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 3A — the third-smallest football-playing classification under the Kentucky High School Athletic Association — as voted on by coaches in the division.
1. Boyle County
Head coach: Chuck Smith (fifth season)
Last year: 14-1, won Class 3A championship
Quick look: Smith’s first stint at Boyle County featured a string of five straight championships from 1999-2003, and it sure feels like another multi-year run could be on the horizon. The Rebels graduated 21 seniors, including lineman Will Bramel, who’s now at Purdue, but the bulk of their big-time play-makers last season were sophomores and juniors who grew up in a hurry to bring another title back to Boyle County.
Junior Landen Bartleson has offers from Louisville, Purdue and Colorado. He was a 1,000-yard rusher and scored 20 TDs for the Rebels but wasn’t their leader in either category; that distinction belonged to Tanner Crawford, who as a junior went for 1,928 yards and 25 TDs. Reese Smith, a junior with offers from Cincinnati, Austin Peay, Ball State and Troy, led the way with 1,037 yards, 14 receiving TDs and nine interceptions (two returned for TDs). while the guy tossing balls to him, Reed Lanter, returns for a junior campaign after nearly throwing for 2,600 yards and 28 TDs with only four interceptions. Oh, Boyle County also has the No. 1 kicker, nationally, in the class of 2022 in Jackson Smith, and returns its leading tackler, junior Ezarious Roller. The Rebels are back, y’all.
Head coach: Philip Haywood (35th season)
Last year: 11-2, lost in Class 3A quarterfinals
Quick look: The Pirates saw their four-year reign atop Class 3A end with one of their worst playoff defeats last season, but that’ll just serve as motivation to get back. A formidable trio of experienced linemen — Austin Lawson (6-foot-4, 308 pounds), Dagen Rash (6-2, 262) and Ethan Wolford (6-2, 267) — will help ease the Pirates along as they shore up their skill positions following the graduations of Taveon Hunter and Derek Wellman, two of the best to ever come through the program. Junior Peyton Hensley, who rushed for 11 TDs and nearly 800 yards last season, will take on a bigger role in the Belfry backfield, which never lacks for ample production.
Head coach: Marvin Dantzler (third season)
Last year: 11-3, lost in Class 3A semifinals
Quick look: Had a couple plays gone differently it easily could have been Central playing Boyle County for last year’s state title, but instead a one-point loss ended its season one round early. U’Kari Baker, a 6-foot senior, doesn’t have an FBS offer but has been involved with several schools; he led the Yellow Jackets in receiving (624 yards, 12 TDs on 40 of the team’s 71 receptions) last year. Running back Mykah Williams, who was just shy of a 1,300-yard rushing season, scored 18 TDs and is back as a senior. The Yellow Jackets also boast a number of experienced linemen in Kyle Wilson (6-3, 315 pounds), Jajuan Boone (6-2, 290) and Austin Moore (5-9, 230).
Head coach: Justin Haddix (fifth season)
Last year: 13-2, lost in Class 3A championship
Quick look: The Redhounds won 10 straight games before running into Boyle County in last year’s finals. Chase Estep, who has committed to play baseball for the University of Kentucky, was Corbin’s leading rusher and its second-leading receiver last season but will step into the quarterback role as a senior. Fellow seniors Christian Gosselin and Cameron Maguet will be key contributors on offense and in the defensive backfield. Linebackers Grant Gibson (96) and Noah Taylor (92) led the team in tackles last season and are back for one last go-around; Gibson also came up with five fumble recoveries, two for TDs, in 2017.
5. Lexington Catholic
Head coach: Nigel Smith (first season)
Last year: 7-6, lost in Class 3A quarterfinals
Quick look: Catholic was rocky against a stacked scheduled in 2017 — it won consecutive games just once, and those were in the opening rounds of the postseason — and it’ll play many of those same teams this season. District frontrunner Boyle County is loaded, but the Knights have Beau Allen, who has scholarship offers from UK, Michigan, Maryland and Cincinnati and who continues to impress on the recruiting circuit. Sam Vaughn, an offensive tackle who’s committed to Miami (Ohio), is the biggest name for an experienced line that’ll protect Allen and keep Catholic’s opponents honest on defense. Smith, a longtime defensive coordinator with the program, thinks sophomores Dylan Bracken, Jackson Corbett and Jackson Klein could find themselves in the rotation.
