Well, a subscriber and I had such a good time talking Kentucky High School football last night on this site that I have decided to do a preseason Top 5 for every Classification of Kentucky football. Today, I am going to break down one of the hardest Classifications in all of Kentucky. Everyone always thinks the quality of football grades upwardly as the Classification increases in most states, and while I can’t speak to other states; here, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, that is not true. For instance, MaxPreps has an All-Classification, Kentucky Top 25 Football Poll which ranks Kentucky’s very best High School football teams. At the end of last season, Boyle County was ranked 5th, Elizabethtown High School (E-Town) was 12th, Corbin was 13th, and Louisville Central finished 21st in the entire Commonwealth. Class 2A was represented by Danville at No. 4, Mayfield at No. 8, and CAL at No. 18. So Classes 2 & 3A comprised 7 out of the 25 best teams in the entire Commonwealth with there being 6 Classifications. That’s a lot of 4, 5, and 6A football teams the experts don’t expect to beat 7 lowly 2 & 3A football programs. Very good football is played at the 3A level in Kentucky. Who will play the best football in the Classification next season? Well, here’s who we think will…
Belfry High School Pirates; No. 1
This was a really hard decision as to whether Belfry would start out number 1 or would it be defending State Champion Boyle County. In the end, it is hard to bet against the legend Phillip Haywood, Kentucky’s all-time wins leader and the only Kentucky coach to have won a National Coach of the Year award. Haywood led Belfry to four consecutive State Championships ending in 2016. Belfry went 11-2 and got smacked by Louisville Central in the State Quarters 61-20 so you know that left a bad taste in every Pirates’ mouth, particularly Phillip Haywood. Belfry graduated only eleven seniors from off that squad, but one of the eleven seniors was RB Tavion Hunter who set the All-time Kentucky, yards-per-carry, rushing record last season gaining 1,285 yards in only 78 carries with 15 rushing TDs. Coach Haywood also has to replace departing senior Derek Wellman who gained 1014 yards with 18 rushing TDs. Haywood will have a rising junior named Peyton Hensley to carry the load. Hensley gained close to 800 yards from scrimmage last year, as a sophomore, with 11 rushing TDs and QB Kevin Browning also returns after throwing for 730 yards, through the air, as a junior with 11 passing TDs and running for another 425 yards with 8 TDs scored rushing. Paving the way for the backfield, up-front for the Pirates, returns AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater Ethan Wolford. Ethan, who is also a wrestling star, is one of 2020’s most coveted and skilled OL prospects and may be one of the toughest kids Kentucky boasts. The Defense returns leading tackler Austin Fields (112 total tackles) to go along with AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Staters, Grayson Cook (LB) and Ben Bentley (Safety). In addition to last years stable of super sophomores, Belfry boasted, last year, two of the best freshmen in the Commonwealth of Kentucky in AFI-KPG Freshmen All-Staters, Seth Mounts (OLB) and Isaac Dixon who both starred over the course of their freshman years and should be prominently in the mix from snap one this upcoming year. Being honest, Belfry gets the nod here because they have Phillip Haywood and no one else in the Classification does. Though Chuck Smith, the reigning Courier-Journal COY and Boyle HC, is certainly no dog.
Boyle County High School Rebels; No. 2
Remember how I attributed Belfry’s chances as much to having Phillip Haywood as I did to what they did, or didn’t, return roster wise? Well, ditto for Chuck Smith. Coach Smith may not be Phillip Haywood, then again who is? However, the reigning Louisville Courier-Journal Coach of the Year is certainly no dog. He has won 6 State Championships himself and, most recently, last year’s convincing win over the Corbin Redhounds. Boyle graduated 19 seniors from off of that team to include the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s finest Offensive Lineman in Will Bramel. Losing linemen of that caliber is hard to measure for the casual fan but it hurts, let me assure you. The cupboard isn’t exactly bare in Danville, Kentucky. Boyle has Tanner Crawford’s 1,928 yards and 25 rushing TDs returning along with Landen Bartleson, who, by play-off time last year, might have passed Crawford as the Rebels most dynamic run-threat, and who, himself last year, gained 1137 yard rushing with 20 rushing touchdowns. If that name sounds familiar to subscribers here, it certainly should, as he was selected to our AFI-KPG Sophomore All-State football team. Boyle also returns one of the best QBs in Kentucky in AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater Reed Lanter who threw for 2597 yards as a sophomore with 28 TDs against only 4 picks. Lanter has his favorite target returning in AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater Reese Smith who provided 1037 receiving yards over his 50 receptions as a sophomore to go along with the 9 interceptions and 40 tackles he had on Defense. Smith was the MVP of last year’s Class 3A, State Championship Game. Defensively, the Rebels lost senior Kaden Gervacio and his 98 tackles from LB but, luckily, sophomore Ezarious Roller, and his 108 tackles from his LB position, are returning! The Rebels could certainly repeat and, upon entering the 4A Classification in 2019, will become immediate heavy-weights in that Class too.
Louisville Central Yellow Jackets; No. 3
Marvin Dantzler’s Yellow Jackets eliminated Belfry last year and it was rude and ugly. Central beat Belfry in the Regional Final 61-20 before falling to Corbin in the Semis 21-20 at home to finish 11-3. They only lose 11 Seniors from off that team, including at QB with Rico White departing after throwing for over 1,000 yards last year with 18 passing TDs against only 3 picks and gaining another 371 yards rushing with 9 rushing TDs on the ground. All told, White accounted personally for 27 Yellow Jacket scores. What Central returns, however, is at least as important as what departed, if not more so. The Yellow Jackets return both Takaius Linton (752 yards from scrimmage with 7 rushing TDs) and Mykah Williams, who as a Junior gained a smidge shy of 1,300 yards from scrimmage and crossed the goal-line 16 times running the ball. The Yellow Jackets, defensively return a monster in AFI-KPG Sophomore All-Stater Aiden Moore and his 6-2, 225 pounds of violent impact. This team, if it can get similar play from the QB position it got last year, could really take home the title.
