HHS Tigers Post Spring Digital Media Guide

By Sports Staff

Well, that yearly ritual known as Spring Practice has concluded for the class 4A football power many people are picking to finish at the top of the 4A classification this next Fall. We are one of those predicting a big year for the Tigers, as we picked them number one in our preseason poll. A team that, last year, came out of the gate 1-6 before reeling off 5 straight wins and taking a lead into the half-time locker room against the team which would, convincingly, win the 4A football championship (Franklin-Simpson), has returning very important pieces to what made the Tigers formidable down the stretch. This is going to sound strange when said about a team which finished the year one game below .500 (6-7) but, by year’s end last season, the team which took the field in November was, easily, in the top four football teams in its classification in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Craig Clayton gears his teams toward advancing in the playoffs and isn’t too concerned with regular season records. Remember, he has played for the State Championship 5 times, at three schools, in two different states, in route to 280 coaching wins, so he knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

KPGFootball was at every Spring Practice. For either subscribers or those paying to read this article, we are going to give you our unadulterated impressions about the Tiger football team completely devoid of consulting any coach on the staff. What we provide here is how the Tigers look to our expertly trained eyes garnered from our covering only one sport year round. First, offensively for the Tigers…

The Offense

Clayton, HC and OC

In thirteen games last year, the Tiger offense scored 333 points on the year, averaging 25.6 points per outing. The offense gained, on the ground, 952 yards or a little over 73 yards a game, and threw for 2,193 yards, for a per game average of 168.69 yards through the air. The Tigers scored 19 rushing TDs and 22 TDs passing. For a Craig Clayton offense, that is poor. So why the optimism? Well, the Tigers lost their best RB before the season opener to fluke injury in Ja’Torian Dillard, who is back, and the Tigers lost a starting offensive lineman to injury in game two, Keone Mumford, who will be, again, healthy. All the young guys who started along the o-line last year, and who were seeing varsity action for the first time in their careers, are all back and seasoned. The Tigers got progressively better, last year, and weren’t the same team in the Regional finals as the team which came out of the gate 1-6. The following is our position break-down of the offense coming out of Spring…

Quarterback…

For most people the offense is generally centered around what you have at two positions, running back and quarterback. We will get to running back here momentarily, but at quarterback, the Tigers are coming into the season very well stocked with exceptional personnel. Jay Bland is not the same kid who quarterbacked the Tigers last year and last year he threw for nearly 2,200 yards, 22 passing TDs against 10 picks, made the AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State football team, and led his team to the State Quarterfinals inspite of its youth and inexperience at key spots. Jay Bland has transformed himself, this offseason, into a quick twitch, explosive, cauldron who still rifles balls all over the field. He is a threat, this year, to break a defense down with his feet too and isn’t the stationary pocket target he was last year. Coaches all over Kentucky are raving about him, recruiters will be too really soon. The Tigers can’t withstand Bland getting injured and missing time in the early part of the year because his likely back-up is 6-4, superstar, rising freshman, TreVon Jefferson. Trust me, by Tre’s sophomore year, we are likely to have a real battle at the QB position on our hands but he needs some time to figure out how the high school game is played.

Running back-fullback

Hopson, no. 23
Barnes, No. 44

As much as anyone on this team, Jordan Hopson is just not the guy fans will remember from a year ago. His increased quickness, speed, and explosion just knock you down when you watch him. Now, he still isn’t Ja’Torian Dillard, whose loss last year to injury was the biggest set back to the Tigers winning it all, but it is clear Hopson can carry quite a bit of load. Dillard is looking better every day and will be back, by season opener, at 100 percent. Once Torian is fully ready for duty, Hopson is still someone who can provide the Tigers a superior one-two punch at that position. Regardless, it is easy to see the coaching staff trusts Hopson, right now, way more than they did last season. These days, Hopson spends way less time running sideways and more time getting North/South to the defense’s second and third levels.  Now when the Tigers go I-formation, heavy package, they bring Denarius Barnes over to fullback. Barnes, who is nicknamed Red, is a 6-0, 225 pound wrecking ball. Asking a high school, class 4A, Mike to come up and meet him in the hole is asking one Hell of a lot from the young man. Red Barnes is a returning AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State player in his own right. He made the team, last year, along the defensive line. Barnes runs well, I mean he is among the fastest players on the team, even at his size. He’s just grown…he’s a grown man! William Long, a returning AFL-KPG All-Stater now playing center asked us, have you ever felt Red (from fullback) run past you at full speed? I mean, I have had to line up across from him and block him everyday in practice, last year, but you really can’t appreciate him until he comes running by you, through your hole, at full speed. It’s both awesome and scary. Once Barnes gets comfortable securely accepting hand-offs, he is going to be quite a weapon running, catching the swing pass out of the backfield, and leading RBs threw holes.

