Defending our Selections: Class of 2021’s Defensive Second Level…

Like the offensive line may be the deepest position on our Class of 2022, Kentucky All-State Football team, the linebackers are a really tough position to crack for the Class of 2021s. This class is so deep at the position of linebacker, we had to take a linebacker with nearly 100 tackles and make him a Rover just to get him on the team. Yeah, were talking about you, Tyler Boone (more on him below). That aside, below are what we believe to be the best at the position with Mr. Boone also included from his Rover spot. At the linebacker position we were looking for guys who were down-hillers in the run game while still having the athleticism (and, in some cases, length) to drop into coverage and pose problems for QBs looking to drop one between the 2nd and 3rd level of the defense. What really scored big with the committee were LBs who were true QBs of the defense. Guys who nearly always had the front aligned properly, made appropriate defensive calls, made plays in space without which the other side likely scores, and (of course) guys with prodigious stats. Now, in judging stats, number of tackles were as important to the committee than where, in relation to the line of scrimmage, the tackles were being made. We don’t particularly like linebackers who even possess a reverse gear. We are proud to present our defensive second level…

Justice Thompson, 6-1, 255 pounds, Louisville Ballard High School…First of all, Justice Thompson made the MaxPreps, First Team, Freshman All-American team immediately after being selected to the KPGFootball, Freshman All-State team. We tell you that to underscore the fact there wasn’t  team on the Ballard Schedule unaware of the foregoing. Teams allotted extra offensive personnel to block him and offensive coordinators ran away from him. In spite of that, Thomson, as a sophomore for a Ballard football team which annually plays some of the best football teams in the Commonwealth still tallied 121 Tackles, 25.5 TFLs; 8 QB sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and recovered a fumble. Justice is about two biscuits away from finding himself with his hand in the dirt as he is up to 255 pounds now, heavier than he played last year. However, Justice is densely muscled and doesn’t look like he weighs what he does and you are still talking about a guy who runs very well and arrives at the ball carrier in an ill-humor. Probably not a coach in Kentucky who would disagree with this selection. 

Justice Thompson/Austin Gough when they were 8th graders…

Austin Gough, 6-1, 215 pounds, Owensboro Senior High School… There is an ongoing, omnipresent debate in Kentucky prep football circles about just whom is the best LB in Kentucky. Lots of people believe Justice Thompson and lots of people believe it is Austin Gough. Both of them play inside in High School, but Austin is a kid we believe will, eventually, play outside because he is one of the best athletes in Kentucky’s Class of 2021. Austin is an All-State caliber athlete in both football and Track & Field, in addition to his being on Owensboro’s basketball and baseball teams. The only reason Austin didn’t make the Maxpreps Freshman All-American Football team, as he was one of only three Kentucky freshman nominated (William Long, Justice Thompson, and Austin Gough), is the stats imputed onto the MaxPreps’ site for Austin’s freshman year were incomplete. The statistics were never updated past the 6th game in 2017. To MaxPreps, it looked as though Austin had only played 6 games instead of the production he amassed over the full accoutrement of 11.

Austin’s freshman production (the actual production and not what was negligently entered onto the MaxPreps’ site) was exactly as awe-inspiring as Justice’s. Again, like Justice, every team on Owensboro’s (Class 5A) schedule had to game plan for Gough. What did he do as a sophomore? Well, he was selected the Homer’s Radio Defensive Player of the Year, and broke the OHS, season tackle mark in registering 131 tackles. In addition to his number of tackles Gough registered 7 TFLs, 2 QB sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recovered fumbles, and a pick-six from 45 yards away. Austin’s offensive position is RB, which he played sparingly this past season but figures to play much more prominently in 2019 and beyond. Austin ran a 4.65 second forty at the Blue-Grey All-American Combine in Nashville last summer.

Photo: Kelly Phillips Photograph

Zach Yates, 5-8, 220 pounds, Logan County High School; A quick look at Zach’s stats and on-field production quickly underscores the point he is, indeed, a football player. Before we get to what he did as a sophomore, KPGFootball would like to remind everyone we selected Zach Yates to our inaugural, freshman all-state, football team, just last year. We had the honor of coaching Yates at the KYMSFA, East vs. West All-State Football Classic in Frankfurt, Kentucky the summer before his enrolling in high school. No one had to tell us what kind of player he was entering HS, nor do they have to tell us now. After a stellar freshman campaign, which landed him dead on every opponent’s game-plan, Zach had another fantastic year as a sophomore. Zach tallied 89 total tackles, 11 TFLs (tackles for loss), 3 QB sacks, forced 2 fumbles, recovered 3 fumbles, and even collected a pair of interceptions together with 45 return yards, scoring one defensive TD.

