High School Football

Top 10: The Kentucky high school football Class A preseason rankings

The 2018 Kentucky high school football season kicks off on Aug. 17, which means “ranking season” is officially in full swing.

Here are the preseason top-10 teams in Class A — the smallest football-playing classification under the Kentucky High School Athletic Association — as voted on by coaches in the division.

1. Beechwood

Head coach: Noel Rash (13th season)

Last year: 12-2, won the Class A championship

Quick look: Beechwood entered 2017 as the favorite to repeat in Class A and did just that, its only two losses coming against eventual Class 5A champ Covington Catholic (which went unbeaten) and Class 6A stalwart Simon Kenton (against whom it dropped a tight one, 22-14). Among all six classes, Beechwood was the only program to be unanimously named preseason No. 1.

The Tigers will vie for their third consecutive championship, which if earned would give the program its second three-peat (it won four straight from 1991-94) and first under Rash. Brayden Burch, who quarterbacked the last two title teams, and three-way weapon Daniel Mescher graduated along with 11 other seniors but the Tigers return Adam Derry, a menace on both sides of the line who has committed to play center at Middle Tennessee State, and Logan Castleman, who has received three years of touches at running back.

Beechwood celebrated its 41-0 victory over Raceland in the Class A championship game at Kroger Field last December. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

t2. Raceland

Head coach: Michael Salmons (fifth season)

Last year: 10-5, lost in Class A finals

Quick look: Beechwood feasted on Raceland a week after a game-ending field goal put the Rams in the finals for the first time, but aside from that dud it was a remarkable campaign upon which the program is expected to build. The Rams return a wealth of experience on the offensive line — Noah Davidson, Jacob Powell, Braydon Shore and Devin Willett started all 15 games last season — and Dalton Adkins, a two-way standout who was responsible for more than 600 yards of offense and more than 100 tackles on defense.

t2. Pikeville

Head coach: Chris McNamee (10th season)

Last year: 8-5, lost in Class semifinals

Quick look: It was Pikeville whom Raceland overcame with its heroic kick, so perhaps it isn’t surprising to see the teams knotted up for the second overall spot in the preseason. Last year’s record was subpar compared to recent campaigns — the Panthers averaged 11 wins over the preceding four seasons, which included a championship run in 2015 — but Pikeville managed to rebound from a 1-4 start to finish as one of Class A’s finest squads. Even better, it graduated only two seniors from that unit.

4. Hazard

Head coach: Mark Dixon (16th season)

Last year: 9-3, lost in Class A quarterfinals

Quick look: The Bulldogs weren’t able to make consecutive runs to the title game — Pikeville knocked them out, 14-9 — but can always be counted on to trot out a formidable football team. Bailey Blair, a senior who has thrown for 36 TDs and more than 4,000 yards, will start his third straight season for the Bulldogs, now seven seasons removed from their first and only championship.

5. Paintsville

Head coach: Joe Chirico (sixth season)

Last year: 11-2, lost in Class A quarterfinals

Quick look: Paintsville rounds out a quartet of eastern Kentucky teams that lately seem to always dominate the Class A discussion after Beechwood. Junior linebacker Jaylyn Allen, the 6-foot-1 brother of West Virginia University freshman Tyrese Allen, has reported offers from Morehead State, Murray State, Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech but is on the radar of the state’s bigger programs. Josh McClurg, a junior who was expected to take over quarterback duties at Lexington Christian Academy, transferred to Paintsville during the offseason.

6. Campbellsville

Head coach: Dale Estes (sixth year)

Last year: 7-7, lost in Class A semifinals

Quick look: That .500 record is misleading without context — the Eagles’ first six losses were against teams in Class 2A (2), Class 3A (2) and Class 4A (2), and the last was against Beechwood. Campbellsville streamrolled its first three playoff foes to win its third region title in program history. The Eagles graduated seven seniors from a roster of 24 but returns leading receiver Malachi Corley (625 yards, four TDs) and quarterback Arren Hash, who finished 300 yards shy of a 2,000-yard passing season as a freshman.

7. Kentucky Country Day

Head coach: Matthew Jones (seventh season)

Last year: 11-2, lost in Class A quarterfinals

Quick look: KCD’s only loss during the regular season was to Lexington Christian, a Class 2A powerhouse. Its offense was second only to Beechwood — which ended its run — when it came to putting up points in 2017, though it lost its two biggest weapons from that unit. The Bearcats bring back Hunter Bates, a 6-foot-3 tight end and defensive end who’s receiving interest from Ivy League schools, along with senior David Satterly, a 205-pound fullback who averaged 12 yards per carry on only 45 touches last season. Junior Dorian Heard is a wild card — he was a defensive standout last year but may end up playing quarterback for the Cougars.

8. Russellville

Head coach: Mikie Benton (first season)

Last year: 7-5, lost in Class A second round

Quick look: The Panthers’ seven wins last season were their fewest since a 6-6 campaign in 2011. Benton succeeded John Myers, who won more than 100 games and two regional titles in 14 seasons as head coach. He played under Myers and was an all-state defensive back who went on to star for the University of Kentucky, and is the first alumnus to coach the program.

9. Frankfort

Head coach: Craig Foley (16th season)

Last year: 7-5, lost in Class A second round

Quick look: One of the best-kept secrets in Kentucky football is Jonathan Tillman, a 6-foot-6 athlete who did a little bit of everything for the Panthers last year (not just in football, either; he was probably the best basketball player in Franklin County last season). A trio of senior defensive backs — Jevon Bush, Dajuan Davis and Aaron Mitchell — are all likely to see time on offense, too. “Many of our students play 100 plus snaps a game,” Foley said. “True iron-man football, but our kids love it.”

10. Williamsburg

Head coach: Jerry Herron (13th season)

Last year: 7-4, lost in Class A first round

Quick look: Williamsburg hasn’t reached the same heights but it has remained in the Class A conversation since making consecutive title games in 2013 and 2014, nearly winning the second time around. Its enrollment of 120 boys last school year was the lowest of any team ranked in this top 10, but 52 of them suited up for the Yellow Jackets last season. Twelve were seniors — including signal-caller Alec Poore — but leading receiver Eli Mattingly returns as does junior Dalton Ponder, one of Williamsburg’s top rushers a year ago and the heir apparent at quarterback.

Others receiving votes

(Listed with total points received)

Paris 10, Ludlow 10, Nicholas County 7, Crittenden County 5, Lynn Camp 3, Louisville Holy Cross 2, Bishop Brossart 1

Survey method: Every Class A coach was given the opportunity to participate in Kentucky.com’s annual survey, which was emailed to their address listed on KHSAA.org. Multiple attempts were made to contact every coach.

Schools that returned surveys: Beechwood, Campbellsville, Caverna, Fort Knox, Frankfort, Harlan, Kentucky Country Day, Ludlow, Raceland.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader