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 2A — the second-smallest football-playing classification under the Kentucky High School Athletic Association — as voted on by coaches in the division.
Head coach: Joe Morris (20th season)
Last year: 13-2, lost in Class 2A finals
Quick look: Western Kentucky’s winningest program — Mayfield is third in state history with 873 victories, behind only Highlands (885) and Male (878) — is favored to win its 13th state title in 2018. The Cardinals failed to overcome Danville in last year’s title game, but were just about flawless otherwise (their only other loss was a three-point defeat to Class 3A finalist Corbin). They put up more points (684) than anyone in Class 2A last season (Lexington Christian was next at 618) and return last year’s leading rusher, Kent Trey Matthews, who went over 1,000 yards and scored a team-high 22 TDs for the Cardinals.
Connor Guthrie, a 6-foot-3 senior, will likely split time with Jaden Stinson, a junior who threw for 250 yards and 2 TDs in last year’s finals, at quarterback. Defensive ends Brady Smith, a three-year starter who’s been offered by a few in-state schools, and fellow senior Quorterrius Cherry will keep opposing offenses honest.
Head coach: Clay Clevenger (sixth season)
Last year: 15-0, won Class 2A championship
Quick look: Typically in these surveys, the defending champion earns “preseason favorite” status by default but that did not turn out to be the case for the Admirals, who last December ended a 14-year gap between state titles. That’s no doubt in part because they graduated some exceptional play-makers on both sides of the ball — Tanner Ford, Don Harris and Jaleel Warren, to name a few — along with Mr. Football winner D’mauriae VanCleave. Danville is not expected to fall too far, though. Senior quarterback Zach Thornton, who threw for 2,576 yards, 37 TDs and only five interceptions last year, will provide a steady presence as the staff brings along talented but inexperienced guys on offense. Darrian Bell, the team’s leading tackler as a sophomore, should see his role grow on both sides and Nathan Hazlett, a senior, will continue to be a difference-maker on special teams; he’s ranked as the No. 3 kicker and No. 5 kickoff specialist in the class of 2019, nationally.
3. Christian Academy of Louisville
Head coach: Stefan LeFors (eighth season)
Last year: 11-3, lost in Class 2A semifinals
Quick look: CAL put its name on the list of KHSAA football champions in 2016 and has established itself as a program capable of becoming a multi-time titlist. Several of the principals involved in the Centurions’ first run to glory are still around, including Milton Wright, a senior who could challenge for Mr. Football honors this winter. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound wide receiver, rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports, has reported offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Purdue along with UK and Louisville. Junior linemen Austin Collins (6-3, 255 pounds) and John Young (6-5, 290 pounds) both have multiple Division I offers as well (UK, U of L and Tennessee have offered Young).
Head coach: Harold Davis (seventh season)
Last year: 12-1, lost in Class 2A quarterfinals
Quick look: The Colts took one of the state’s best scoring defenses into last year’s playoffs and allowed only nine points in their seven games prior to a 24-3 loss to CAL in the region finals. That defense returns some key weapons, including sizable juniors Dejuan Watkins (a 6-foot, 265-pound tackle) and Demetri Scott (a 6-2, 260-pound end who goes both ways). Senior linebacker Amos Griffith will take on more responsibility, as will senior Shawn Kaufman in the defensive backfield. Savion Stivers and quarterback Aaron Pfaddt are back for an offense that produced much of its yardage by committee but lost its top two scorers.
Head coach: Jeff Garmon (fourth season)
Last year: 10-4, lost in Class 2A semifinals
Quick look: Tanner Bowles, a four-star offensive tackle who’s committed to Alabama, is by himself bigger than some of the entire defensive lines Glasgow will find itself matched up against this season. Danville kept Glasgow from advancing to its fifth title game, and first since 2011, but the Scotties bring back several capable weapons (Nick Mitchell, Dontavis Oates and Tanner Abernathy) who can thrive behind their big man and produce another opportunity to play for it all.
6. Lexington Christian Academy
Head coach: Ethan Atchley (fifth season)
Last year: 11-2, lost in Class 2A quarterfinals
Quick look: LCA graduated 12 impressive seniors who quickly helped bring the program back from the basement it was in just five years ago. With their departure — as well as that of some transfers, among them future Division I lineman Walker Parks — will come some growing pains, but the Eagles are still expected to be in the mix. A smaller group of seniors, led by linebackers Blane Hardin and Kaleb Bolton, will have to bring along an influx of talented freshmen who ought to have their number called early. One of them? Xavier Brown, a 5-9 wide receiver and defensive back whom Atchley said is “the best freshman I have witnessed play on film and in person.”
7. Newport Central Catholic
Head coach: Stephen Lickert (first season)
Last year: 6-6, lost in Class 2A second round
Quick look: The Thoroughbreds will have to spend one more season in Class 2A, which has become one of Kentucky football’s deepest divisions, before dropping down to Class A, where they instantly should be a perennial favorite (especially with Beechwood making the leap to 2A in 2019). Lickert comes over to NewCath from Campbell County, whom he led to back-to-back district titles in 2011 and 2012, the 2011 trophy the program’s first in more than 30 years. Senior Kyle Kelly, a 6-2 linebacker who’s committed to Ohio, also was the Thoroughbreds’ leading rusher last year.
8. Owensboro Catholic
Head coach: Jason Morris (first season)
Last year: 8-5, lost in Class 2A quarterfinals
Quick look: Several Division II and Division III schools have offered Von Williams, who rushed for 906 yards and 16 TDs last year, but Louisville and several Ivy League schools also have kept in touch with the 6-2, 205-pound senior. Leading receiver Nick Mills (968 yards, 14 TDs as a junior) and quarterback Drew Hartz (1,805 yards, 26 TDs as a sophomore) are also back for the Aces, who were a few stops away from a double-digit win total last season. Morris was the offensive coordinator the last two seasons under John Edge, who left for a head coaching job in Indiana.
Head coach: Robbie Lucas (10th season)
Last year: 7-5, lost in Class 2A second round
Quick look: The Briar Jumpers lost their starting quarterback, leading rusher and leading receiver but do have last year’s leading tackler, Peyton Hatcher, back as a senior. Don’t count them out, though: Somerset gave Danville two of its toughest games last year and always finds a way to compete in what is probably the toughest district in Class 2A.
Head coach: Jeff Barth (11th season)
Last year: 9-3, lost in Class 2A second round
Quick look: Last year’s Bearcats finished one win shy of matching the school record for wins and return several players with multiple years of experience on defense, including four-year starter Tyler Scharader, a 5-9 defensive back. He’ll spot Micah Alford, a senior fullback who should challenge for a 1,000-yard season, in the offensive backfield as well. Grant Grubbs, an offensive lineman and linebacker, could finish his senior year as the school’s all-time leader in tackles.
Others receiving votes
(Listed with total points received)
Murray 6, Lloyd Memorial 3, Shelby Valley 2, Monroe County 2, Carroll County 1
Survey method: Every Class 2A 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: Ballard Memorial, Butler County, Carroll County, Christian Academy of Louisville, DeSales, Gallatin County, Green County, Lexington Christian Academh, McLean County, Metcalfe County, Murray, Owensboro Catholic, Shelby Valley, Walton-Verona.