KPGFootball’s 21 for 2021…

We know both Rivals and 247Sports.com have come out with top lists for the rising sophomore class of Football prospects. So what differentiates ours from theirs? Well, the answer is elementary my dear Watsons, they are ranking kids based purely from off of reputation and how they looked running around one of their combines in shorts and a shirt. KPGFootball has seen all these kids play football. I would say for almost the entire list of 21, we have seen them play football, live, on many occasions. At KPGFootball, we rank football players, not prospects. The difference? Well the 6-5, 220 pound, second team TE who gets offers based off of his frame won’t make our lists. To be listed with us you have to play on Friday nights, and then you have to produce on Friday nights. The kids we are about to list are the best 21 football players in their class. Some of them are elite college prospects too, some are just college prospects. I would wager that this entire list will suit up on Saturdays in a few short years at either the D1 or D2 level on some school’s dime. Without further adieu, from a publication well better informed and qualified than the geeks at Rivals, I give you 21 football players for 2021!

1. Austin Gough, LB/RB, 6-2 and 205 pounds, Owensboro;

Does Austin possess speed and agility? Well, Austin played running back in the Bret Cooper All-American Game in Dallas, Texas and helped lead the East team to the victory behind his 150 yards rushing from scrimmage. If my sources are correct, Owensboro Senior may even use Austin in its backfield in 2018.  Does Austin possess the strength and power to play linebacker at the 5A Classification? Austin is bench pressing over 275 and back squatting in the neighborhood of 450 pounds. Does Austin have the explosion in his hips to really bring it when he tackles?  Well, he is a consistent threat to win the State Championship as a triple-jumper in Track & Field and explodes off the floor in basketball. He has been hand-timed at 4.65 in the 40 yard dash too, so you tell me. Well, does Austin have the mental aspect of playing linebacker, can he read plays? Something you have difficulty measuring is Football IQ, and very few young players have any, at all, but that is something Austin exhibited last year in abundance. For the Red Devils’ defense, Austin led Owensboro with 92 tackles, 58 of which were solo. His production led the entire Owensboro defense. Gough not only put up numbers like that but he did it at one of Kentucky’s winningest, all-time, football programs and has been selected by Homers’ Radio as the preseason area Player of the Year, though only a sophomore.

Frankly, I just don’t know how 6-2, 205 pound, LB and AFI-KPG All-State football player Austin Gough, who is now a sophomore at Owensboro High School, could have performed any better when I saw him at the Blue-Gray All-American combine. At that combine, Austin Gough, particularly for a linebacker, ran a blistering 4.65 forty yard sprint, in a pouring rain, and registered a lightning quick pro-agility shuttle (5-10-5) of 4.3. Austin broad jumped 111 inches (9’3″). Austin recorded 17 repetitions at the high school rep weight of 185 pounds in the bench press, which was top-five in his position group and I am quite sure he is considerably stronger now. During the one on ones for the linebackers versus the tight-ends and running backs, Gough showed both the ability to get down-hill and meet plays and the ability, speed, and quickness to cover stuff crossing him and routes requiring him to drop and cover the zone between the 2nd and 3rd levels. Though Blue-Grey President said he had never put a rising sophomore among his prestigious Red Zone Prospects, both Gough and William Long from Hopkinsville were so honored.

2. Justice Thompson, MLB, 6-0 and 235 pounds, Louisville;

I first wrote about Justice Thompson on April 2, 2017 in an article entitled Justice Thompson Lays Down the Law. In that article, I said that Justice would probably log significant PT for Ballard next year as a freshman if he doesn’t start. Well, he started all year long. Justice logged 120 tackles, last year, as Louisville Ballard’s top tackler, with 69 of the tackles being solo. For the record, having stood eye ball to eye ball with Justice on numerous occasions, I believe him to be both taller and heavier than Ballard lists him on their roster. Without anything else on which to go, I guess we will stick with the listed 6’0″ 235, but I would be willing to wager 6’1″ 235 is probably more accurate. Regardless, Justice is just a monster. Justice started at the Mike (MLB) for Louisville Ballard High School. The Bears compete in Kentucky’s highest classification of football, 6A, and count Louisville Male and Trinity as teams it consistently plays.

Prior to his stellar Freshman year at Ballard, Justice anchored the Kentucky FBU team which traveled to Naples, FA and finished 6th in the FBU National Championship Tournament. Afterward, he came home to Kentucky and took over the defensive side of the ball in the Tennessee-Kentucky Future Stars Classic, culminating in his being selected the Defensive MVP. His HC at Future Stars was his Defensive Coordinator at Ballard both this and last season, LaKunta Farmer. Farmer had this to say about his sophomore LB when I before interviewed him about this prospect…Justice will be one of the best LB’s I’ve coached before he graduates. He is very strong and knowledgeable on the field. Uses great technique and fundamentals on every play. The thing that sets him apart from others is his natural instinct to find the ball carrier and bring him down. 

