams lost and who they have coming back or transferring onto the roster for ’23. We believe these five teams are in ‘title contention’ in the 1A classification.Fletcher W. Long, Senior Scout and Editorial Board Member KPGFootball
The below teams are teams we believe will challenge for the title this coming Fall. Two of these teams are in the same district, Pikeville and Hazard, and we usually don’t rank two teams among our top five from the same district but have this year. Regardless of whom is in whose district, these are the five best teams in 1A entering the ’22 season. We have ranked them in the order we like them.
- Raceland Rams; Michael Salmons, Head Football Coach; 12-2 in ’21 and lost to Pikeville in the Semis.
Who they will miss from last year’s roster: Will Farley, Parker Gallion
Logan Lundy (’24), Lundy completed 126 of his 209 passing attempts a season ago for 1,966-yards passing throwing for 23-TDs while suffering only 10-INTs.
Noah Wallace (’24). Wallace carried the football 151-times as a sophomore and gained 1,028-yards rushing while crossing the goal line over the ground 14-times. Wallace was the ball club’s leading offensive scorer. Wallace wasn’t too bad on defense either as he led the team with 4-picks and was second on the team with 84-tackles, a TFL, 1-FF and 1-FR.
Connor Hughes (’23). Hughes returns bringing his 38-receptions for 723-yards and 11-TDs with him.
Peyton Ison (’23). Ison brings back a consistent third phase threat at PK. A season ago, Ison was 52 of 64 in PATs and 4 for 7 in FGs.
Cole Conlon (’23). Conlon is back defensively and that is quite a returning weapon. In ’21, Conlon had 100-tackles, 14-TFLs, 9-Sacks, 1-FF and 3-FRs.
Ben Taylor (’23). Taylor was one of the classification’s and commonwealth’s more productive “sack-masters” in ’21 and he returns bringing his 11-QB sacks and 5-TFLs from a year ago with him.
KPGFootball’s Call: Raceland is always a threat to either win or play for the title at this level of competition. This year, the Rams appear to be loaded. This looks to be the year toward which the program has been pointing as, perhaps, the year.
- Pikeville Panthers, Chris McNamee, Head Football Coach; 14-2 in ’21 and won the 1A Title
Who they will miss from last year’s roster: Adam Blankenship, Barrett Caudill, Brady Clark, Landon Hammock, Zac Lockhart, Brandon Lowe, Isaac McNamee, Cambell Noud, Alex Rogers, Aaron Stone, Josh Taylor, Brayden Thomas, Jacoby Thornsbury, Kendal Waright
Blake Birchfield (’23). Birchfield is arguably the commonwealth’s premier running-back at any classification of competition. Last year, Birchfield, in 290-carries, ran for 2,512-yards and 25-rushing TDs.
Wade Hensley (’23). Hensley had 33-receptions in ’21 for 562-yards and 12-receiving TDs; Birchfield and Hensley were the offense’s top two scorers from a year ago.
Luke Ray (’23). Ray led the defense with 142-tackles, 6-TFLs, 1FF and a pick.
Devin DeRossett (’23). DeRossett had 108-tackles, 9-TFLs, 2-sacks, 1-FF, 2-FRs in ’21.
Carson Wright (’23). Wright is a load when fully healthy and fully available. Wright returns on defense where he had 31-tackles, 6-TFLs a year ago.
Sam Wright (’24). Wright had 3-picks, 66-tackles, 1-TFL, and 1-FF in ’21.
KPGFootball’s call: There aren’t too many programs which could withstand the loss of some of the players the Panthers lost from off of last year’s title team and make a reasonable run at a return to Lexington. However, Pikeville is such a program. The Panthers don’t rebuild, they reload.
- Bethlehem Eagles, Bryan Walker, Head Football Coach; 11-3 in ’21 and lost in the semis to Russellville
Who they will miss from last year’s roster: Christian Bruns, George Crepps, Matthew Hoskins, Sean Mills, Ladarion Montgomery, Eli Peake, Luke Popovich, Jaren Ray
Cooper Stone (’23). Stone was 122 for 252 for 2,219-yards and 23-TDs against 7-INTs a year ago.
Zane Wickliffe (’23). Wickliffe gained 1,293-yards rushing on 128-carries and scored 18-rushing TDs for the Eagles. Wickliffe is the returning leading offensive scorer accounting for 10-points an outing over the course of the team’s 14 games a year ago.
Haydon Osborne (’23). Osborne caught 34-passes for 619-yards and 6-TDs receiving.
Adam Winkenhofer (’23). Winkenhofer may be the best PK in the classification. He converted on close to 95% of his attempted PATs (75 for 79) and 1 of his 2 FG attempts.
Will Ray (’24). Ray is back defensively with his 16-TFLs.
Parker Greer (’23). Greer will have to shoulder some of the burden created with the graduation of Luke Popovich. Greer carded 4-QB sacks himself a year ago.
Logan McMillan (’23). McMillan returns in the defensive 3rd level where he picked 5-passes a year ago with 97-INT return yards. McMillan only played in 7-games a year ago, half of the 14 the others played. Double last year’s output with the additional opportunities and he may end up leading Kentucky in that all-important statistical category. We call that a “nose for the football.”
