The 16-week high school football season kicks off Friday. Only 106 days until state championship weekend (Dec. 3-4) at Western Kentucky University's L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.
■ Dixie Heights football coach Tom Spritzky didn't foresee this blitz on Colonels quarterback Zeke Pike. We're talking about the recruiting and publicity rush that hit the 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior the last few months. "We knew Zeke was going to be a Division I prospect, but we didn't know it'd happen this quickly," Spritzky said.
Last season Pike played outside linebacker and tight end for Dixie Heights. Spritzky didn't think he was quite ready as a sophomore to take the varsity quarterback reins, but Pike did play jayvee QB.
Then in the spring Zeke's dad, Mark Pike, a former special teams standout with the Buffalo Bills for 13 years (including four Super Bowl appearances), used his contacts and started taking his son to summer camps and college visits.
All of a sudden, Zeke became a hot recruit. Scholarship offers started pouring in from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Purdue, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
"He's got some God-given physical talents, and he also understands the game," Spritzky said. "He's one of those kids who can make plays you don't expect.
"He reminds me a lot of (Jared) Lorenzen when he was growing up. Zeke's not as thick as Lorenzen, but he's that gambler kind of quarterback."
Spritzky and his staff are trying to adjust to having such a high-profile player. "This is not normal for somebody from Dixie Heights to get recruited in this way," he said. "It's all new to us. We've got coaches stopping by, we're getting calls from places like Florida, Tennessee and Alabama. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime shot at our place."
Spritzky said Pike plans to make his college choice before his senior season. While some schools, including Purdue and Oklahoma State, are recruiting him as a QB, some others, including UK, have offered him a scholarship as an athlete, waiting to see how he fares at QB this season.
Spritzky said Pike wants to play QB in college.
■ Highlands has won three consecutive state titles, has a 41-game winning streak against Kentucky competition, and finished last season rated No. 3 in the nation by USA Today. So what does Dale Mueller, the Bluebirds' tirelessly optimistic coach, think about this year? "We feel we can make an improvement," he said. "We'd like to finish first (in the nation) this year." Despite graduating star Austin Collinsworth (who signed with Notre Dame), Highlands is stocked with talent. "A lot of years we've had 20 to 25 really good players we felt were ready to play varsity football," Mueller said. "This year we feel we have 25 to 50 who are ready." The Bluebirds are so deep that for the first time in Mueller's 17 seasons as coach, they've gone completely to two platoons. Nobody will play both offense and defense. Quarterback Patrick Towles (grandson of baseball Hall of Famer and U.S. Senator Jim Bunning) threw for more than 1,000 yards and no interceptions as a sophomore last season. He's now 6-5, 230 pounds. Corey Compton and Jordan Streeter will be the top running backs. Highlands opens Friday at home against Manual.
■ West Jessamine, which starts the season at Madison Southern on Friday, unexpectedly has an open date on Aug. 27. The Colts were supposed to play host to Iroquois that night, but that game has been canceled because Iroquois doesn't have enough players to field a team. West Jessamine hopes to find a game for Sept. 24, another open date on its schedule.
■ Southwestern's football team will honor the memory of Tyler Pickerell this season. Pickerell was a senior running back/defensive back on last year's team. He died in a boating accident in early May, three weeks before graduation. "He was a good young man," said Coach Dale Anderson, who added that Pickerell's locker still has his equipment in it, "and all the kids touch it on their way out to practice." Southwestern, expected to be one of the better teams in 5A, has a tough opener against perennial power Bowling Green in the Rafferty's Bowl at WKU Saturday night. "Our confidence level is good," Anderson said, "but I'm not sure we're aware of what we're up against in Bowling Green.
■ Bell County Coach Dudley Hilton begins the season with 332 victories, 13 shy of tying recently retired Newport Central Catholic Coach Bob Schneider's state record of 345. Bell County should be one of the best teams in Class 4A this year, so it's possible that Hilton could catch or even pass Schneider's career total this fall. If not this year, then surely next. "It's all gone so fast I can't believe I'm in position to do that," Hilton said. "It just amazes me." Hilton remembers carrying his newborn son, John Dudley, on the field after Bell County won the 1991 state title in Louisville. Now John Dudley is a senior standout for the Bobcats. "Where did all the time go?" said Hilton, who has an overall record of 332-100.
■ Rivals' pre-season top 100 national ratings include just one Kentucky team: St. Xavier is No. 77. ESPN's Power Ade Fab 50 has no Kentucky teams, but does designate Trinity as the top team in the state.
■ Since football expanded to six classes a few years ago, it doesn't mean much to say which district is the toughest because just about everybody qualifies for the playoffs. But one district loaded with Division I talent is Class 6A, District 5. Ballard has DeVante Parker (who's committed to U of L) and Flo Hardin (IU). Eastern has Jon Davis (UK). Seneca has star quarterback DaMarcus Smith (U of L). Trinity has some of the best young talent in school history, including sophomores James Quick and Jason Hatcher.
■ All of Lexington Catholic's games will be broadcast on WMJR-AM 1380, with Steve Tressler doing the play-by-play, and former UK and NFL running back Marc Logan doing the color. Logan's son Marcelis is a freshman running back at Catholic.
■ Clark County's Cardinal Classic golf tournament at Kearney Hill Links on Aug. 28 will feature several of the top boys' teams and players. The 24-team field will include defending state champ St. Xavier and Justin Thomas; Lexington Christian and Hunter Stewart; Paul Laurence Dunbar and Will Bishop; Henry Clay and Preston French; Lexington Catholic and Daniel DeLuca and Ben Fister; West Jessamine and Fred Allen Meyer. Meyer, a freshman, won the Kentucky Invitational Tournament last week, shooting a 2-under-par 70 at Nevel Meade. St. X took the team title.
■ Rumors sometimes turn out to be true. While Shelby County freshman Darryl Hicks was starring in the Sweet Sixteen last March — he poured in 30 points against Ballard — whispers circulated around Rupp Arena that Hicks would transfer before his sophomore year. Speculation seemed to favor Hicks heading to Louisville Trinity rather than staying at Shelby County or going to Martha Layne Collins, the new school in his hometown. Hicks enrolled at Trinity last week. He will sit out his sophomore year and be eligible to play for the Shamrocks as a junior.
■ Elliott County 6-foot-8 senior Timmy Knipp, who led the state in scoring last season, has committed to EKU. Knipp averaged 30.8 points and 8.5 rebounds as a junior, and started as a freshman and sophomore on the Lions' Sweet Sixteen teams.
■ Louisville Eastern senior pitcher/infielder Spencer Drake has committed to play baseball at UK. Drake won six games last spring with a 1.24 ERA, and had 91 strikeouts in 62 innings. He also hit .430 with 48 RBI.
■ Former Paintsville baseball standout Shane Grimm, who had a 7-0 pitching record at Walters State Junior College in Tennessee last spring, will sign with UK in November. Grimm will pitch for Walters State again this season. Grimm also starred in basketball at Paintsville and helped the Tigers to the 2008 Sweet Sixteen.