Last week we peeked at the 3A classification and have forecasted the first three classifications in three previous weeks. We are forecasting a “top five” preseason in all six of Kentucky’s classifications.
This week we look at Class 4A. We will continue on this march on up toward the ’21 season openers.
Today we give you the 4A Classification. Here is how we see it.
Number one: Johnson Central High School
What do you call 10-1 season with a loss at home to Franklin County in the KHSAA semis? If you attend, play, or cheer for Jim Matney’s Golden Eagles, it is called three distinct things…a complete disaster, a horrible season, a wake-up call.
That is simply how good this program has become. Anything short of Kroger Field and playing for the title is terrible. Losing in the semis to them is on par with a first-round exit.
There is ample evidence around Johnson County, Kentucky that the Golden Eagles will be back in the hunt this coming Fall. The first place to look for such evidence is along its lines of scrimmage.
Up front, the Golden Eagles return UK commitment, Grant Bingham (’22). He isn’t alone. There are people who swear Owen LeMaster is as much of a Friday night superstar just doesn’t quite possess the frame Bingham was fortunate to inherit.
Owen Lemaster (’22) is 6-1, 285-pounds of agile, hostile, and mobile monster at guard. He sports a bench press of 370-plus and squats over 500, making him probably the strongest player in the KHSAA competing in football in ’21.
At a recent “Big Man Challenge,” LeMaster (who may be Kentucky’s strongest high school player) repped 225-pounds an incredible 20 Xs on the bench press! How about them apples?
Both Bingham and Lemaster made Kentucky Sports Radio’s (KSR) preseason All-State team. Bingham is a returning AP All-State football player (2020) and LeMaster has been selected to the AP team twice (2019 & 2020).
Dylan Preston has graduated but Mason Lawson (’23) “a’int no dog.” Lawson was selected to the KSR, preseason All-State team for ’21 and gained 812-yards in 83-carries with 10-rushing TDs in ’20 working behind Preston. Lawson was the team’s second leading scorer in ’20 and the ball club’s leading returning scorer as we begin ’21.
Grant Rice (’22) is back behind center and people don’t appreciate what a boon that is. Sure, Johnson Central threw 37-passes in all of ’20 but Rice completed 24 of them, threw for 649-yards, and had a 9:1 TD to INT ratio. Plus Rice gained 359-yards on the ground in 54-carries with 6-rushing TDs.
Quarter-back in the JCCHS system relies on skilled and deft ball handling in the offensive backfield. Grant Rice is an eye/hand coordinated trickster back there. He makes them go, and will again this coming Fall.
Austin Ratliff (’22) is back at PK. We can’t overstate how important it is to have a PK return who converted 52 of 55 PATs in 11-games in ’20. He accounted for nearly 5-points a game in ’20.
On defense, Mason Lemaster had 88-tackles a year ago with 8.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, a FR, and 2 INTs. Add up all his contributions from both sides of the football and the term “Mr. Football” may come to mind.
Jesse McCoy (’22) returns upfront for the defense. In ’20, McCoy led the ball club with 9.5 TFLs and threw in a QB-sack of his own.
Keygan Pelfrey (’22) is also back at his TE/DE post. Pelfrey, one of the best in Kentucky at DE in our humble opinion, had a solid 52-tackle year in ’20 throwing in 5.5 TFLs, 2-sacks, and a FR.
As for third-level guys, Jacob Cain (’22) returns. He was 4th on the team in tackles, behind Lemaster, Price, and Pelfrey, and he contributed 4.5 TFLs, a FR, and a whopping 4-INTs (club house leader) in ’20. Reece Goss (’22) is back there too and had 2 INT’s himself and one of the team’s 2 “pick-sixes.”
Overall, this is a very solid team which felt it should have won it all in ’20 after having been ranked at the top of the polls for the entire season until the very end. This team and Boyle County figure headed for each other in ’21 and the last time the two of them met for a title (’19) it was a masterpiece (21-20) with the Golden Eagles prevailing. We could see a rematch of this in ’21.
Number two: Boyle County (defending Class 4A champions)
Boyle County won a state title in ’20, its first since moving up from 3A to 4A in 2019. It has lost some real fire power since a season ago.
Will McDaniel was the 4A Player of the Year in ’20. He will take his talents down the road about three to five minutes and align in the Centre Colonel backfield. The loss of Luke Sheperson may prove about as costly.