When Justice made the KPGFootball, freshmen All-State football team, I was able to share with the committee that I have enjoyed the benefit of watching Thompson play, both live and on film, and have been most impressed with his incredible speed, agility, and explosion as defining athletic attributes. There was a running argument about whom was the best freshman linebacker in Kentucky and most believed it was either Justice Thompson or Austin Gough. The argument is akin to the old Magic Johnson/Larry Bird debate. In the end, who cares? They are both incredible. Justice is not quite as fast as Gough but he has been consistently timed in the 4.9s in the 40, which is really fast for his size. Justice Thompson was selected a first team MaxPreps Freshman All-American for his efforts leading the Ballard defense last season.

3. Darion Dearinger, DE, 6-3 and 235 pounds, Lawrenceburg;

Dearinger is a player who could easily end up on either side of the ball in college. We believe his most likely position in college with be DE, where he already possesses the frame and athleticism of a major, division I, prospect at that position. Darion is 6-3 and weighs 235 pounds with good strength (255 pound bench press and 385 pound back-squat) and outstanding speed, athleticism (28 inch vertical) and quickness (4.74 second 40; 4.5 second shuttle). Dearinger also exhibits really good flexibility and ability to bend, as he comes screaming off the edge, dipping under the left tackles’ hands, to apply outside pressure on the passer. Last season for Coach Mark Peach’s Bearcats, who are a district 6 team in the 5A classification, Dearinger recorded 48 tackles, 35 of which were solos, working against what is traditionally one of the better offensive lineman, week in and week out, on the opponent’s roster, the left tackle. On offense, Dearinger caught 2 passes for 17 yards and was an accomplished 6th offensive lineman in the Bearcats’ run game. Darion has the type of length and speed on defense to run sweeps into the boundary or tackle backs in space. Dearinger also has the strength, power and disposition to meet plays in the hole. On offense at TE, Dearinger is sure-handed and tall enough to be a coverage nightmare for either Middle or Outside Linebackers. Darion, who played Center for his Middle School basketball team which finished 7th in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, has excellent feet, a requirement for basketball, and excellent wind, which he will need because he will be playing Iron Man football at Anderson County from here on out as he enters his sophomore year. Darion is also a 3.8 GPA type student who involves himself in FCA, his Church and Vacation Bible School, where he teaches.

4. William Long, center/DT, 5-10 and 260 pounds, Hopkinsville, Kentucky;

To say William Long impressed at the All-State Mountain Combine in Pikeville, Kentucky this past summer would be a huge understatement. The recent selection to the National Underclassman Combine’s All-American Team ran a 40 yard dash in the 4.8s at that combine and registered a pro-agility shuttle (5-10-5) of 4.33 seconds. William completed the L-cone drill in 7.5 seconds both times he ran it. Now High School athletes could either rep on the bench press at the high school rep weight of 185 pounds or the athlete could elect to rep at the NFL combine weight of 225 pounds. William repped 185 pounds on the bench press at the Blue-Grey All American Combine at Pope JP2 High School in Hendersonville, Tennessee 29 repetitions, so Long elected at the All-State Mountain Combine to rep the NFL combine weight of 225 pounds. William, repped the 225 pounds, 21 times. That would make his approximate one-rep, bench press maximum lift 371 pounds according to muscleandfitness.com‘s bench press calculator. We know this is accurate as William has a personal best bench press maximum lift of 365 pounds which is several months old and likely even higher now. William incline presses 290 pounds, squats 525 pounds, deadlifts 520 pounds, and power cleans a cool 260 pounds while hang cleaning 255 pounds making him the strongest member of the Class of 2021 in Kentucky and possibly any state bordering Kentucky. Were William Long 6-1, instead of 5-10, he might be Kentucky’s top regarded player in 2021.

At the All-State Mountain Combine during the one on ones, there really wasn’t a nose guard there, other than Landon Fields (Class of 2019, Somerset), who wanted any of William so to get Long some work we moved him up and down the defensive front to provide looks for offensive linemen we were evaluating. William looked so good along our defensive front, the coaches elected to award him Defensive MVP of the combine. Probably the best endorsement of William came from Kentucky’s top rated Center in his (or any other class), 2020’s Ethan Wolford from Belfry. According to his dad, whom accompanied Big E to the combine to spectate (as Ethan wasn’t competing), Tommy Wolford asked Ethan if there was a lineman at the combine he would be reticent to face. Ethan said, yeah, one. Tommy asked him, which one, son and Ethan said, William Long. Ethan went on to relate thatI think I would do alright if I could get clamped on him, but he’s so quick, Dad, I would be concerned he would get past me before I could transition out of my stance. Now when the best Center in Kentucky says that about you, it’s mighty high praise in deed! William Long is a top five center, in any class, presently taking the field in the Commonwealth this Fall. He’s 2021’s top center, and his appearing so high on this list is an indication of the importance we place on offensive line play. William, a 3.5 GPA student with a really high football IQ, is the type of captain of the offensive front in whom you can repose a lot of trust to get the linemen in blocking and protection situations which permit the offense to succeed. As a freshman in 2017, William logged a whopping 49 quarters of varsity football playing time along the HHS offensive front. As national football prospects, both Austin Gough and William Long are the only two players, as young as they were this summer, to ever be selected to the Blue-Grey, All-American Combine’s Red Zone Elite.