Receivers…

Gavin Marshand will be hard to replace largely because he was Hoptown’s only vertical threat and reliable target in the passing game a year ago. He wasn’t overly fast but ran disciplined routes and found a way to get open and caught nearly everything thrown his way. The Tigers have some young receivers with imposing physical gifts but they are, largely, untested. Sophomore to be, Reece Jesse, Jr., is 6-3 and 160 pounds possessing really good lift, routinely dunking the basketball in traffic in his other sport. Now, I don’t know what his exact reach is, I have never measured it, but his arms are incredibly long and I would bet his reach is in the 6-6 or higher range. He’s a long strider who doesn’t have a registered 40 and who hasn’t been on the football combine circuit so his exact speed is an unknown. I can tell you this, he gains separation well, gets down field well, and catches the ball in his hands away from his body, just like you want. He’s young, untested, but, by year’s end, will be a superstar. Remember where you heard this first. The Tigers also have a TE/Slot in Erick Grubbs with obvious physical gifts and a transfer in Jordan Ellis with speed, hands, and is someone who will contribute, when he learns the system. It is also worth mentioning Dillard, while a running back, is one of the best receivers out of the backfield in Kentucky and Hopson is looking good catching the ball now too. There is talk that two of the best receivers/defensive backs in Kentucky, one presently playing in class 5A and the other in class 3A, are both enrolling in school at HHS and will be Tigers by the time HHS opens its 2018 season. At KPGFootball, we don’t delve in such talk until the rumored player (or players) is officially enrolled. Let me just say this; if the rumors bear out, HHS will be tough both in the defensive back-end and down the field offensively.

Offensive Line…

It is always important for the offensive line to be well anchored from the inside/out. Can’t allow middle pressure, middle pressure will kill any offense. Middle pressure beat the Tigers at Franklin-Simpson in last season’s regional championship/state-quarterfinal game. Kentucky high school teams generally put its baddest down-lineman in the A-gap. In an odd front, the opponent’s best down lineman will be at the zero technique and in an even front, over-under look, he will be at the one technique generally tilted toward the center. Either alignment, you will know where to find him for that’s where he will be. Hoptown saw it all last year. Rising sophomore William Long, a 365 pound bench pressing, 520 pound (past parallel) back-squatting, 250 pound power-cleaning, State Champion Powerlifter in the 250 pound weight class, monster, has been moved to center. Well, so much for pressure from the A-gap. By all accounts, the move of Long to center this Spring was a rousing success. It is his natural position and one at which he is comfortable. With Keone Mumford working his way back from injury, Seth Henderson at the other guard slot, and two returning 300 plus pound bookends, Blake Schutt and Josh Mallory, returning, the Tigers figure to be one of the most physical, experienced, and explosive offensive fronts in Kentucky. I want to mention one more offensive lineman that, due to injuries and players out for track & field, got a lot of first team reps along the offensive front this Spring. Quinton Carlton showed he can play. At 6-0, 240 pounds, with the numbers he is putting up in Coach Dowland’s offseason program (i.e. he’s squatting over 450 pounds and benching over 240), he might be hard to keep out of the line-up at either guard or tackle. Carlton is athletic, explosive, and shows up every day to work. He has the physical ability to be a star along the front. If Carlton gets the mental part of it down, and plays with more consistency, somebody I mentioned above will be moving to the left-out position. Incoming freshman and middle school All-Kentucky, Junior All-American guard, William Hughes is a 5-10 260 pounder along the interior offensive line who will provide quality depth. Hughes is a year away from starting varsity but he will definitely be after a first team job next year. He is a strong, explosive, powerful big-body/frame guy with a lot of upside who has the potential, provided he applies himself in the offseason weight program, to get in the mix, maybe even a little next season.

The Defense…

Lopez, DC

Defensively, last year, in spite of playing a team which played for the class 2A State Championship (Mayfield), two teams which went 10-0 in their regular seasons (Logan County (twice) & Christian County), a team which played in its Regional final in class 3A (Caldwell County), a class 5A Semi-finalist (South Warren) and the class 4A Champion (Franklin-Simpson), the Tiger defense only surrendered 240 points, or somewhere around 18 and 1/2 points per game. The Tigers played 13 teams last year that won a combined 103 ball games and, remember, two teams on the schedule (Hopkins County-Central and Calloway) won a combined three games between them. When the average team on your schedule, over a 13 game period, won 7.92 games, you have played a difficult schedule. The Tigers’ rush defense was poor, running the gauntlet it played, in surrendering 143.23 yards per game. The Tiger defense was quite good against the pass, only allowing 102.23 passing yards per contest. Down the stretch, in winning five straight heading into the Regional Finals, the defense surrendered only 21 points in 20 quarters of play. The following is our position break-down of the Defense, coming out of Spring…

The Down Four…

Grubbs

The guys who got, principally, the most work up front defensively for the Tigers this Spring were Erick Grubbs at DE, Keysean Palmer at Tackle, Tahj Manning at Tackle, and Hayden Lackey at DE. You did get where the Tigers were susceptible to the running game, particularly during the season’s first half. Well, the mission this offseason has been clear…we have got to be more physical and bigger up front. Judging from the offseason strength and conditioning program, and the results it has netted, it would appear the message has been delivered. The first thing Coach Adam Dowland did this offseason was implement a nutrition and protein regimen for the players which has netted incredible results. No two players have benefited more richly from this than Erick Grubbs and Keysean Palmer.