However, QB Jagger Gillis has reclassified into the ’22 class and getting him back is getting back quite a lot. Gillis threw for 2,037-yards and 25-TDs a year ago and suffered just the lone interception. He also completed close to 70% of his passing attempts and was the second leading ground gainer in ’20, gaining 415 yards in 74-carries with 12 of the carries going for TDs.
Cole Lanter is back at WR. He’s a ’22 prospect and he caught 38-passes a year ago for 647-yards and 9-TDs. Boyle County returns the best kicker in the Kentucky high school game in Jackson Smith, ’22. Me made 54 of his 58 attempted PATs and was 4 of 6 in FGs. If you think that is something, and we assure you it is, you should see Smith punt.
Dalton Stone is back on the defense. Tommy Ziesmer, ’23, may be the best DE in all of Kentucky still playing high school football.
Cash Logan was “Cash Money” patrolling the defensive third-level for Boyle County in ’20 in spite of only playing in 7-games. Logan led the defense with 3-interceptions.
Overall, this team gets nudged aside for the top spot in Class 4A though we could have gone Boyle’s direction without much argument. We didn’t pick Boyle for just a few reasons.
First, it is very difficult to repeat. Second, it lost the classification’s Player of the Year from out of its offensive backfield. Third and last, Johnson Central returns, virtually in tact, from a team which was at the top of the class all of ’20.
Number three: Corbin High School
Tom Greer’s Corbin Redhounds opened with a narrow loss to Beechwood before winning 8 of its last nine. Johnson Central knocked Corbin out in the Regional Title game.
Still, Corbin has some of the most lethal weapons anywhere. Treyveon Longmire, ’22, is one of Kentucky’s more ardently pursued football players at any level of competition. Longmire played on both sides of the scrimmage in ’20 and has attributes too numerous to list.
Leading rusher, Seth Mills, ’22, returns. He gained 628-yards a year ago in only 69-carries with 11 of those carries going for TDs. My goodness, this guy needs more carries. We feel he will be accommodated in ’21.
Cameron Combs returns as a dual threat QB. Combs is a ’23 prospect turning heads.
Combs threw for 1,241-yards and 14-TDs in ’20. Combs rushed for 288-yards on 67-carries with 6 of those rushes crossing the goal line.
Combs favorite target, Brody Wells, is also a classmate, as he too is a ’23. Wells led the ball club in receiving yards and TDs receiving though only playing in 8-games. He was second in receptions. He was also 4th on the club in scoring.
Dakota Patterson is also a ’23, giving Corbin one of Kentucky’s very best ’23 classes of prospects anywhere. Dakota was the club leader in receptions.
Another top ’23, Jacob Baker, is back on special teams in 2021. The young place-kicker was 26 of 28 on PATs and a perfect 5 for 5 in FGs.
The defense has to replace both Austin Lewis and Dawson Fore but the return of Brayden Reynolds should help balm that wound. Reynolds had 66-tackles a year ago with 6 of the team’s 17 TFLs and 3 of its 13 QB-sacks.
Seth Mills led the defense’s third level and he is returning. He had 5-picks a year ago. The team only had 10. Bryson Batt was second on the team in picks with 2 and he is also on the ’21 roster.
Overall, this team has one of the deeper and more talented rosters full of ’23 prospects anywhere in the KHSAA. They have some fine rising seniors, but pencil them in as the early favorites to get selected the top of our preseason top-5 for the ’22 season. Like Paducah Tilghman, in the 3A classification, this ball club’s year might be ’22.
Number four: Central High School (Louisville)
First of all, this program takes a backseat to nobody’s when it comes to talent unloading off a bus. These guys are filthy with players and players who pass the “eye-test” year in and year out. This coming season will be the rule and not the exception.
Having the QB return is a big boost for any roster. QB Vernon Duncan (’22) is back for his senior season and he does exactly what the system requires of him. Like Grant Rice at JCCHS, this guy is slick with that football in the offensive backfield.
Getting a stud back at running-back is usually what the doctor ordered for most programs. Malachi Williams would seem to fit the bill nicely.
Williams (’22) gained 835 years in 129 carries with 10-rushhing TDs in only 7 games in ’20. Williams was also the ball club’s leading scorer, scoring 72 points over his 7-games.