5. Isaac Dixon, RB/DB, 5-9 and 170 pounds, Belfry;

Everyone on the Mountains knows that Class of 2021, Isaac Dixon, a guy who made our Freshman All-State Football team as an athlete, is fast. He averaged 15.15 yards per carry this past season at RB in limited action (13 carries, 4 of which were TDs) and had 16 tackles at Safety, while playing varsity football as a freshman for one of the most storied programs in Kentucky’s prep football history. Dixon tore it up in Tack & Field, running a reported personal best 10.67 second, 100 meter. By the way, track times are fully automated, eliminating human error and at 10.67 seconds in the 100 meter his approximate 40 yard dash time, fully automated, would be in the low 4.4s. Dixon has also shown out at numerous camps before we saw him at the Mountain All-State combine, running a 4.6 flat, 40 yard dash at The Ohio State University earlier in the summer. However, what Dixon was able to do at the Mountain Combine was just incredible in the fast department. I would say lightening might be an even more apt description for the Pond Creek star.

Isaac measured at 5-9 and weighed 170 pounds for us at our combine and ran the 40 yard dash in a blistering, hand-timed, 4.45 seconds in the cool mountain air. He finished the pro-agility shuttle (5-10-5) in 4.23 seconds and the L-Cone drill, during which he fell down both attempts, with a 6.7 seconds for second fastest at the combine, falling be damned! As for strength, Isaac, though only having just finished his freshman year in high school, and only weighing 170 pounds, still managed to rep the high school bench press repetition weight of 185 pounds 7 times. That computes to an approximate, one-rep, bench press maximum lift of 229 pounds. Dixon dominated the one-on-ones and seven-on-seven portions of the combine whether he was defending or in the pattern which led to his being named the Combine’s Most Outstanding Player. He also took top corner honors. The only thing stopping Isaac Dixon from corralling offers right now is his being a Class of 2021 prospect. He is dynamic, explosive, powerful, fast, quick, and, from what we saw in the Mountains, someone with a ton of dog in him.

It’s anyone’s guess how Coach Phillip Haywood will use Dixon offensively in 2018, though we are quite sure, with his recovery speed and coverage skills, he will, once again, anchor the defensive back-four. Belfry graduated a dynamic playmaker whom possessed many of the physical skills as Dixon possesses in Taveon Hunter. All Hunter did last season was carry the football 78 times, gaining from scrimmage 1,285 yards rushing with 15 rushing TDs. While Hunter is gone to college to play Division 1 Football, Dixon figures to get some of those carries behind what KPGFootball believes to be the best offensive line in Kentucky. Will Dixon replicate the offensive production of Hunter before his days on Pond Creek are through? If he doesn’t, it sure won’t be because he lacked anything physically that Hunter had as both their athletic cups are overflowing.

6. LaVell Wright, RB/DB, 6-0 and 198 pounds, Radcliff;

Here’s an example of us evaluating football playing and not so much frame and whether a kid is a prospect, as LaVell Wright, from the stand point of being a college football prospect, is probably rated even higher than we have him. LaVell’s on field production last season, as a freshman playing class 6A football wasn’t what it could have been, but that appears to be more attributable to the players around him than any deficiency in his individual play. LaVell, who primary position is RB, only gained 377 yards on 121 opportunities with 3 rushing TDs. These were varsity yards of course and these were Kentucky, Class 6A yards, but, nonetheless. He was effective catching the football, especially for a running back, as he caught 13 passes for 142 receiving yards from out of the backfield. Now, as for production, one really can’t blame Wright for what appears to have been a lack of yards gained as the entire backfield only gained 624 yards over 11 games for the 2017 season. The freshman was over 60% of his entire teams’ ground production. Maybe the only freshman in Kentucky who could make that claim. Now, for those who don’t remember, LaVell made our freshman All-State football team as an athlete. Why an athlete and not a running back? Maybe because we, as a selection committee, thought he had too polished of a skill set, and was too good of a prospect, to leave off the team. This summer he has proven us somewhat prophetic.

LaVell Wright is presently holding an FBS offer to play college football, in spite of his not having attended a sophomore class at North Hardin yet. This summer the University of Alabama, Birmingham, after hosting LaVell at a camp, decided KPGFootball did know about what it was talking and pulled the trigger on this 6-0, 198 pound specimen. Now, we don’t have any idea the age of these numbers, and they may well be better now, but Wright has a registered 40 yard dash time of 4.6 seconds, a pro-agility shuttle of 4.4 seconds, with a 425 pound back squat and a 430 pound deadlift. LaVell has a lengthy frame, with really good speed, and has a variety of positions at which he is being recruited. LaVell can play corner, safety, running back, or receiver. We could even imagine a scenario where LaVell could bulk up and align at OLB. Regardless of where he aligns, LaVell is one of the highest regarded prospects in Kentucky’s class of 2021 and one of its best football players too.

