Our guess…the preseason 3A Top-five (5), how we see it…@minguabeefjeerky @kyhighs @HopkinsCentral @evans02_mike @_CoachManning @PrepSpin @1776Bank @KyHighFootball

The Centurions were left standing alone when the champions was crowned in '22. Will they be left standing in '23? Perhaps...

Every year we publish, preseason, which teams we believe will challenge for the title at each of Kentucky’s competitive classifications. No classification is ten teams deep.

This year, the below five (5) teams appear to us to each have a claim on being the best team at this level of play. It will be difficult to unseat Christian Academy-Louisville and former 3A bully, Central High (Lou.) is back in 3A, but this team (particularly with the transfer downs) figures to be one of the more competitive.

As proof of how tough this classification will be, traditional heavyweights like Union County and Trigg, together with transfer down Hopkins County Central (who will be very, very tough) are not even ranked. Should any class be 10-teams deep in quality, 3A may be the closest and we are including “mighty” 6A.

This should be interesting. This is how we see it…

The likely Champion,…Christian Academy-Louisville

We were talking to a well respected DC of an area school a year ago and he told us CAL was not just the best team in 3A in ’22, they were the best team he had seen in the KHSAA in the last 20-years. This guy’s team plays a bevy of 5A and 6A teams yearly. 

Teams hoping to repeat, like CAL, hope to return a QB. The Centurions return one of Kentucky’s finest at the position in ’24 Cole Hodge. 

Cole Hodge, 48-passing TD’s in ’22

Hodge completed 169 of his 232 passing attempts (73% completion rate) a year ago for 2,949 yards passing and 48-TD’s against only 4-picks. He led CAL to a 15-0 mark, a 3A title, and a year which would see them run the clock on most every team played. Heck, they beat Bardstown for the title 38-0.

Hodge will be the team’s leading returning rusher, with Gavin Copenhaver’s graduation. Hodge gained 711-yards rushing, on 76 carries, with 9-rushing TD’s making him one of the more lethal dual-threat guys in the Derby City.

Jackson Barickman is gone and with 88-PAT’s a year ago and 5-triples, that is losing quite a bit. We believe Jason Coleman (’25) will get first shot at replacing the All-State caliber specialist.

Darwin Cotton (’25) will be among the leading tacklers returning off a defense which lost quite a few defenders to the graduation stage. Cotton picked off 4-passes, taking one to the house, to go along with his prodigious tackling numbers. Cole Hodge’s brother, Connor (’25), led the back-end in ’22 with 5-INT’s and 2-pick-sixes and he likewise returns. 

Number Two: Central High (Louisville)

If there is to be a serious threat to CAL for this coming season’s title, the threat will come from within the confines of the Derby City. Central High has returned to 3A and bring with them a team which was a threat to win the 4A title just a year ago.

If you build teams on RB’s, then Central is set. The Yellow Jackets may have the best RB in all of Kentucky HS football.

Stone, headed to UofL?

Cortez Stone (’25), in ’22, gained 2,191-yards on 271-carries with 26-TD’s. Stone was the second leading receiver swinging out of the backfield and scored once through the air. Stone scored 12.8-points a game in ’22 by his lonesome.

Avaion Johnson-McNeal is another standout ’25 for the Yellow-Jackets. Johnson-McNeal registered 77-tackles a year ago and picked a pair of passes to finish behind classmate, Javion Wallace (’25), in INT’s. Wallace picked 4-passes and the two of them make throwing the ball down the field against the Yellow-Jacket defense a dubious proposition at best.

Uriah Points (’25) returns and he, along with Johnson-McNeal and Wallace, makes the Yellow-Jacket ’25 graduating class second to none. Points received a pair of fumbles a year ago, led the team with 98-yards of FRNY’s (fumble recovery net yards) and rumbled one into the end zone for a “scoop and score.” 

George Black is back along the defensive line. Black was tied in ’22 for the team lead in QB-sacks, in spite of his (also) being a ’25 guy. 

This is a talented team which dominated 3A the last time the Yellow Jackets competed at that level. There is literally zero reason to think they won’t do that now.