Second leading rusher Justin Bush (’23) gained 524 yards in ’20 in only 76 carries with 4-rushing TDs. He too returns giving Central a very potent 1-2 threat running the football.
Leading receiver Jaylen Thomas (’22) returns as does second leading receiver, and all time “name team” memeber, D Jure Johnson. Both of these superior athletes are ’22 prospects.
Defensively, we may mention some names we have before mentioned. Malachi Williams (’22) also led the team in ’20 in total tackles, tied for second on the club in TFLs, and led the team in QB-sacks. This would have to make him among the more potent two-way players in Kentucky.
Class of ’23 prospect Khrystian Washington, another wonderful given name, was third on the team in tackles in ’20 and looks to build on the momentum gained over his sophomore season as a junior in ’21. Washington is such a beast of a ’23 prospect one wonders how Tom Greer missed getting him to play at Corbin.
Jaylen Thomas, another two-way star who led the team in receptions, also led the team in interceptions from his DB slot. Thomas, a ’22 prospect, had 4 of the ball club’s 6-picks including one of the two pick-sixes. D Jure Johnson had the other pick-six, a third two-way guy who factors in “big time” on both sides of the scrimmage line.
Central will be breaking in a new place kicker in ’21 as Lee Florexile walked across the graduation stage last spring. Central is in the same district with Franklin County so that should give you an indication of how we see the 4th-District finishing in ’21.
Overall, Central High School is a threat to challenge for a state title in football in any year. If there is a choke point for talent crowding the Central football roster, we have yet to discover it.
Number five: John Hardin High School
When talking about John Hardin, the discussion will begin and end with its head coach Doug Preston. Preston knows something about winning in 4A as he took Franklin Simpson to back-to-back titles in 2017 & 2018.
Hoptown was able to best John Hardin in ’20 in the Regional Championship game, 14-10. It was just as well, the winner was getting Boyle County at Boyle and we saw how that worked out for the Tigers of Hopkinsville.
In a strange way, John Hardin probably would have given the Rebels from Boyle a better game. Sure, Hardin didn’t have Hoptown’s offensive fire power but its style of play may have denied Boyle enough possessions to prevent them running up the points Boyle amassed against Hoptown (55-0).
That was ’20. Let’s talk about now!
Coach Preston has his QB, Kaden Wilson (’22), returning even though he was listed on last year’s roster as a senior. We believe he has reclassified acting on information fed to us which we believe reliable. SB-128 has made picking a preseason, top-5 a really tough challenge this year.
We know Hardin gets Keyandre Strand (’22) back for ’21. Strand had 67-carries but still gained 828-yards in ’20 with 9-rushing TDs at his RB post. Isaiah Harris (’22) returns and gives Hardin both a running and receiving threat. Harris gained 547-yards rushing in ’20 on only 49-carries with 6 rushing TDs while catching 4-footballs for 93-yards receiving and 2 more scores through the air.
David Mendez (’22) will be the leading returning tackler in ’21 from his position along the defensive first-level. He had 38-tackles a year ago in only 8-games with 16-TFLs, 4-QB sacks, 4FFs, and 1FR. That is quite a lot of production out of one defender and demonstrates Mr. Mendez is not just waiting around the line of scrimmage for plays to get to him. You don’t amass the TFLs and sacks, while forcing the amount of fumbles forced by Mendez, without being super aggressive and super “down-hill.”
Kevin McCroskey (’24) was a freshman in ’20. The ’24 prospect had 32-tackles, 10-TFLs, 2-QB sacks, and a FR over his 8-games. He will be a sophomore in ’21 and, with a full year, his production should skyrocket.
Overall, this is a very solid team with a hard style of football to match successfully. They are coached by a head coach and staff who “have been there.” We believe this team, in only the second year under Coach Preston, will make significant strides in ’21. We believe they will be Regional Champions but on the road for the Semis, at either Paintsville or Danville. Either way, that would seem to be the end of the road.
Honorable Mention: Franklin County, Knox Central, Allen County-Scottsville, Hopkinsville, Letcher County Central, Lexington Catholic
This is HB Lyon reporting for Kentucky Prep Gridiron reminding you that WE’RE JUST CALLING IT LIKE WE SEE IT!
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