7. Seth Mounts, LB, 6-3 and 190 pounds, Belfry;

Seth Mounts is a rangy kid at 6-3 and 190 pounds show is agile and athletic and exhibits in his film, linked below, outstanding ability to be read and react with the strength to take on the run and the agility to rush the quarterback. Seth has what I call cover quickness as he has speed (4.8 forty) but he is quick to the ball with explosive change of direction (4.8 pro-agility shuttle). Seth is certainly strong, especially in light of the fact he is between his freshmen and sophomore seasons (245 bench press, 350 pound back-squat) but what is more important than weight-room strength, especially at Seth’s position, is field strength. If you watch Seth’s highlight film from a year ago you will note he exhibits the strength to shed blockers and get himself in position to make plays. Seth is physically able to disengage from blocks and bring down ball carriers. In addition to his strength, Seth also exhibits bend, the ability to dip his shoulder and evade the hands of blockers with the flexibility to flip his hips open, change direction, and run with the receiver.

Seth is a 4.0 student whose offensive position is QB. While we like him at OLB here at KPGFootball and believe that is where most colleges see the Class of 2021 prospect, the fact he has the football IQ and leadership qualities to quarterback an offense lend itself to his ability to, likewise, quarterback a defense which linebackers are often called upon to do. Seth has made so many All-American teams already in his career the list of the many teams to which he has been selected is too numerous to recount here, as we believe we have listed the different teams in prior features. We do want to mention he made our AFI-KPG Freshman All-State Football team as an athlete.

Now you may wonder if he is one of our four dream linebackers why wasn’t he selected at that position instead of the nebulous athlete tag? Well the answer is that had we been picking on college potential as a prospect at the position, he would have been, but we were selecting linebackers based on how they had played over the course of their freshman seasons. Seth had a fine year with 53 tackles, but there were freshmen linebackers who had outperformed him in that all-important statistic quite dramatically. However, we recognized him as an athlete and athleticism and agility are the two of the major components of the position Seth plays so, really, what’s the difference. He was an All-Stater last season and we believe he will continue to be throughout his prep career.

8. Ethan Mills, RB, 5-8 and 170 pounds, Barbourville;

I remember first seeing Ethan Mills play for Team Kentucky FBU, 7th grade, 2.5 years ago. Needless to say, I was very impressed. So impressed I first featured Ethan on Kentucky Prep Gridiron in an article published April 3, 2017 entitled, Ethan Mills…Where’d He Go? In that article, I told you that Ethan was a scatter-back whom one not only doesn’t see, but certainly can’t catch, even if you could see him. Ethan came into his freshman year weighing 155 but, with commitment to the weight room, he filled out to his present 170 pounds. I have seen Ethan clocked at 4.62 in the 40 but that time is old and I would not doubt, at all, his now running in the 4.5s. Coming into his freshman year, Ethan was a multiple selection to Team Kentucky FBU,  was selected to the East-West Kentucky All-State Game, and played for the Kentucky Future Stars.  Ethan entered the year third team behind both Donovan Arthur and Jermel Carton but, when Arthur went down in the first series of the Letcher Central game, Mills stepped in to help Carton shoulder the load. Playing in 12 games, Mills carried the ball 91 times for 644 yards. Thats averaging approximately 7 yards a carry. Mills still had to share carries with Jermel Carton, who gained 1,263 yards himself. Think what Ethan might have accumulated had he averaged more than between 7 and 8 carries a game. As for finding pay dirt, Ethan finished the year with 9 rushing TDs. I defy you to find a more productive freshman RB than that, especially playing on an 8-4, Class 4A, football team. The Panthers lost to Western 12-3 in the KHSAA 2nd round of the playoffs. Whether he is a college prospect or not, and we certainly feel he is at some level, Ethan Mills is a Friday Night superstar and a damn fine football player.

9. Brandt Babin, RB/OLB, 6-1 and 200 pounds, Louisville;

Brandt Babin plays for a powerhouse football program whose roster already sports two of Kentucky’s most recruited players in one of the preseason Mr. Football favorites, Milton Wright (2019), and John Young (Class of 2020), who is listed on some publications as a top three prospect in Kentucky’s rising junior class at 6-6 and 295 pounds. Well, Wright and Young aren’t the only kids who are football stars on the roster as the Centurions also have the Babin Twins and maybe one of the Class of 2021s finest technicians at the QB position in Connor Masters. Like KPGFootball told you in the featured article entitled My Goodness…there’s two of them…Brandt and Braeden Babin, which we published back when they were leading the Centurions into the State Quarters,  Brandt had rushed, by that time, for 595 yards with 10 rushing TDs. In round two of the KHSAA Playoffs, Brandt rushed for 177 yards and 3 TDs against a Walton-Verona team which entered the contest 9-2 before losing its third game of the year to CAL 28-0. On the basis of that effort Babin upped his rushing total to 645 yards for the season on 106 rushing attempts for a per carry average of just over 6 yards an attempt entering the game with Mayfield in the Semis. Brandt Babin played his best football when it mattered most last season while playing for a team at a school not known for playing freshmen on the Varsity. In addition to his running the football, Brandt registered 34 tackles from his OLB slot with 19 of those being solo, something we will see more in 2018 as Babin is slated to start on defense in addition to in the backfield. Brandt made our Freshman All-Sate football team as a RB. Had he not, he would have been strongly considered at OLB, his position on Defense.

