Parity is taking a beating in Kentucky high school football.
Trinity has been crowned state champion 10 of the last 12 years. Highlands has won an unprecedented six consecutive titles. Central has taken home a big trophy five of the last six years. Bowling Green is a two-time undefeated champion.
Those schools are rated No. 1 in their respective classes this pre-season, so don't expect parity to get much playing time again this fall.
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Trinity graduated one of the most talented senior classes in the history of the state, but USA Today has the Shamrocks No. 2 in the nation in its pre-season ratings.
That may be an oversell, but Trinity still must be considered the dominant 6A school. Coach Bob Beatty has shown he can reload, and he'll start by moving University of Louisville commit Reggie Bonnafon, a receiver last year, to quarterback.
St. Xavier has a new look. Mike Glaser, who led the Tigers to 336 victories and seven state titles in 31 years as coach, stepped down and was replaced by Will Wolford.
Wolford has a lot to work with, including quarterback B.J. Nagle, son of former U of L quarterback Browning Nagle, and 1,000-yard rusher Charles Walker.
Scott County, the best public-school team in 6A last year, led Trinity 14-0 in the fourth quarter of the semifinals before losing 21-14. Jim McKee's Cardinals are well-stocked again, led by senior receiver/safety Scott Daniel, whom McKee is promoting as a Mr. Football candidate.
Ballard, Butler and Male are considered the best public-school teams in Louisville, while Henry Clay, on paper, appears to be the strongest in Lexington.
Bowling Green is stocked with returning starters, including wide receiver and Mr. Football candidate Nacarius Fant, quarterback Devin Hayes, running backs Blue Tisdale and Blake Pillow, and linebacker Lincoln Quick.
Coach Kevin Wallace doesn't mind that people are again touting his Purples as a powerhouse. "I'd rather they say that than say we ain't got nothin'," he said with a laugh.
Wallace doesn't sense any complacency with his team.
"We've got a lot of guys who like to compete. When you've got that, they have a tendency to get better and play well on Friday nights."
John Hardin, which has a 77-7 record since 2007, has a new coach. Mark Brown retired, and defensive coordinator Chad Lewis took over. The Bulldogs, who lost a 14-13 heartbreaker to Bowling Green in the semifinals last year, are led by defensive tackle and Mr. Football candidate Matt Elam and quarterback Patrick Anderson.
Warren Central could give Bowling Green a run for the district title, and Christian County could challenge them both in the region. Harlan County is expected to be the best team in the mountains. Coach Tom Larkey has one of the best linebackers in the state in Carson Whitehead.
Cooper, state runner-up last year, must contend with Conner and star quarterback Drew Barker for superiority in northern Kentucky.
The irrepressible Dale Mueller is once again touting his Highlands team as a juggernaut, and there's no reason to doubt him. The Bluebirds return 23 players who started at some point last season. Highlands' standouts include running back Zach Harris, offensive lineman Nick True, defensive end Seth Hope and linebacker Thomas Wrobleski. Taking over the QB duties will be Drew Houliston.
Collins, which lost to Highlands in the state finals in December, returns nine starters on offense and 10 on defense. Senior QB Page Lawson has thrown for 4,500 yards, rushed for 1,500 and has had a hand in 70 TDs in his career. DeAndre Farris had 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving last fall.
Lexington Catholic, which has lost to Highlands in the semifinals the last two years, has the manpower to earn another shot at the Birds. Boyle County will once again be Lexington Catholic's main region rival. Covington Catholic, led by linebacker Sam Burchell, could give Highlands competition in its own backyard.
Owensboro is back on the map and could have its best team in a long time.
Central has beaten Belfry in the state finals four times in the last six years. There's no reason to think they won't have a rematch in the finals again this post-season.
Central Coach Ty Scroggins' dynasty shows no signs of slacking. The Yellowjackets return a lot of talent, including linebackers Phillip Francis and Donald Styles, and receiver Marcel Malone.
Belfry Coach Phillip Haywood will have another "work in progress" contender, with quarterback/defensive back Sani Warren, and running backs Austin Hatfield and Trenity Carr.
South Warren looks like a title contender in only its fourth year of existence. The Spartans have two of the best defensive players in the state in end Adrian Middleton and linebacker Joel Iyiegbunie.
Paducah Tilghman and Fort Campbell also figure to make some noise in western Kentucky. Bell County, Bourbon County and Wayne County, which went a combined 33-6 last season, are expected to be strong again.
Caldwell County, state runner-up a year ago, starts this season at the top of 2A. The Tigers are led by junior stars Elijah Sindelar, who threw for 2,961 yards and 32 TDs last season, and Jaylen Boyd, who ran for 2,041 yards and 29 TDs.
"Who's No. 1 at the beginning of the year doesn't mean anything," Caldwell Coach David Barnes said. "We should have an opportunity to get back (to the finals), but we better not think it's just going to happen. We've got to work to get better."
Defending champ Newport Central Catholic has a new coach — Dan Wagner — but look for the Thoroughbreds to have the same old winning stride. Senior QB Mac Franzen is among their returnees.
Murray, led by QB Dylan Boone, will fight Owensboro Catholic for supremacy in western Kentucky.
Danville, under new coach Clay Clevenger, will try to turn the tables on Somerset, which has beaten the Admirals six straight times over the last four years.
Mayfield is the pick to win its third title in four years. The Cardinals' key returnees include quarterback Jake Guhy and lineman Kyle Downing.
Beechwood, Mayfield's arch-rival in the playoffs, will be looking for another showdown with the Cardinals.
Beechwood has lots of veterans, led by two-way starters Devon Everett, Mitch Thomas, Max Shover and Jonathan Stokes.
Russellville could contend for its first state title since 1990. The fast and athletic Panthers return nine starters on defense and seven on offense, including QB/DB Barrett Coslin and RB/LB Demarcus Hampton.
Frankfort should be strong again, with junior standout Jalen Washington and sophomore quarterback Anthony Robinson leading the way.
Hazard Coach Mark Dixon has lots of holes to fill, but the Bulldogs have shown they have staying power in recent years.