Corbin High School Redhounds; No. 4
Corbin was 13-2 last year and made it to the State Championship Game before being smoked by Boyle 40-21. In addition to winning 13 games, Corbin did something else last year damn few teams did in beating the Tennessee High School Class 3A State Football Champion Alcoa High School on August 25, 2017 in Alcoa, Tennessee. Corbin only lost 8 seniors from off its State Runner-up ball club but the District 8 Champions lost a HUGE one in Cameron Sizemore. How does a team replace a QB who completed 185 of his 272 passes for 2,695 yards and 32 TDs against 7 picks? Not only could Sizemore throw it around the ball park, but he also ran the ball, last year, for an additional 412 yards and scored 5 TDs on the ground. There isn’t another player on the roster who completed more than 9 passes last year, not named Sizemore, and the player who did was Chase Estep. You would have to think the Redhounds would be reticent to move him to QB, he’s the leading receiver on the team. Estep had 51 receptions for 631 yards and 6 scores last year. When Sizemore wasn’t finding Estep, he found Christian Gosselin who also returns after catching 37 passes for 775 yards receiving and 9 scores as a Junior. Question is, who’s throwing Estep and Gosselin the ball next season? If I knew the answer to that, they probably would have been closer to No. 1. Still, Corbin is Corbin, and they have a State Championship middle school team with which to replenish the roster. While that may be of minimal help next year, it does put them on solid footing two years from now and thereafter.
Caldwell County Tigers; tied for No. 5
Much like Belfry, Caldwell got embarrassed in its last football game last season. I mean, having E-Town travel to Princeton, Kentucky for the State Quarters and beat you 52-6 in front of the home crowd has got to hurt. Caldwell at the time, had won 11 of its last 12 ball games and was, arguably, one of the hottest teams, Commonwealth-wide, in the Class. Let me assure you of this, David Barnes hasn’t won the amount of games he has in Princeton, Kentucky because he can’t coach. He can flat coach! Caldwell, much like Belfry, won’t take the kind of embarrassment it suffered, to end last year, lying down either. Caldwell only graduated 10 seniors from off a 10-3 football team. The Tigers have returning a rising Senior QB, Joby Jaggers, who, during his Junior campaign, his first in the saddle, completed 204 of 297 passes for 2422 yards and 28 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He will have plenty of reliable targets to whom to distribute the football in 6-3 Oliver Parker who corralled 46 passes for 777 yards receiving and 8 TDs last year to go with Jameer Riley, a double threat offensive weapon who gained 716 yards rushing last year with 9 rushing TDs, while also catching 48 of Jaggers’ passes for 665 yards receiving with 7 receiving TDs. Upfront, the Tigers return a very intriguing, two-way lineman, in massive Ben Thompson, 6-5, 320. Thompson, who wears No. 73, bench presses 305 pounds and has a reported, hand-timed, 40 yards dash time in the low 5’s. At 320, that is moving, don’t want to get in the way of that! On defense, the Tigers return the other Riley, Trel who led the Tigers with 8 interceptions and a fumble recovery from his DB slot. Caldwell lost the best linebacker in Western Kentucky, not named Skyler Mayes (McCracken), when Hunter VanHooser departed. VanHooser had 138 tackles last year as well as Will Beshear who had 100 stops. Never fear, the Tigers haven’t run completely out of VanHoosers as little brother, Tate, will attempt to fill big-brother’s shoes.
Elizabethtown High School Panthers; tied for No. 5
Okay I took the whimpy way out and had a tie for the fifth best team in the Classification. One thing is for sure, at the end of last season, E-Town was clearly better than Caldwell and, frankly, as close of a game as they gave Boyle in the State-Semis (Boyle won 14-7 at E-Town), arguably the 2nd best Class 3A team in Kentucky. Facts remain, however, that last season was last season and this is next year. Nobody in the top of 3A has been more ravaged by graduation than E-Town. The Panthers lost 18 seniors including, principally, Jay Becherer and his 1029 yards rushing and 15 rushing TDs. In addition to Becherer, the Panthers also lost Donovan Huskey with his 574 rushing yards and 9 rushing TDs. The Panthers are not completely devoid of Becherer‘s as Jay’s little brother, Joseph, who will be a Junior next year, returns, as does his 102 tackles he tallied as a Sophomore. Maybe even more important to losing all the ground production was the Panthers losing QB, Tyler Durbin. Durbin threw, last year, for over 1,500 yards with 21 TDs against 5 picks. While the people outside of E-Town may think this is the time to jump the Panthers, we caution you that KPG knows something many of you don’t. E-Town has a young stud at QB who didn’t get much PT as a freshman but we saw him in middle school and QB Clay Games, a former Team Kentucky player, who led TK Stone to the State Middle School Football Championship can spin it mister, let me assure you. Standing approximately 6-3, he will have no trouble standing tall in the pocket. E-town has another rising sophomore stud to catch Games’ spirals and that is Camden Williams. Get ready E-Town, you will like Games to Williams for the next three seasons. Camden caught 6 passes for 64 yards and a score last year, in limited varsity run, but look for those numbers to sky-rocket. Regardless of what they lost, E-Town is still E-Town!
Slightly missing the cut: Paducah Tilghman, LaRue County, Fleming County
Can’t wait to see how this plays out in one of Kentucky’s deepest and toughest Classifications next Fall. This is how we see it at KPG. Take it for whatever you may find it is worth. This has been Fletcher Long reporting for Kentucky Prep Gridiron reminding you to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!
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