10. Arren Hash, QB, 6-1 150, Campbellsville;

In an era where multi-sport excellence is celebrated by the recruiting crowd, I give you the Rifleman, Arren Hash, who not only made the freshman All-State football team at QB, but who is a member of the Nashville Knights Platinum, 15 and under, baseball team and one of Kentucky’s top pitching, short-stop prospects. Campbellsville High School went 7-3 as soon as it decided to move Arren into the starting lineup as the varsity quarterback. Campbellsville began the year 0-3 and have rebounded to win 7 of the last 10. Borrowing from one of our KPGFootball, Selection Committee Members, who said this while Arren was being compared to other nominees, a lot of other quarterbacks are getting ready to eat Turkey, Arren is getting ready to host Beechwood in the State Semis. Arren, in 2017, while playing  10 games as the varsity’s starting QB, though only a freshman, completed 116 of his 215 passing attempts for a completion rate of nearly 54%. Hash, whom I nicknamed The Rifleman in an article featuring him on Kentucky Prep Gridironway back on April 1, 2017, threw for 1,600 yards passing and 13 TDs. The one negative is he has thrown for as many picks as TDs; but, Hell, he was a freshman. Hash came in a year ago and led a team which was going nowhere fast to the Regional Championship and a spot in the state semifinals. What more would one want from a guy who is supposed to be leading a football team? He is the top QB, as a football player, in Kentucky’s class of 2021. His being selected the 10th best overall player by KPGFootball is more of an indication of our belief in the game of football being won from the line of scrimmage out, as we had two linemen slotted above him. There are plenty of lists which would have him top-three, just not ours.

11. Logan Smith, RT, 6-3 and 270 pounds, Corbin;

First of all, at KPGFootball, we prize offensive linemen who are strong, powerful, explosive, and athletic. We believe a position which requires you to move an anatomically grown man from point A to point B, as Russ Grimm would say, against that man’s wishes, is better done by people who are strong, powerful, explosive, and athletic. Logan Smith, next to William Long, is the strongest, most powerful, and most explosive offensive lineman in Kentucky and has the length and frame to play RT and even LT as he continues to develop. Logan Smith is a 6-3 inch 270 pound RT who is one of the strongest and most imposing members of the class. Logan bench presses 325 pounds and squats a cool 485. Does he have any explosion? Well he power cleans 250 pounds so I would say so, wouldn’t you? Logan is a former member ofTeam Kentucky, having made several appearances on its FBU team. Last season for the Redhounds, Logan was on the varsity roster for a team which played Boyle County for the 3A State Football Championship. Logan logged varsity time along the offensive front and some limited appearances on defense where he recorded a couple of tackles from his DT position.

Corbin finished 13-2 and defeated perennial Tennessee Class 3A powerhouse Alcoa High School (Knoxville, Tennessee) at home last year 22-21 on August 26, 2017. Corbin, in a departure from what you see so many times in powerful programs throughout Kentucky, throws the football around the ball park more so than pounds the rock. Last year, the Redhounds passed for 2,852 yards while rushing for 1,965 yards. Having Cameron Sizemore graduate, taking with him his 2,695 yards passing and 32 passing TDs, won’t lend itself well to continued success, at least in the aerial offense. However, Corbin only lost 11 seniors to graduation, only 8 or so of those seniors started.

Returning in 2018, Corbin will see 24 players enter their senior season. Continued success, while never a certainty, is certainly most probable, Sizemoreor or no Sizemore. The Redhounds will still have Chase Estep (51 receptions, 631 yards receiving, 6 TDs caught; 113 rushing attempts, 710 yards, 8 TDs rushing), Christian Gosselin (37 catches, 705 yards receiving, 9 TD receptions), and Cameron Maguet  (25 receptions, 285 yards receiving, 4 TD receptions; 48 rushes from scrimmage, 366 yards rushing, 7 TDs) all of whom are more than competent skill position players. Regardless of what skills return, linemen the likes of Peyton Tirey, Nate Smith, and Mathew Masternak to go with Logan Smith will be around to insure whomever mans the skill slots will have time and opportunity to find success. Logan Smith, and young bigs like him, are not only worthy of some press, but might be a name you would do well to commit to memory.

12. John Mudd, OT, 6-2 and 280 pounds, Louisville;

Yeah, we love us some Hawgs at KPGFootball. John Mudd 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. John made our Freshman All-State football team a season ago and the line of scrimmage is usually the last place one looks for freshmen to contribute, but linemen like Johnathan Blackburn, Logan Smith, William Long, and John Mudd were able to pull it off owing to the physical condition in which they were able to report to Fall camp though only entering freshmen. The physical difference between 15 year old bigs and 18 year old bigs used to be too vast for the 15 year old to get much varsity run. However, we see that gap closing every year as more and more bigs are showing, if they are willing to diligently work offseason, they can enter the 9th grade with sufficient physical prowess to compete. Offensive Tackles, like John Mudd, Johnathan Blackburn and Logan Smith showed every one the way. John Mudd was immediately plugged-in to the lineup and now, entering his sophomore year, he’s a wily veteran at a time when most Friday Night stars are hoping to, finally, get in the ball game. 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 summer before last. John Mudd is both now, and will continue to be going forward, one of the best offensive linemen in Kentucky, particularly in his class.

