We can’t publish the two-classes of All-State Offensive Linemen selections together. We would like to, but attempting to feature 11 or so linemen in one article might be more than a reader could digest in one sitting. Therefore, after mentioning this to the Director of the Selection Committee, he has permitted me to break down the offensive line into two separate articles by class. In keeping with previous articles, we will feature the Freshmen All-State Linemen and then the Sophomores. In judging linemen, we looked for low pad level, explosive burst off the line, hand placement, and punch, the ability to achieve and then maintain connection, whether the lineman ran his feet through the whistle, his vertical sets and jump sets in pass protection and any strength numbers which the committee felt correlated with position play. This is one of the hardest position groups to coach in the high school game, to play, and to evaluate. We are confident in the selections we made for the Freshman (and Sophomore) All-State team, up front, and here’s why:
Class of 2021
John Mudd, 6’2″ 280, Louisville Waggener High School
John started upfront, all year, for a Waggener team which lost to Belfry in the 2nd round of the KHSAA playoffs. John got to play against the likes of Lexington Christian, Boyle, Danville, in addition to Belfry, so Big John was charged with having to block some talented and able defensive linemen in his rookie season. John has the frame, length, and bulk one craves for an edge protector and displayed both the ability to contain the outside, upfield pass rush as well as a willingness to get down hill in the run game and block both 1st and 2nd level defenders. Of course, this could be said about the entire list of linemen in the Class of 2021 who made this All-State team, but the line of scrimmage is usually the last place, at least historically, you see freshmen contribute in High School football. The difference between the anatomical development between 15 and 18 year olds is, often, too chasmic for the freshman to play. That chasm is closing, as we are seeing more and more each year and Offensive Tackles, like John Mudd, who show up ready to be plugged-in to the lineup are a big reason why. We first wrote about John on August 8, 2017, in an article entitled Part I of our Series on the Commonwealth’s Plug-In Players and noted John has quick feet and is able to both drive block well and kick back and intersect the upfield, outside speed rush, while having the strength to shut it down once there. John played on Kentucky’s Future Stars team which defeated Tennessee in the 8th grade game in Clarksville, Tennessee last summer. The selection committee was convinced John Mudd was an All-State freshman Offensive Lineman this year.
William L. Long, II, 5’10” 240 Hopkinsville High School
I want to begin with a story I told a selection committee member about William, which I discovered he shared with the committee when William’s possible inclusion on this team was being discussed. With HHS playing Franklin-Simpson in Franklin, Kentucky in the Regional Championship game this year, All-State QB, Jay Bland play faked to the dive, rolled to his right and found a streaking Gavin Marshand over the middle of the field for a TD, the first of the game. What no one other than probably football coaches noticed is the freshman LG, William Long, pulling play side and engaging a backer coming up to get in Bland’s face in the open field. Long covered up the LB, and the pressure never arrived, leaving Bland free to find his open receiver. After the game, my son William said, Dad, I could have pancaked that kid but I didn’t because I knew the play would score and I didn’t want to give the official any reason to flag me and cost us a TD. Many of you reading this may not understand the significance of that anecdote, but, to a selection committee full of football coaches and enthusiasts, it was both impressive and why William Long may have been considered, by the committee (again, I am told), the very best interior Offensive Lineman in Kentucky’s 2021 Class this past season (I wasn’t permitted to either be present or participate in William’s being considered for inclusion on the team). I am also informed it didn’t hurt William’s candidacy that he is, both widely and generally, regarded the strongest and one of the quickest kids at the position in Kentucky’s 2021 class. Long bench presses over 3 plates, or 325 pounds, video of lift: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.phpstory_fbid=559732204363147&id=10000979116387 and back squats nearly 450 pounds. He is a kid who blocks multiple levels in the run game and is accomplished at both pass protection and picking up stunts and blitzes. William called the O-Line run blocking assignments and pass protections for Hopkinsville High School all year and logged a whopping 49 quarters of Varsity football as a freshman. In weekly film study, Long consistently graded out toward the top of the Tiger offensive line. Long is the only player in Future Stars’ history to have played for both Tennessee and Kentucky in the annual Classic. Long played on the 7th grade Team Tennessee as a 6th grader, and on Team Kentucky in 7th and 8th grade. His awards, as a Middle School player, are too numerous to list and, really, not relevant here. William played so well this year that most opposing coaches and news outlets covering the games didn’t realize No. 50 was only a freshman. In an article published on this site on September 14, 2017, William’s position coach at HHS, Jacob Ezell, said William Long is very rare. I’m proud to be his position coach… and a faculty member at HHS, himself having formerly coached offensive line, and having been on the faculty at HHS for ten or more years, told us William Long is the best freshman lineman I have seen since coming to Hopkinsville High School. Sure sounds like an All-Stater to us.
