The beginning of the 2015 season marks the most recent changes for schools' football classifications within the KHSAA's six-class system.
The only city school directly impacted by realignment was Lexington Catholic, which will move from 4A to 3A a season after reaching the 4A semifinals.
Tradition-rich Boyle County moved down to 3A. It and Lexington Catholic are now in District 4 with Garrard County and Western Hills.
"I think that the new classification, especially on our side of the state, has turned out to be really tough," said Rebels Coach Chuck Smith, who noted the year-over-year strength of teams such as Central, Lexington Catholic and Bardstown just in Boyle's region.
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"If you're lucky enough to get out of that region you gotta go play one of the teams out west like Paducah Tilghman or Caldwell County. If you get that done you play somebody like Belfry in the state championship game. Or Corbin or Bell County. It's turned out to be a pretty competitive class from top to bottom."
Highlands has been a championship program at every level of competition in which it has played. Coach Brian Weinrich sees no reason to think that will change as the Bluebirds move back to 5A after a short stay in the class below.
"I'm not worried and I don't say that in regard to the teams we're playing," Weinrich said. "Every year there's not that big a difference. In Kentucky, the classes are so small. There's some states where there's 100s of schools in a classification."
Highlands was one of several schools to voluntarily move to a higher class than its enrollment dictated.
Another program jumping up to 5A is Doss, which won five of its last seven games after getting out to an 0-5 start last year. Coach Phillip Hawkins is excited for the new challenge after seeing what his team overcame in his first season.
"It took a full year just to manage them and teach these young kids how our program's going to go," he said. " ... I think year two's going to be pretty decent."
Of the eight 4A quarterfinalists a season ago, six — Boyle County, CovCath, LexCath, Highlands, Fairdale and Owensboro — either moved up or down in class.
That's definitely not to suggest that the path to a 4A trophy will be any less tough than it was before. Eastern Kentucky powers Johnson Central and Ashland Blazer will be tough outs along with 2014 semifinalist North Oldham and Madisonville, which lost a heartbreaker in the quarterfinals to Owensboro last season. Collins, the 2013 champion, is still around too.
Further looking to shake up things in 4A are perennial 5A contender John Hardin and South Warren, a rising star in 3A since the school opened in 2011. The 4A coaches pegged John Hardin as the favorite to take it all this season.
"We got a lot of high expectations especially coming off the finish that we had last year," said Coach Chad Lewis, who guided the Bulldogs to their seventh straight state semifinals appearance.
South Warren Coach Brandon Smith, son of Chuck, said there's a "big difference" between 3A and 4A.
"I think in our class system your first three classes group together in the same competition level," Smith said. "Then I think there's a big jump when you get to 4A and 5A. It's a different world in 6A.
"Our guys, you try and express that to 'em but they have no idea. ... 3A was kind of top heavy. You had a lot of good teams then a lot of teams that struggled. There's really not those teams that struggle in 4A. Our guys are going to have to adapt to playing really tough opponents all 10 weeks of the year."
Franklin County Coach Chris Tracy said who his team faces doesn't really matter because if you advance far enough, in any class, the competition is top-notch. His Flyers move to 4A along with both East Jessamine and West Jessamine.
Jaguars Coach Mike Bowlin embraced the slide down to 4A for a more rah-rah reason.
"Having teams on (the schedule) that you've never played before I think gives the kids a little bit of excitement and a little bit of new hope," Bowlin said. "It honestly wouldn't matter if it said Trinity, St. X and Highlands on there, the kids don't know any better. ...
"Having new names on those jerseys gives everybody, including the other schools, a renewed hope about how we can do and how far we can go in the playoffs."
■ Schools in counties bordering Fayette that are switching classes in alphabetical order are: Bourbon County (3A to 4A), East Jessamine (5A to 4A), Franklin County (5A to 4A) and West Jessamine (5A to 4A).
■ Out of 221 schools, 47 changed classes. That doesn't include Pendleton County, which was not previously placed and is now in 3A, or McCreary Central, which is not placed in the alignment.
■ Schools volunteering to play in Class 5A despite lower attendance: Highlands, Nelson County, Perry County Central, Letcher County Central, Covington Catholic, Shelby County.
■ Schools declining to play in Class 4A: Atherton, Doss, Madison Southern.
■ Schools accepting a move down to 4A as a result of schools voluntarily playing in higher classes: East Jessamine, Hopkinsville, Logan County, Madisonville, Scott, West Jessamine.
■ Schools volunteering to play in Class 6A despite lower attendance: Ohio County, Cooper, Conner.
■ Schools declining to play in Class 5A: Boone County, Muhlenberg County.
■ Schools accepting a move down to 5A as a result of schools voluntarily playing in higher classes: Dixie Heights, Fern Creek, Oldham County.
■ The KHSAA board used high school male enrollment data from the 2010-11 school year through the 2013-2014 school year to rank where each school fit into the alignment. The minimum number of teams necessary for a full playoff bracket (32) were placed in Class 6A and Class A, then schools were placed into the remaining classes by descending enrollment.
■ The new alignment of schools begins with the 2015 season and continues through the 2018 season, with a review for possible adjustments after the first two years taking place based on any significant increases or decreases in average boys enrollment.