13. Johnathan Blackburn, LT, 6-5 and 320 pounds, Paintsville;

Can’t really say, right now at least, the Blackburn has translated his size to dominating opposing defenders on the field yet, but 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 last 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, being both athletic and mobile, possessing 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.  We don’t have any reported strength or speed numbers we could access on Blackburn but there was plenty of film and he moved well, as above noted.

Blackburn, No. 76

When we selected Blackburn to our freshman All-State football team in 2-17, the committee strove to select the five to six best players, upfront, and not, necessarily, the 5-6 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. When we selected Blackburn, whether you want to believe this or not, 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. He made our All-State team, and gets ranked on this list by us, because of his play…not his size.

14. Braeden Babin, FB/MLB, 6-0, 195, Lousiville;

We just love the fullback position at KPGFootball. As a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I can personally attest the last time the Volunteers could reliably run the football was when Will Bartholomew was aligned at fullback and leading our running backs both into and through holes. Braeden Babin doesn’t get aligned, often times, at as sexy of positions on the field as his twin brother, Brandt, but make no mistake about one thing, Braden is a fantastic football player. KPGFootball wrote an article entitled My Goodness…there’s two of them…Brandt and Braeden Babin. What has flown under the radar, everywhere but at Kentucky Prep Gridiron, Christian Academy of Louisville,and with the AFI/KPG selection committee is the play of the other Babin, Braeden.

How do you judge a fullback whose main responsibility is to open the path for his brother’s glory? Well, in round two of the playoffs, the RB, whose way he was clearing, gained 177 yards rushing with 3 rushing TDs. Says a lot about both the FB and the offensive line, if you were to ask me. I tell you what you do, if you have any doubt about how much Braeden has contributed to CAL’s season in 2017, go on over to HUDL and play some of the film and watch Braeden knocking people silly all over the field in ways for which there is no statistic. Braeden, who sadly saw his team’s chances to repeat as Class 2A State Champions melt away in Mayfield, Kentucky during the State Semis, battered Centurion opponents whether on offense at FB, on special teams, or on defense. Braeden played in 12 games as a freshman, for one of the premier football programs in Kentucky regardless of Classification. Babin contributed to the team in his 12 games as a battering FB and lead blocker in addition to his play defensively.

When we selected him a freshman All-State football player, a member of the selection committee remarked that he considered FB was the NG of an offensive backfield. Braeden also recorded 11 tackles, 5 of which were solo, logging time at both MLB (kind of a stand-up NG) and at actual NG. We predict that in addition to starting in the offensive backfield in front of his twin brother in 2018, that Braeden will be starting at MLB for the Centurions too before the year plays out, making him a two-way player. At fullback, Braeden’s play is aggressive, physical, and violent all over the field as he leaves opponents peering out their earholes, play after play.  KPGFootball, which rewards football players foremost, contends Braeden is too good a football player, and too valuable to any football team, to ever omit from any listing of the best Kentucky players in the Class of 2021.

15. Dekel Crowdus, WR, 5-9 and 150 pounds, Lexington;

Last year, when the KPG selection committee met to select our freshman All-State football team, Dekel had a real ardent supporter and fan on the committee. Now the committee faithfully disclosed any consanguine relations between themselves and candidates and, when the relative was taken up, if nominated, the committee member who was related didn’t participate in the selection process for that player. The committee chairman made it really clear that this isn’t little league baseball. We are not rewarding parents for managing in the league or for being on the Board of Directors of the baseball park. The committee took its job seriously in identifying and rewarding only those players who deserved it. I told you all that to tell you this, one on the committee, and he wasn’t, in any way, related to Dekel Crowdus, thought Crowdus might be the MVP of the entire Class of 2021. While KPGFootball wasn’t sold on that, as our ranking him number 15 on this list would indicate, we believe it is arguable Crowdus is the best WR in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the Class of 2021, as his production over his freshman year playing Class 6A football would certainly signify. Dekel, though only 5-9 and 150 pounds, from Frederick Douglas’s 10-3 Class 6A, District 7 ball club, caught 28 passes for 333 yards in 12 games with 3 receiving TDs. Additionally, Dekel threw a TD pass. Dekel ran disciplined and hard routes, whether the ball was coming his way or not, and blocked down field actively and well. Dekel doesn’t have the length some school covet at the WR position but both UK and Western Michigan have offered. You know the old adage, speed knows neither height nor weight. In football, speed kills, and Crowdus is a killer!