Freshman season highlights: https://www.hudl.com/video/3/8054289/5a1b1b1f15f6331130abd9eb
Braden Ferguson, 6’1″ 210, Lexington Bryan Station High School
The committee was very impressed with Braden Ferguson who played on a team which struggled but the struggle was, in no way, attributable to his play at Center. Braden, who’s father played in college for the Kentucky Wildcats, plays with superior pad level and, once he locks on, he maintains consistent contact through the whistle. Braden played Class 6A football at the same school which produced one of the best Centers in the history of football in Dermontti Dawson. We asked a question in an article published November 15, 2017. In the title to that article, we asked is Braden Ferguson the best Center in the 2021 Class? With apologies to freshman Center from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Ryan Pyles, who is also very good, we believe the answer is Yes. One of the first things you look for in a Center at the High School level is whether he fires off the line of scrimmage while simultaneously snapping the ball. Braden snaps and steps at the same time and locks on either the nose or inside technique guy. Even more importantly Ferguson, after getting into the Defender’s chest, keeps running his feet until the whistle blows or he pancakes him. Braden has a good, quick, and violent hand punch and keeps his elbows nice and tight throughout the block with his hands tucked inside the shoulder pads on the breast plate and away from the area where holds are commonly flagged. He snaps both under center and in the shotgun and his shotgun snap arrives on the money and on pulse, giving the QB an opportunity and, more importantly, the time to scan downfield without having to work too hard to handle the snap. If you are looking for one difference between Ferguson and Ryan Pyles, the fact E-Town runs spread and seldom, if ever, gets under Center was discussed. I am not sure it was all that weighty as that is schematic and not something over which the player has control but the committee did relate a story about a Center who came up from a middle school program having never before snapped to a QB under him and having to eventually move the player to another position. For the benefit of Centers to come, snapping to a QB under you is a skill you should develop even where you play for a team who doesn’t utilize it. Coaches come and go, and so do schemes, just saying. Never pays to be one dimensional.
Cameron Willis, 5’9″ 210, Johnson Central High School
We called Cameron Willis The Bulldog when we featured him way back on May 25, 2017 on Kentucky Prep Gridiron. Cameron has worked his way into the starting lineup for a Johnson Central team which will play Franklin-Simpson for the Class 4A State Chapionship in a repeat of last year’s Title game, which Johnson Central won, by the way. Cameron Willis and our other interior offensive lineman, William Long, are similar in height, build, quickness, speed and strength. Long is a little taller and a little thicker but not much. The committee, and practically the entire High School football coaching fraternity, loves inside O-linemen like Long and Willis. Cameron, in addition to starting at Guard on the Varsity team of the reigning State Champion football team in Class 4A, is also a State Wrestling Champion in his weight class in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As an Offensive Line Coach myself, I’ll take 5 Cameron’s and run with that partner! Cameron is a 5’9”, 210 pound fire hydrant who bench presses over 300 pounds and back squats over 400 pounds. Cameron comes to the line of scrimmage with low pad level and never gets any higher. Cameron has been timed at 5.5 seconds, in a hand timed forty, and doubles at MLB for the District 6 powerhouse, registering 10 tackles on the season, entering last night’s Semi-State game in which Johnson Central prevailed. I have before interviewed Coach Dave Russell, who coached Willis in Middle School, and he told me once that Cameron’s aggressiveness is the first thing you notice. Cameron plays through the whistle and, every time, arrives at either the target or ball carrier in a very ill humor. The committee is excited to monitor this compact projectile, as he was described when being discussed, as his high school playing career continues. We were very confident this player was a fine selection to the Class of 2021 All-State team.
