High school football season kicks off Aug. 18. The Herald-Leader will be rolling out stories every day from now until the first day of the season to help prepare you for the months ahead.
It’s no secret that Lexington and Scott County, boasting the biggest student populations, get the lion’s share of attention. But Central Kentucky has tons of other stories worth keeping an eye on this season.
In no particular order, here are my top 10 most intriguing Central Kentucky storylines — excluding Lexington and Scott County — heading into 2017.
Big up front
Scott County’s star junior Brian Hudson, who has more than a dozen major Division I offers, isn’t the only big-time lineman putting in work around Central Kentucky, which has become a breeding ground for FBS prospects.
Boyle County senior Will Bramel, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound offensive tackle, committed to Purdue in June (fun fact: he entered high school as a tight end; he caught two passes for 50 yards as a freshman). Madison Southern Coach Jon Clark thinks Trey Livingood, a 6-3, 290-pound senior guard who committed to Marshall over Eastern Kentucky and Ohio, could be one of the top 10 players in the state this season.
Dalton Tucker, a 6-foot-6, 295-pound senior offensive tackle from Bourbon County, also will play for Marshall after high school ends. Clark County offensive tackle Ben Jackson, a junior, is a “sure-fire Division I player,” head coach Oliver Lucas said.
Anderson County has had back-to-back losing seasons, the first time that’s happened under Mark Peach. Last year’s edition was inexperienced and battled injuries but still had a shot to win a district championship (Madison Southern pulled out a 28-21 win to take its second straight crown). This year could be a return to form for the Bearcats, who earlier this decade were a major player in Class 5A and have added former head coaches Sam Harp (Danville) and Andy Stephens (Casey County/Southwestern) on the sideline.
Four the birds
Last year’s four wins were the fewest by a Franklin County team since a one-win season in 2009. Coach Eddie James is looking for “growth” more than anything in his first year at the helm. “We have some kids back that should be difference-makers for us,” James said. Among those returnees are juniors Tre Simmons (wide receiver) and Jalin Benson (offensive lineman), whom James expects to have breakout years as underclassmen.
Bark or bite?
Paris put together one of its best seasons in 2015, going undefeated in the regular season, but stumbled in district play and finished 5-6 in 2016. The bright side? Quarterback Aaron Maggard, one of Class A’s best passers, is a senior this season and has one of the region’s best athletes to throw to in fellow senior Eric Johnson.
Dennis Johnson’s second year at Woodford County ended similarly to the first; a first-round playoff loss and no wins against district foes. The final ledgers — 3-8 — were the same for both campaigns, too. Nine freshmen who are now sophomores got to start at some point for the Yellow Jackets last year, so look for Woodford to be on the uptick.
X marks the spot
Berea has lost 24 straight games dating back to October 2014. Can the Class A Pirates earn their first win under third-year head coach Michael Tate? Their best early chance might be against Green County, whom they host Sept. 1 in their first of only three home games this season; the Dragons lost their last nine games last year.
Last year’s 5-1 start helped Western Hills receive statewide attention but it faltered in district play and finished 7-4 after a first-round playoff loss to Bardstown. The Wolverines haven’t won a playoff game since 2009; a good postseason showing could ignite a Mr. Football flame for star junior Wandale Robinson in 2018.
Clark County won one football game over the past two seasons. Oliver Lucas has previously overseen rebuilds at Bryan Station and Manual and looks to bring the Cardinals, who haven’t had a winning season since 2009, back to life. Former Cards head coach Paul Columbia and James Stults, the defensive coordinator under Columbia during his 13-year tenure (1999-2011), are on Lucas’ staff.
Don’t want a doctor
Garrard County’s roster heading into the season features only 35 players, so “it will be very important for us to stay healthy,” head coach Jerry Perry said. The school graduated its all-time leading rusher (Jacob Foley) but Perry expects the Golden Lions to still have a strong ground attack.
Ninety-five players are listed on the roster Montgomery County filed with the KHSAA. Twenty-four of those players are freshmen and 34 are sophomores, but the overall total is up from the 86 listed a year ago, 29 of whom were freshmen. Only 37 players are juniors or seniors this season, so there could still be some growing pains in Jaime Egli’s second season, but the future looks solid for the Indians.
Correction: The original version of this story said that this was Franklin County Coach Eddie James’ second season with the program. This is James’ first season with the team.