KPGFootball’s call: Bethlehem has quite a few pieces returning from a roster which had the Eagles at the top of 1A a year ago. Getting back an All-State caliber QB is big for any team. Getting back a PK like Winkenhofer is larger than many fans may realize.
- Kentucky Country Day, Matthew Jones, 10-3 in ’21, losing to Bethlehem in the Regional Finals
Who they will miss from last year’s roster: Adit Agarwai, Nathan Caldwell, Eric Dickerson, Charles Kircik, Luke Russo, Zach Schonwetter
Ethan Harris (’24). Luke Russo (’22, 62 of 129 for 761-yards passing and 9-TDs against 3-INTs, 72-rushing attempts for 418-yards and 6-TDs on the ground) graduated and most believe the reins will be turned over to Harris. With only 3-games of action in ’21, what Harris will do with these reins is anyone’s guess.
Troy Humphreys (’24). With Dickerson and Caldwell departing and being the top two rushers in ’21 the club will turn to Humphreys (’24) who gained 333-yards in only 47-carries a year ago with 3-rushing TDs in ’21. Those numbers should balloon with added opportunity.
Gage Mizuguchi (’24). Losing Schonwetter at PK hurts but the club will turn the duties over to Mizuguchi. Mizuguchi was 85.7% converting PATs a year ago (6 for 7).
Rex Rumpke (’23). Leading defender Rex Rumpke (’23) returns but the defense will certainly miss the leading sack-artist Charles Kircik (’22).
Xavier Hayden (’23). In Kircik’s place steps Hayden who had 4-sacks himself a season ago.
Nehemiah Brown-Hamlin (’24). Brown-Hamlin is back to captain the back-end defensively. He led the club with 3-INTs a year ago.
KPGFootball’s call: Kentucky Country Day or “KCD,” as they are largely known, is a team yearly in the discussion. They lost quite a lot from off last year’s roster but they have shown a penchant for challenging in the 1A classification. KCD owns its district and is a private school able to draw talent from a much larger pool than some public schools.
- Hazard Bulldogs, Daniel Howard, 8-5 in ’21 losing to Pikeville 28-6 in the second round in Pikeville
Top transfer: Former EKU commit who has reopened his recruitment, Landon Smith (6-4, 205 pound WR/TE from Knott County). Smith corralled 35-receptions for 621-yards and 7-TDs for Knott a season ago, completed his only passing attempt for 42-yards, was second on the team in offensive scoring, had 15-tackles and a pair of picks on defense to go with a recovered fumble.
Who they will miss from last year’s roster: Ian Brashear, Cameron Caudill, Jacob Fields, Andrew Ford, Legend Goins, Jondon Olinger, Tyson Turner
Max Pelfrey (’25). Hazard has one of the best young QBs in the commonwealth at any classification of competition. Last season, Pelfrey, a surname familiar to Bulldog fans certainly, completed 138-passes out of his 244-attempts with 1,969-yards passing and 16-TDs against 10-picks. Not too bad for a ’25 (freshman) forced to lead the offense.
Max Johnson (’23) & Hank Belfry (’23). Johnson gained 760-yards on the ground and scored 7-rushing TDs a year ago and was the club’s leading scorer. Pelfry added 632-yards receiving on 29-receptions to lead all returners in that category. The pair snaring 11-TDs receiving between the two with Pelfrey snagging five (5) of those. Zane Deaton was the leading tackler a year ago with Max Johnson not far behind him. Johnson, capping off an incredible season, snared 8-picks for 149-return yards and the club’s lone “pick-six” to go with everything else he did a year ago.
Mia Rouse (’24). Rouse returns at PK where he converted 27 of 36 PATs and was 2 for 2 on FGs.
Davion Strode (’24). Strode led the team in QB-sacks and he is back for another tour.
KPGFootball’s call: Hazard is a team which would be ranked higher on this list if they weren’t in the same district with Pikeville. That is a mighty big “if.” We would pick them to beat both Bethlehem and KCD on a neutral field and, should they get through the season injury free, the Bulldogs may prove to be the third best team in 1A. However, there is still that Pikeville thing hanging over the team’s ability to make a run. It isn’t an insurmountable obstacle as Hazard has before proven. Pelfry is a very capable young QB and the transfer adds a capable downfield and over the middle target in the Hazard passing attack to go along with what he contributes defensively if recent history should hold true at his new school.
Everyone is going to ask where the Russellville Panthers are on the list. After all, they were a finalist a year ago. The answer is easy.
Russellville graduated virtually its entire production from all three phases of a football game from off of last year’s roster. They will have a completely unproven cast of characters when opening play in ’22.
Sometimes that works out just fine. Other times…well, you know.
This is Coach HB Lyon, reporting for KPGFootball, and we’re JUST CALLING IT LIKE WE SEE IT!
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All the best to the best! Watching Bethlehem’s outstanding Cooper Stone and Parker Greer and Bethlehem’s team!!!