Trent Clavey, 6’0″ 230, Louisville Ballard High School
Trent Clavey is a guy who was somewhat unknown to me before the selection committee convened to review our nominees. After having watched film on him and seen his body of work, especially against the competition against whom he played, I was impressed. Louisville Ballard is a Class 6A, District 4 team and played St. Francis DeSales, Collins (4A Semi-State participant), Central (3A Semi-State participant), Male, Trinity (6A, State Finalist), and Central Hardin (Lost to Trinity in the State Semis) among others. Though finishing the year 6-6, and losing to Simon Kenton in the second round, Ballard did beat both Collins and Central. Clavey played every meaningful snap offensively at RG in all but one of Ballard’s games. Trent has the size and frame to play football a very long time at his present position and possesses all of the tools one expects from an All-State, interior offensive lineman. He is active, violent, maintains consistent contact, runs his feet through the whistle, gets both down-hill and down-field in the running game, and protects well without habitually lunging out over his toes in pass protection. Everyone talks about superstar, 2021, LB Justice Thompson at Ballard, and what’s not to love about him as a player? Though not as sexy of a position, there should be plenty of love out there for Trent Clavey as he will be a name, going forward, that will provide the grease which makes the Ballard engine go. The selection committee is proud to submit the name of Trent Clavey as a member of our Class of 2021 All-State Offensive Line.
Johnathan Blackburn, 6’5″ 320, Paintsville High School
Guys the size of John Blackburn, whether freshmen or in any other class for that matter, don’t come around a lot in High School football. That is particularly true of Class 1A football. Paintsville may be in Class 1A, but Joe Chirico’s Tigers did win 11 games this year before losing in the State Quarter-finals to a Raceland team it had beaten October 20, 32-18. Well, that’s why we play them on the field and not on a scorecard. Big, Bad John led an offensive front which helped the Tigers accumulate 2,626 rushing yards over its 13 games for an average of 202 yards rushing per contest. In watching John’s film he was well put together physically, athletic and mobile, possessed quick and agile feet, to go along with his long arms and huge frame. Of all the linemen we have featured, Blackburn has the best frame and build to mature into a FBS, Power 5, prospect. Of course, having Senior Tyrese Allen, the 6’4″ 285 pound TE, next to you in the run game probably didn’t hurt Blackburn any. I mean the Tigers were very capable of running, right-sided, whenever they chose. There are no reported strength or speed numbers we could access on Blackburn but there was plenty of film and he moved well, as above noted. This committee didn’t want to turn this team into the five or six best O-linemen possessing the best frames, we wanted to reward linemen who may not have great frames but have rounded into superior players because they controlled the parts of the equation they could, by offseason strength, speed, and agility work, and possessing and demonstrating technique. As a committee, we looked past Blackburn’s size and frame, and what we saw was a skilled technician who hustled, blocked multiple levels, collided, and then maintained contact through the play, running his feet, once connected. What we saw was one of the best O-lineman in Kentucky’s Class of 2021 who just happens to have extraordinary frame. His play is why he is on this team…not his size. Johnathan Blackburn is an All-Stater in the opinion of our selection committee.
Well, these are the linemen who made the Class of 2021 All-State offensive line and why they were selected. Next up, we will highlight the Class of 2020 O-line so keep checking the site. Until then, this is Fletcher Long for Kentucky Prep Gridiron reminding all those playing football at Kroger Field this next week-end to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!