Every preseason, we at the magazine publish a preseason top-five for all six classifications. We have already published the top five for both 1A and 2A. Today, we are dropping our top five for the 3A’s. We study the rosters for all these teams over long periods of time and really pour over any and all information we have available to us including returning talent and any transfer information we may have learned over the offseason. You will often find, at the end of the year, we were pretty close to right on the money. Enjoy!Fletcher W. Long, Senior Scout and Editorial Board Member, KPGFootball
As we continue our march toward opening night, we find ourselves in position to lay out for the reader how we see the 3A classification finishing. First of all, neither of the championship game’s participants would have been forecast to play the other for the title at the midway point last season. In the final RPI published by the KHSAA, neither of the last two contenders standing were even in the top-10.
Belfry, the eventual champion of the classification, was ranked 14th in the final RPI. Paducah Tilghman was ranked 15th.
However, ’22 is the dawn of a new era, especially for Belfry as it lost a consensus “Mr. Football” from a season ago. How did that “Mr. Football” play in the title game?
Against Tilghman for the title, Isaac Dixon carried it 41-times for 376-yards rushing and all five of the team’s TDs scored. He also was the team’s second leading tackler with seven (7). Dixon accounted for over 80-percent of the total yards accumulated in the title tilt and 100% of the Pirates’ scoring.
Hard to replace. Just how it will be done will be discussed further.
The below is how we see it shaking out this coming Fall. There will be some new contenders smattered in with the old reliables.
No. 1…Paducah Tilghman’s Blue Tornado. 8-7 in ’21, 3A finalist losing to Belfry, 33-28, in last year’s Championship.
Suffice it to say the Blue Tornado is back in yearly contention. Tilghman has many important pieces returning from a year ago together with one of the biggest transfers in the commonwealth, should the KHSAA rule the young man eligible.
The returning pieces begin with ’25’s most productive QB, commonwealth-wide. Jack James completed 201 of his 377-passing attempts in ’21 for 2,849-yards and 35-TDs versus 13-picks. That is a completion percentage of 53.31% and a TD:INT ratio of close to 3:1.
Malachi Rider returns in the backfield. The ’24 product had 228-carries a year ago for 1,281-yards from scrimmage and 14-rushing TDs.
Layton Davis (’23) is the transfer from Caldwell County. Davis played four (4) years in the Tiger program in Princeton and would have made running through the middle for Dixon much more of a problem then Dixon found a year ago on Kroger Field.
Davis is a 6-0, 255-pound interior DL stud who had 82-tackles in ’21 with 22-TFLs, 4-sacks, 2-FRs while playing for his old team from Caldwell County. Davis is a “Super Senior” who benefits from a 5th season owing to SB-128 and is a prospect in-state schools are killing themselves to get a chance to sign.
The kicking game, or football’s 3rd phase, is very critical for title runs. It is a good thing Nolan Waller (’23) returns. Waller made 46-PATs and a FG a year ago.
KPGFootball’s analysis: This team, should Davis be deemed eligible immediately, has proven experience and talent where needed to contend. Should Davis not be available until the playoffs, this team is one which should be counted on to contend come the playoffs. Either way, we like them to win this classification.
No. 2…Christian Academy-Louisville’s (CAL) Centurios. 11-2 in ’21, lost at home in the Regional Finals to a visiting Paducah Tilghman 41-34.
This team’s success, much like the Blue Tornado, begins under or behind center. QB, Cole Hodge has been among his class’s elite QB’s since leaving middle school. Hodge has far from disappointed with where he is today compared to where he projected to be years ago.
In ’21, Hodge (’24), completed 139 of his 217-passing attempts for 2,101 yards passing and 28-TDs against 4-INTs. Hodge showed himself deft with his feet a season ago. He rushed for 572-yards with 8-rushing TDs to augment his prodigious passing production (how about that for alliteration?).
Gavin Copenhaver (’23) will prove a reliable and sometimes spectacular performer in the offensive backfield to supplement the team’s play at QB. A season ago, Copenhaver gained nearly 750-yards rushing from scrimmage with 16-Rushing TDs. Copenhaver also led the team with 105-tackles, 15-TFLs, 1-sack, 1-FR, 2-INTs. Now that is a football player!
Dylan Cornett converted 98% of his PATs (51 for 52) and 4 out of 5 of his attempted FGs. That is very solid performance from the all-important 3rd phase of football where championships are often either won or lost.
KPGFootball’s analysis: This team has all the tools to challenge for a title. Will they get over the hump in the 3A classification? This may well be the year of the Centurions.
No. 3…Belfry High’s Pirates. 9-6 in ’21, winning the Class 3A Title over Paducah Tilghman.
It isn’t everyday a 3A football team is faced with replacing a consensus “Mr. Football.” Of course rushing for 1,986-yards on 196-rushing attempts and scoring 29-rushing TDs while also leading the team in receptions, yards receiving, and TD’s receiving together with interceptions (4) while contributing 46-tackles on defense isn’t commonplace, two-way, production either. How does a team replace that level of production caused by the matriculation of Isaac Dixon?