Head coach: Mark Brown (fifth season)
Last year: 12-2, lost in Class 3A semifinals
Quick look: Aside from Danville (which won), no team came closer to knocking off Boyle County than E-town did in its 14-7 semifinals defeat, marking the third straight season its season ended in the penultimate round. Eighteen seniors graduated from the program and there are plenty of holes to fill, particularly on offense, but the Panthers’ cupboard isn’t bare, particularly at the line of scrimmage. Ryan Pyles, a sophomore, got a ton of snaps at center last season after Joel Lupresto, now a senior, missed most of the season with an injury. Lupresto will play offensive tackle along with Zion Gee, a junior, and senior Gary Galloway. Jackson Curto, a 6-1 junior who transferred from Virginia, will be an immediate threat in the defensive backfield.
7. Paducah Tilghman
Head coach: Jonathan Smith (first season)
Last year: 5-7, lost in Class 3A second round
Quick look: Tilghman started 1-5 last season but three of those losses were to higher-class opponents and only one (a 47-14 defeat against Class A finalist Mayfield) was out of reach. Makel Askew, who rushed for 925 yards and 10 TDs, should again lead the ground attack as a senior. TayShawn Carruthers, a wide receiver and defender last season, will quarterback the team this fall. Colbe Crim, last season’s leading tackler, is back. Last year’s head coach, Steve Duncan, retired abruptly before the season started after suffering a mild stroke.
8. Caldwell County
Head coach: David Barnes (13th season)
Last year: 10-3, lost in Class 3A quarterfinals
Quick look: The Tigers, like district mate Tilghman, saw their season end at the hands of E-town but fared better otherwise. The two again will battle for area supremacy. Trel Riley, who has committed to Western Kentucky as a cornerback, had six interceptions last year for Caldwell County and was an offensive machine (744 yards on 150 carries and 467 yards on 48 catches). He’s joined by two other productive senior receivers, Oliver Travis (784 yards, eight TDs) and Travis Newsom (467 yards, seven TDs), with whom second-year starter Joby Jaggers (2,422 yards and 28 TDs as a junior last year) is well-acquainted.
9. Western Hills
Head coach: Don Miller (13th season)
Last year: 8-4, lost in Class 2A second round
Quick look: Boyle County and Lexington Catholic being in its same district is a bummer for Western Hills — both tend to have deeper rosters than do the Wolverines — but the presence of senior superstar Wandale Robinson is worth the price of admission for any of their games this fall. He’ll enter the season without having made a college decision but is down to a final six of Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue, Ohio State and UK. Nate Johnson, Western Hills’ second-leading rusher behind Robinson in 2017, moves to quarterback. Seniors Will Arflack (6-5, 205 pounds) and Aaron Stockton (6-foot, 278) are seasoned lineman. Carlos Gonzalez, a 6-2 senior safety, leads the defense.
10. LaRue County
Head coach: Joshua Jaggers (second season)
Last year: 10-2, lost in Class 3A second round
Quick look: Jaggers set the bar high in the first year of his second stint with the program, leading the Hawks to 10 wins for the first time since 2006. LaRue’s top rusher and quarterback graduated but Anthony Adkins — a 6-3, 222-pound menace who’s committed to Louisville — is still around and could make a dark-horse run at Mr. Football.
Others receiving votes
(Listed with total points received)
Waggener 13, Powell County 9, Casey County 6, Russell 6, Bell County 5, Garrard County 3, Lawrence County 3, Fleming County 2, Bath County 1
Survey method: Every Class 3A 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: Bath County, Belfry, Bell County, Boyle County, Caldwell County, Casey County, Central, Corbin, Elizabethtown, Garrard County, Lawrence County, Lexington Catholic, Paducah Tilghman, Powell County, Thomas Nelson, West Carter, Western, Western Hills