Now, Logan County High School has some real star power up and down the roster. Caden McKinnis spent the year as one of the most coveted college prospects in Western Kentucky before settling on attending Austin Peay to continue his career. Tyler Ezell is one of the most accomplished QBs in West-Kentucky and will be a bone fide, All-State candidate at that position, next year, with the same being true of TB, Gary Hardy, whom gained between 14-1500 yards rushing this past season. Ask any coach on the schedule and he will tell you the kid which likely beat his team was the thick, short kid at LB running around making plays all over the football field. Zach Yates is a winner, and he makes kids around him winners. His attitude and penchant for coming up big in big situations, rubs off on the players around him. Those are intangible attributes which scored, and scored big time, with our selection committee. 

One of our favorite stories about Zach Yates, largely because it makes our point for us, occurred after Logan County came to Hopkinsville and downed the Tigers 10-6 in the Stadium of Champions this past season (2018). KPGFootball was interviewing Coach Craig Clayton, the head coach of Hopkinsville High School’s football team, when he offered to us…You know who beat us tonight, that number 15. I don’t know his name but he made three tackles tonight that, if he misses on any  of the three, we have nothing but green grass and open spaces between us and the end zone. He won the game for them tonight! In the end, that observation by Coach Clayton, and Zach Yates’ play, on that night, against a key Class 4A, District 1 opponent against whom the Cougars haven’t, historically, played very well, defines him. It defines him to KPGFootball and it defined him to the KPGFootball All-State selection committee more completely than any seasonal statistic we can give you about either Yates or his play.

As for Zach frame-wise, he reminds KPGFootball of another All-State player in the Class of 2021 in Hoptown’s, William Long. Zach is 5-8 but weighs a hearty 220 pounds. He runs the 40  yard dash in 5 seconds flat, bench presses just shy of 300 pounds, and power cleans 210. Zach is not just a great athlete but a great student who possesses an incredibly high football IQ, starting all but the first game of his high school career. In talking with Zach’s coach, Todd Adler, KPGFootball has learned Zach is an ardent, eager, and diligent film study. According to Adler, in the season ending exit meeting with Zach, Yates told Adler he was ready to step up and lead the defense. Adler told KPGFootball in response to this that….at Logan County, we’re looking forward to what Zach Yates can do for us, both on and off the field, over the next 2 years. Yeah coach, so are we!

Preston Spurlock, Photo credited on the image

Preston Spurlock, 5-10, 215 pounds, Leslie County High School…Preston Spurlock is a player we have covered on KPGFootball since his playing for Team Kentucky FBU elite in both 7th and 8th grade. Spurlock made the Freshman, All-State team a year ago and, like every returning All-Stater, the word was out on him. Leslie County is a team which has mightily struggled since Preston’s coming up to take over the defensive second level from his first snap in a varsity uniform. Whom hasn’t struggled at all is Preston Spurlock. Preston is one of the toughest kids in Kentucky and a really powerful and explosive athlete who puts in a lot of work in the weight room in the offseason. This past season, Spurlock tallied 128 tackles (85 solos) in 11 games with 32 TFLs. That 32 tackles in the backfield informed this committee he doesn’t have reverse as a gear in his gear-box. Preston also caused 2 fumbles over the course of his team-leading 13 Big Hits. Big Hits is a statistic kept by the defensive coaches at Leslie County to reward the amount of times you knock the Hell out of an opponent. Former coaching legend Johnny Majors (Iowa State, Pittsburg, Tennessee) used to call that knocking the snot bubbles out of a player. Preston had a penchant for it. Spurlock both has been and still is a big time, second level, player in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He will play on Saturdays, exactly where and at what level we are unsure, but he will play on Saturdays if he wants to

Rover- Tyler Boone, 6-0, 190 pounds, Crittenden County…Tyler Boone is a player we were delighted to discover in the selection process. He came up, as a candidate, for one of our linebacker slots, and in a class, other than 2021, he makes this team at linebacker. As we have many times referenced, linebacker is our toughest position owing to the quality of players we have Kentucky wide at the position who are members of the Class of 2021. Tyler was too good to leave off the team; however, so we made him our Rover. First of all, Crittenden County, for those on the other side of Kentucky, is one of those Class 1A football teams you would prefer avoiding. You see, in Kentucky high school football, there are very good teams and there are bad teams. Members of either group span all of Kentucky’s six classifications. There are great players in Kentucky, in all, six classifications. There are college prospects, in Kentucky, in all six classifications.  Tyler Boone is a college prospect. Last year, as a sophomore, for the 11-2 Rockets, Boone registered 94 tackles (65 solos) to lead his team. Boone, like so many on this list, played much of the time in the opponent’s backfield. Boone recorded 15 TFLs, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles. We were happy to discover this guy, he was too good to not put on this All-State Football team. 

Well, that is the defense of our selections, playing in the defense’s second level, for the Class of 2021. KPGFootball is quite sure these may not be the best second level defenders, in Kentucky’s Class of 2021, but we are equally sure these guys are among them. All of these players have distinguished themselves both on the field of play and in the class room. It will be fun to follow these guys as they continue to develop and play football next Fall. You will continue to hear plenty from these players in 2019 and beyond. 

Reporting for KPGFootball, this is Fletcher Long reminding all of the ballers out there that #WeGotUCovered and to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE.

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