K. Palmer

The roster posted on MaxPreps has Grubbs at 210 pounds and Palmer at 260. I believe the coach posting the roster went off old numbers. Grubbs is 220 pounds of solid muscle, the transformation of his physique is jaw-dropping and Palmer is tipping closer to 270 than 260 and he has never looked thinner. Muscle is denser than fat, when you replace one for the other, the now heavier player actually looks thinner. It’s called good weightTahj Manning, a 255 pounder, is a rising sophomore with off the charts agility and athleticism far superior than anyone looking at him would expect or guess and Lackey is closing in on 200 pounds of body weight himself. Both DEs (Grubbs and Lackey) are quick-burst, quick-twitch benders. Josh Mallory at 305, William Long at 255, and Seth Henderson at 235, will all three rotate along the front, inside, and Lackey will have his hands full staying ahead of another DE who is a rising sophomore in CJ Walton. Walton is only 170 pounds now, and his strength level isn’t where it needs to be, but, upon improvement in those areas, the kid has before shown flashes that he is a potential edge terror down the road.

The Second Level…

Jaime Cooper-Roman, No. 9 (air born)

This is an area where Hoptown may have the best personnel in its classification. The Tigers will have Connor Lackey at 6-2 and 195 pounds and Jaimer Cooper-Roman, who is 6-2 and 205 pounds starting outside. Lackey, last season, totaled 49 tackles at LB, though only a sophomore, and Jaime Cooper-Roman was the defense’s best player before succumbing to injury. In the middle, the Tigers will start a monster in 6-0, 225 pound, man-child, Denarius Red Barnes. Barnes played well enough last year, as a down lineman, to make the AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State football team. Last year, the Tigers let the rising junior play a JV game against Union County, just to see how he would look at the MLB position and he filled up the ER at Jennie Stuart Medical Center. I am not kidding. Barnes has before told me he refuses to go full speed in practice because he is afraid he might hurt someone. Jaxon Davis and Tyrell Gray-Lewis are two more players who have the versatility to play at either the 2nd or 3rd level of the defense. Right now, Jaxon Davis is penciled in to start at safety, but he is big enough at 180 pounds to come up and play linebacker too. Tyrell Gray-Lewis, who has never before played a down of organized football, is a real find. When his football IQ catches up with his physical skills, speed, explosion, and athleticism, he will be on the field somewhere. It may be safety, OLB, even RB. He doesn’t quite know what he is doing yet, but he is the type of raw material you only get at high schools with elite athletic programs.

The Third Level…

As we above discussed, this was an area where the defense particularly shone last year. I know, I know, you don’t think high school football teams throw the ball much. Well sir, you don’t know about what the Hell you are talking because Hopkinsville faced no fewer than 6 opponents who threw it all over the ball park. Tyler Ezell at Logan threw for over 1,600 yards last year with 19 TDs passing and we played him twice; Kolbe Langhi, at CCHS, threw for over 9,000 yards in his career with over 90 aerial TDs; Gavin Spurrier, whose grandfather won the Heisman Trophy at QB (Steve Spurrier) threw for 2,509 yards last year with 21 passing TDs; and Jaden Stinson and Conner Gutherie, both at Mayfield, threw for over 2,633 combined yards, last year, with 33 passing TDs. So there! Anyway, the Tigers return one of the best cover corners in class 4A with returning AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State Football player, Jevon Leavell. Leavell is only 5-8 and 155 pounds but he is the fastest player on the team, right now, not on injured reserve. Don’t really know who would be faster between Ja’Torian Dillard and Jevon Leavell but they are both burners. We believe, as it stands today, the other corner will be Tyrese Pratt, the transfer from Todd County Central High School. Pratt, a 6-0 165 pounder, who started at TCCHS as a true freshman, had to sit out last season owing to transfer rules. Pratt is a specimen. He has length, ball skills, speed, football IQ. Pratt is what we call the total package. People throwing at Pratt this year, trying to throw the ball away from Leavell’s side of the field, may be in for a rude surprise. The safeties are projected, at least presently, to be big and physical for the position in high school. The strong safety-LB hybrid is likely to be 180 pounder Jaxon Davis, whom the coaching staff just loves. He’s a real hitter. On the other side the Tigers are likely to align junior-to-be, Kyren Palmer. Palmer is 6-0 and weighs 185 pounds and, like so many on the Tigers’ roster, is a physical specimen. Look for sophomore-to-be Reece Jesse to get in the mix in the Fall as he led Kentucky with interceptions his 8th grade year as a middle school all-stater with 9. Jesse has length, verticality, hands, and a nose for the football. Physically, he’s the perfect center-fielder for the back-end.

Well, we hope you enjoyed this very thorough break-down of a team which we believe challenges for the class 4A State Football Championship in 2018. This is Fletcher Long reporting for KPGFootball reminding you to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!

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