At RB, Belfry will likely turn to Dre Young (’24). Young gained 655-yards on only 110-carries a year ago with 7-rushing TDs so while he may not be an Isaac Dixon, he’s not too shabby either.
Caden Woolem (’24) is back to handle the QBing duties and, in addition to what he brings to the table throwing the ball the few amount of times that is required in Belfry’s offense, Woolem is also a competent runner (5-TDs rushing in ’21). Woolem plays some defense too and was among the team leaders a year ago in INTs. At 6’2,” and 184-pouds, the QB who also is a SS and an ATH carries a 4.64 GPA, runs the pro agility shuttle in 4.11-seconds and broad jumps 117.3-inches (9.775 feet)
Aidan McCoy (’23) will handle PATs. He converted on 87.5% of his opportunities in ’21.
Isaiah Stanley (’25) is as good of a linebacker in his graduating class as you are likely to see. Stanley had 74-tackles as a freshman and forced a fumble in the Title game which arguably secured the Championship for his Pirates.
Brayden Spears (’23) will be the club’s leading returning tackler. Spears had 90-stops a year ago and was among the team leader in QB-sacks.
Braxton Hatfield also returns as the ’23 version of the Hatfields gives the Pirates both a solid defender (79 tackles in ’21) with depth at RB too, like his brother Zane before him.
KPGFootball’s analysis: It is unimaginable for a team to lose the amount of production lent the team a year ago and still come back, the next year, with a chance to defend its title even where the production lost was from only one player. However, this is Belfry and they are still coached by the legend, Phillip Haywood, the last time we checked. As long as Coach Haywood patrols the Pirate sideline, the Pirates will contend EVERY YEAR.
No. 4…Bell County High Bobcats. 10-3 in ’21, losing in the Regional Finals to State Champion Belfry 41-20.
Not every team in our Top 5 return its QB. This team’s offensive strength returning is at the RB position. However, having a home run RB is one heck of an advantage for any high school team.
Bell County’s Dawson Woolum is that home run threat. Dawson Woolum (’23) carried the football 242-times for 1,678-yards with 21-rushing TDs a year ago to rank among the leaders in the entire commonwealth in many key statistical categories. Woolum also registered 82-tackles at LBer with 9-TFLs, 1-FF, 1-FR, and 2-Sacks to secure his mention among the very best in 3A defensively to go along with what he is offensively.
Here is a fun fact for those “not in the know;” Woolum is an over 1,000 point scorer on the hardwood for Bell County High in his career. Talk about your athletes!
Hayden Canady (’24) is back at PK and looks to be the heir apparent at QB with the graduation of Cameron Burnett. Canady comes from a long-line of football stars starting with his father, Ovie, and his brother Noah.
KPGFootball’s analysis: Remember what we wrote above concerning Phillip Haywood? Well the same is true of Bell County’s legendary head coach Dudley Hilton. Coach Hilton will field a contender each and every year regardless of where he coaches and at what level of competition his teams play. There are tons of football experts who will tell you having a RB like what is returning for Bell County is plenty to put any team in contention.
No. 5…Bardstown High. 12-1 in ’21, losing in the Regional Finals to Glasgow, 48-42.
Talk about losing a QB, how about the loss of the QB who guided Bardstown a year ago to a 12-1 finish? Replacing ’22’s Brady Clark at QB (162/235 for 2,888-yards passing and 38-TDs against only 3-INTs) will be difficult. Team isn’t out of QBs named “Clark,” as it will now be Brayden Clark’s (’23) time to shine.
TJ Greenwell (’23) has the ability to carry many a team from his RB post. Greenwell had 104-carries for 1,078-yards rushing and 16-TDs in ’21. He was also the team’s leading scorer and collected 48-receptions for 900 receiving yards and 10-TDs receiving. Greenwell is also a defensive stalwart for the Bardstown bunch. Greenwell had 57-tackles and 4-TFLs in ’21 and looks to be even more productive in ’22.
Tyleeq Williams (’24) may be one of the more productive, explosive, and versatile players in his graduating class. Last season, Williams had 74-carries for 856-yards with 13-TDs on the ground while contributing 29-receptions for 496-receiving yards and 7-receiving TDs through the air. Williams was the club’s 2nd leading scorer a year ago. By the way, he had a fine year defensively too. Williams had 73-tackles and 2-INTs to go along with his offensive output.
Kyan Lydian (’24) gives the Bardstown defense another star around whom to build. In ’21, Lydian registered 105-tackles, 4-TFLs, 2-FRs with 47 Fumble Recovery Net Yards.
KPGFootball’s analysis: Bardstown seems to be in the discussion more years than not. If you look at who is returning, you will see this team fits our pattern for contenders. Bardstown will be solid in its offensive backfield and will have quality defenders returning much of its defensive production. Bardstown will challenge this year, like most others.
At the end of the day, studying the rosters as extensively as we have, this is our best guess at the classification’s best five football teams entering the coming season. We could be right on the money…or,…we shall see!
This is Coach HB Lyon, reporting for KPGFootball, and we’re JUST CALLING IT LIKE WE SEE IT!
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