Titles a tradition
Since Kentucky high school football adopted a playoff system 50 years ago, and state champions were decided on the field instead of in somebody's imagination, a few schools have reaped the most rewards.
As the 2009 season kicks off, those richest programs — Trinity, Highlands, St. Xavier and Beechwood — figure to have the best chance to haul away more trophies come December.
Trinity (19 state titles, including seven in the last eight years) and St. X (11 titles) may be untouchable again in Class 6A.
Highlands (18 titles, including two in a row) is a prohibitive favorite in 5A.
Beechwood (11 titles, including two in a row) will have to be knocked off its throne in 1A.
But as we've seen in recent years, up-and-coming programs can break through and enjoy championship success. Central is the best example. The Yellowjackets, once a doormat, have won back-to-back 3A titles, and are loaded with talent again.
"All of our guys walk with a swagger; they are the champs and nobody can beat them, that's what they think," Central Coach Ty Scroggins said.
■ Trinity will have a first-year quarterback this season, but so what? That shouldn't diminish the Shamrocks' chances of winning their fifth consecutive title. Their last three championships have come with three different QBs — Nick Petrino, Will Stein and Cameron Smyth. Trinity's newest triggerman is junior Brad Kragthrope, son of Louisville Coach Steve Kragthorpe. Bob Beatty's Rocks open the season at home against Indianapolis Lawrence North on Aug. 28.
■ Highlands Coach Dale Mueller has seven state championship rings, but rarely wears one. He sometimes makes an exception when he's playing cards. "I'm a big euchre player, and I'm really competitive. So I might put on all seven rings to intimidate my fellow euchre players," Mueller said with a laugh. As two-time defending Class 5A champ and led by Mr. Football candidate Austin Collinsworth, Highlands is favored to win its 19th state title this season. But the Bluebirds' aspirations soar beyond the state level. "Our main goal is to win state championships," Mueller said. "But we'd also like to get nationally ranked, and ultimately we'd like to win a national championship. Is that realistic for a school in Kentucky with 400 boys? I don't know. But if we can go 15-0, we've got a shot."
■ Bell County, which won the 4A title with a 15-0 record last year, starts the season with the longest winning streak in the state. Coach Dudley Hilton isn't brimming with confidence that his Bobcats can make it 16 in a row. They open the season hosting Tennessee powerhouse Alcoa in the first game of the City/Co. Bowl in Middlesboro. "Alcoa's got about eight Division I players, and they're about four deep at every position," said Hilton, who joked that he won't be able to sabotage the game by turning out the lights. Kick-off is at 6:30 Friday, so the game will be over before it gets dark. Bell County has lots of holes to fill. "We've got a new football team (only six seniors), but we'll try to keep the tradition up," Hilton said.
■ Breathitt County Coach Mike Holcomb is doing his best to keep his locker room germ-free. The Bobcats' players are diligent about wiping down their football equipment daily with disinfectant. Hand-sanitizer dispensers are all over the place, too. It's an effort to prevent MRSA staph infections, flu and other illnesses. Breathitt County, led by star Channing Fugate, opens the season against Mercer County in the Forcht Bank Bowl at Campbellsville on Saturday. The first game matches LaRue County against Campbellsville.
■ The inaugural Fayette Co. Bowl has new sponsors and a new name. Lexington's five public schools will play out-of-town opponents Aug. 28-29 at Tates Creek. The title sponsor, iHigh.com, is calling it "Football Frenzy." UK Healthcare is the presenting sponsor. A news conference Wednesday included most of the participating coaches, along with former city bosses Roy Walton (Tates Creek), Jake Bell (Henry Clay), Steve Parker (Bryan Station) and Mike Meighan (Paul Laurence Dunbar). Former Tates Creek coach and current athletic director Joe Ruddell is coordinating the event. He has experience in such an endeavor. He created the Thoroughbred Bowl that had a highly successful 12-year run at Tates Creek, starting in 1985. The marquee game of "Frenzy," which Ruddell referred to as '24 hours of football," has two-time defending 3A champ Central playing Henry Clay on Aug. 29 at 3 p.m. The rest of the schedule: Aug. 28 — Mercer Co. vs. Tates Creek, 6 p.m.; Shelby Co. vs. Bryan Station, 9. Aug. 29 — Boone Co. vs. Lafayette, 6; Butler vs. Dunbar, 9. All of the games will be streamed live online by iHigh.com.
■ It's not how you start the season but how you finish it. Bullitt East proved that last year. Under new coach Doug Preston, the Chargers lost four of their first six games, but got on a roll that carried them to the 4A finals and a 15-13 loss to Bell Co. "It was a lesson to everybody in the state, and to a lot of people in our program, to keep faith in the kids," Preston said this week.
■ Simon Kenton Coach Jeff Marksberry, whose team made a surprising run to the 6A finals last year before losing to Trinity, has a new task this season. "We want our players to protect the new reputation they have of being a quality ball team. There's some pride in that. It won't be easy. People will want to get after us, so we have to work harder than last year."
■ It's no secret Lexington Catholic is rooting for Justin Burke to win the starting quarterback job for Louisville after transferring from North Carolina State. Burke was an all-stater for the Knights and ranks as their all-time leading passer with 8,770 yards and 120 TDs. "Everybody around here is pulling for him," Lexington Catholic Coach Bill Letton said. "Justin played in our golf scramble a few weeks ago. He's focused and ready to compete. He's had to endure a lot of shuffling in the coaching ranks. Hopefully things will settle down and he'll get his chance."
■ Danny Haney hired a couple of his former Lexington Catholic basketball players as coaches at Windemere Prep in Florida. Haney, who oversees athletics at Windemere, brought on Ben Wilson as head coach and Brian Smith as an assistant. Wilson was a standout shooter on Lexington Catholic's 2000 state runner-up team and played college hoops at New Orleans. He had been coaching at Riverside Academy in Louisiana. Smith, son of former UK and current Minnesota Coach Tubby Smith, played on Lexington Catholic's 2002 state title team. Brian played college ball at Ole Miss, and last year was a junior varsity coach at Southwest High in Minneapolis.
■ Clark Couty boys' basketball coach Scott Humphrey isn't worried that 6-8 junior Vinny Zollo is playing soccer as a back-up goalkeeper for the Cardinals. "Vinny will be fine," Humphrey said. "He has a strong worth ethic and a passion for hoops. He finds time to work on his game even during soccer season." Humphrey also noted that Travis Purvis, who missed his sophomore season with a knee injury, was released by doctors with no restrictions last month. "He's very excited to be back, almost as much as the coaching staff is in having him back," Humphrey said of the 6-6 Purvis.
■ Henry Clay grad Chris Craycraft, a senior pitcher at Murray State, helped the El Dorado (Kan.) Broncos win the National Baseball Conference World Series last week. Craycraft went 6-1 in summer play, posting a 1.66 earned run average with 44 strikeouts in 66 innings.
■ Former Lexington Christian star left-hander Robbie Ross is 4-3 with a 2.58 ERA for the Spokane Indians, a Class A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Ross has 67 strikeouts and 15 walks in 59 innings.
■ Lexington Christian Academy's Maddie Boone was named national soccer player of the year for last season by the National Christian School Athletic Association. LCA teammates Alison Braun and Alex Dunnigan were second-team All-Americans, while Boone, Braun, Dunnigan, Kelsey Ach and Liz Yoder made the Southeast super-region team. LCA's Dylan Fouts and Nate Spain earned NCSAA Southeast super-region boys' honors.