Number Three: Lexington Catholic

It is difficult to imagine the Knights won’t be a tough out in 3A this coming season. They were 10-3 a year ago in 4A and bowed out respectfully from the Regional Finals at the hands of three-time, consecutive, 4A title holder, Boyle County (21-41) in a game which was closer than the final margin indicated.

The Knights beat 6A Henry Clay in ’22 48-6, lost to traditional 5A power Covington Catholic 7-6, and smoked traditional Lexington, 6A powerhouse, Tates Creek, 41-0, along the way. Point is…these guys are stout!

Jackson Wasik

Jackson Wasik (’24) is back for another year and the pro-style QB threw for close to 3,000 (2,954) yards in ’22. Wasik completed 41-TD’s and was only picked 7-times while completing over 70% of his passing attempts (184/262).

Max Mooring (’24) will be the ball club’s returning leading rusher. Mooring gained close to 500-yards a year ago and scored 4-rushing TD’s. The Knights will have to run the ball more effectively to get anywhere amongst 3A powers, but Mooring certainly will not be lacking the skills to do just that.

Wasik’s favorite target, Max DeGraff, has graduated and so has Hunter Foster. Sam Clements (’24) returns and he caught 27-passes, five of which were for TD’s so the cupboard isn’t exactly barren. Replacing DeGraff at PK may prove hardest of all!

Clements doubles at LB. The talented, two-way star had 102-tackles in ’22. Mathew Kern returns at DB from off a defense which suffered heavy losses on defense. Kern registered 67-tackles, 2-TFL’s, and an INT Kern returned 82-yards which didn’t score. Overall, the Knights will prove to be mighty tough in its new classification.

Number Four: Elizabethtown High

Those of us who are “purists” among the KHSAA High School football fans are accustomed to seeing Elizabethtown High compete at championship levels. The Panthers were 8-4 in ’22 which is a fine record by many programs’ standards but won’t get you many accolades around E-town.

Tre Durbin

E-Town will have to replace its QB from a year ago but does return its leading rusher. As we have many times discussed, the ground game wins titles.

Trey Durbin (’24) was a thousand-yard ground gainer in ’22 (1,130-yards) and carried it only 99-times. He scored 13-rushing TD’s and looks to increase on all three numbers over his senior season. Durbin was the club’s leading receiver too and threw in 6-receiving TD’s a year ago.

Brayden Dean (’24) also returns with his 472-yards and 6-TD’s to give the Panthers an enviable one-two punch in the backfield. 

Kushawn King will be one of the stalwarts returning defensively and the Panthers still have Sincere Washington patrolling the back-third. This is a team which has graduated quite a bit of production but this particular classification can say that about many of its returning programs.

Number Five: Bell County

There are several reasons Bell County should be in every preseason top-5 ever published in Kentucky 3A football. Probably foremost among those reasons is the Bobcats being coached by Dudley Hilton.

Dudley Hilton

Hilton has won well over 400-games as a football coach (419-133 by our count) and three KHSAA state titles. His Bobcats are coming off a 10-3 record bowing out against Ashland Blazer in the Regional Finals. 

There are other reasons to feel the Bobcats’ prospects are particularly rosy entering the ’23 season. For starters, Daniel Thomas returns for his final tour around the KHSAA. 

The ’24 RB gained 2,228-yards in ’22 and scored 29-rushing TD’s on only 208-carries. Thomas also led the team in receiving yards and was second in both number of catches and receiving TD’s.

Thomas led the team in scoring, but ofcourse. Thomas also plays defense. Thomas had 87-tackles, 6-TFL’s, 5-QB-Sacks (team lead), 1-FF, and 2-FR’s. 

Blake Evans (’25), last year’s defensive leader in tackles (97), also had 6-TFL’s and a pair of sacks to go along with 2-FF’s, and a FR and will be a junior this coming season. Blake Burnett (’26), a freshman a year ago, led the back third in picks (3) and IRNY’s with 97 of the team’s 125. 

This will be another strong Bobcat team. It will challenge for a title at this level of play.

There it is folks, the top-5 for 3A. Join us later when we break down the 4A classification.

This is Fletcher W. Long, reporting for KPGFootball, reminding you to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!

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About Fletcher Long 1536 Articles
Two-time winner of Kentucky Press Association awards for excellence in writing and reporting news stories while Managing Editor of the Jackson (KY) Times-Voice

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