16. Reece Jesse, Jr., WR, 6-3 and 175 pounds, Hopkinsville;

Photo Source T. Dixon, KNE Sports Editor

There are times in an All-State selection committee where the debate can turn somewhat vitriolic. That happened last year as I very much believed Reece Jesse, Jr., belonged on the All-State freshman football team. Wide receiver is a hard position to judge as freshmen don’t, generally, get a lot of varsity run but Jesse was a letterman for a Regional runner-up, Class 4A football team. It came down to Eli Blakey from DuPont Manual and Jesse and the numbers were virtually identical, as were the frames, and Blakey just edged out Reece for the slot, owing to the committee feeling Blakey had a better play-off performance than Jesse. Such is life, the French say (C’est la vie). As I have before written, it would appear to me Hoptown has quite a few weapons at QB Jay Bland‘s disposal and one of the most intriguing one is pictured to the left of this photograph. Incoming sophomore, Reese Jesse, Jr., at 6-3 and 175 pounds not only needs to take a big step forward in his personal progression into football stardom but certainly has all the tools to do just that. Jesse has shown he has the speed to separate from back four defenders and the length and vertical explosion to be a very difficult, outside matchup. No one has ever questioned his hands. For Jesse to be a Division I receiver prospect, and at KPGFootball that is exactly what we believe him to be, he has to show recruiters consistent effort. He is a long-strider, and long-striders are often maligned as being blasé about effort and hustle. It is often both unfair and undeserved and mainly stems from the long, smooth glide giving that appearance more than it being a reflection on the player; but Jesse is soft spoken, and laid back, and he will fight that impression with schools. The fact of the matter is, HHS opponents can’t assign its best corner and safety help to Jesse’s side of the field, this season, because of the Division I, college receiver on the other side named Ellis Dunn. Jesse will get corner number two and in mostly one on one, without safety help over the top, scenarios. He showed this Sevens’ season he can dominate that matchup when he wants to, now he just has to work on the want to.

17. Zach Russell, DE, 6-3 and 200 pounds, Paintsville;

Coach Jim Matney had his Class 4A, District 8, Eagles from Johnson Central High School poised to go back-to-back as Class 4A State Football Champions provided they could get by Franklin-Simpson, which they couldn’t, this time. Johnson Central went 12-3 in 2017, dropping consecutive games to Ashland-Blazer and Belfry but book-ending those two defeats with nothing but Ws, until Kroger Field. Two freshmen who greatly contributed for Johnson Central’s Varsity High School football team, a program that plays freshman sparingly, if ever, were AFI/KPG Freshman All-State Guard, Cameron Willis and AFI/KPG Freshman All-State defensive lineman, Zack Russell. Zack played in 11 of Johnson Central’s 14 games in 2017 and played both DE and TE for the Eagles. Zack, as a DE for Johnson Central during the year, had 10 tackles, 5 of which were solo. We realize that doesn’t sound like a lot of plays but he obviously fulfilled his assignment well or else why would he have logged playing time in 11 games for the premier program in Class 4A?

Zack is a former Team Kentucky player, FBU and Future Stars, and as a Kentucky Future Star played in the Tennessee-Kentucky Future Stars Classic, in 7th and 8th grades, and was Offensive MVP as a 7th grader for his contributions at TE. Zack’s game, frame, and potential are very similar to that of Dearinger, who above appears at No. 3 in our list of 2021 players. Russell and Dearinger are edge players widely considered the best two DEs in Kentucky’s Class of 2021. What coaches love about Zack is his length, he’s 6-3 with long arms, athleticism, and motor exhibited with his play at both DE and TE, and a frame which can hold quite a bit more thickness as he continues to mature and work in the Johnson Central strength and conditioning program.

As for Zack Russell, one has to be a special talent to suit up, and log the considerable game time as a freshman Russell logged last year at Johnson Central. Zack Russell played in 11 of the 14 Varsity games, more games than any other freshman on the roster, Willis included and about mid-way through 2018’s slate of games, you, the reader, will see plenty of underpinning evidence that Russell is, in fact, one of Kentucky’s premier football players in the 2021 class and that his making our freshman, All-state football team in 2017 was no fluke.

18. Braden Ferguson, Center, 6-1 and 225 pounds, Lexington;

Last year’s All-State freshman football team selection 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, and William Long from Hopkinsville, who are also very good, we believe the answer is maybe yes, depending on what you want from the position.

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.

19. Ben Scholfield, PK, 5-9 and 145 pounds, McCracken County High School

We at KPGFootball would be remiss in not remarking that, wow, do we have some kicking talent in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, spread out among its respective, competitive, graduating classes. Last year on the selection committee for the freshman All-state football team, I personally nominated Schofield. I am, also, proud to say, that I came up with his nickname, by which he is now known virtually throughout the Bluegrass of the Schofield Leg Rocket. Now, there are some kickers around Kentucky doing some amazing things. Just last year, at the Middle School State Championship Game, for Boyle County’s runner-up, State Finalist, Middle School football team (who lost the Middle School Championship Game to Corbin 26-9), Boyle had an 8th grader, named Jackson Smith, convert all three of his field goal attempts. The field goals were made from 38, 27, and 51 yards (not a misprint). Smith is on KPGFootball’s list of outstanding 2022 players and has been selected the outstanding place-kicker and punter in his class in the Country by ProKicker.com. In the class of 2023, there is Colin Fratus, whom kicked the field goal in overtime to deliver Kentucky victory over Tennessee in the Future Stars Classic. Fratus has been selected the number one kicker in his class in the Country by the NFL Hall of Fame Academy. Having a kicker like these three is like finding money in the pocket of your dry-cleaning.

Let me paint the scene as to why I nicknamed Ben Schofield, the Schofield Leg Rocket. The nickname stemmed from 2017’s Tennessee-Kentucky, 8th grade Future Stars Classic. I featured this game in an article dated June 17, 2017 and entitled KPG, almost completely correct and totally wrong simultaneously. In that article, I detailed how Ben, with the game tied in the second half, out of a bad snap, but brilliant placement,…drilled a 32 yard field goal right through the uprights under a furious Tennessee rush for what proved to be the winning margin. In that same game, Ben converted both his PATs. Kentucky won the game, by three points, and The Schofield Leg Rocket accounted for 5 of the team’s 17 points. His field goal proved to be the winning margin and, it is worth a second mention, he nailed it, down the middle, in the face of a furious, and I mean furious, frenetic attempt by Tennessee to block the kick. Tennessee sent all eleven after him. In varsity action this year, as a freshman, Schofield converted 6 field goals in 7 attempts and converted on all 10 of his PATs. Make no mistake about it, Ben Schofield, is very deserving of this recognition.

20. Roman White, Safety, 5-10 and 190 pounds, Louisville;

Roman White, whose brother was a star football player in the SEC at Vanderbilt University, has a distinct disadvantage in getting listed on any of our lists. Roman plays at the premier football program in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and it is impossible to get on the field for the Shamrocks as a freshman. Unlike the other players on this list, Roman had to play freshman ball and some JV run last year. However, Trinity’s freshman team probably beats 70-75% of the varsity football teams in Kentucky, so there is that. White is a guy the Louisville members of the selection committee were completely and particularly sold on being included on our freshman All-state football team. Roman White, I was then told, possessed fluid hips, transitioned quickly and seamlessly from back pedal to over the top, without the loss of speed, had what was described to us as excellent coverage skills, whether he is in zone coverage, playing on in press coverage, or playing off. We have since talked to numerous coaches who either coached Roman, or coached against him, as well as access other pertinent information, and, to a man, White impressed them with his ability to get over the top of vertical routes or close out underneath quickly and smoothly.  Roman White will suit up and take the field this Fall for Trinity and we predict will be an opening night starter at safety. White ended last year on Trinity’s varsity roster and he will start there this year. By about mid season, we think White will shoot up this list and who knows how far toward the top he will settle. For now, it really isn’t fair to rank speculation ahead of performance.

21. Alton Jefferson, DL, 6-2 and 220 pounds, Louisville;

I wrote a series of articles entitled Plug-In Players and it was meant to highlight freshmen either starting, day one, on the Varsity Football team or who would surely be starting on the football team before the year was through. A parent whose son played on the Trinity Football Freshman team contacted me and felt the criteria unfairly prejudiced players at Kentucky’s benchmark, nationally ranked, football program, a.k.a. Louisville Trinity High School. His point was two fold, basically. First, Trinity’s freshman team, which he said was hands down the best in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, would beat 3/4 of the Varsity Football teams in Kentucky. Second, James Quick, Jason Hatcher, and the Brohms didn’t start at Trinity as freshmen. The test of a freshman football player’s skill and potential at Trinity is whether you are called up in October for the play-off run. Prior to this year, the highest number of freshman ever called up to dress for the play-offs was 8. This year, Coach Beatty called up 21 players from off a Freshman team which had beaten the freshman teams from Louisville Male, Carmel High School (Indiana), St. Francis DeSales, Louisville Saint Xavier (twice), and absolutely crushed Cincinnati (OH) Elder 49-6 before beating Fern Creek, 57-0 to finish 8-0.

KPGFootball decided to feature some of the freshman Shamrocks in our Plug-In series because we were sufficiently persuaded by a well made argument. One of those highlighted, in part 3 of the series, was freshman NG, Alton Jefferson. Alton is a 6-2 and 220 pound freshman NG or inside technique player who is so quick, fast, and athletic he played RB on offense. Alton’s aggressive play, strength, and motor impressed everyone the summer of 2017 when he was a member of the Kentucky Future Stars team, where he played an inside technique along the Kentucky Defensive front. Like we said in consideration of Roman White, it really isn’t fair to rank speculation ahead of performance but this is another one we believe, about mid-way through the 2018 season, Jefferson will be another player shooting up this list.

There it is folks, the KPGFootball’s 21 top football players for the Class of 2021. This should get the debate rolling around the Commonwealth as high school teams are on the brink of kicking off their seasons all over the Bluegrass. We all be excited to see how it all fleshes out and hope you will continue to read the site and enjoy it with us.

Reporting for KPGFootball, this is Fletcher Long reminding all of you ballers out there to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE.

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