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2019 Kentucky high school football preview
The 2019 high school football season kicks off Friday, Aug. 23. New high school sports beat writer Jared Peck is rolling out several stories over the next two weeks in the Herald-Leader and on Kentucky.com previewing the season around the city, region and state and highlighting the top players and games. Click below to read all of his previous stories.
With a few new teams in the Class 2A fold this season after realignment, some things hold just as constant as death and taxes, such as Western Kentucky power Mayfield sitting on top of a preseason poll.
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 (21st season).
Last year: 14-1. Lost 34-26 in the state championship to Christian Academy of Louisville.
Quick look: Back-to-back visits to the title game have yielded frustration for the Cardinals, but expect Mayfield to be in contention once again with quarterback Jaden Stinson and leading receiver Kade Neely ready to embark on their senior campaigns.
The Cardinals garnered 16 first-place votes from the 19 coaches’ surveys submitting top-10 votes in the @HLpreps preseason survey.
Stinson tossed for 2,931 years and 35 touchdowns in Class 2A’s most prolific offense, which averaged 48.1 points per game. Neely was on the end of 924 of those yards with 14 TDs. The Cards also return senior Diaz Perry and his 786 yards receiving and nine TDs. Questions remain at running back where senior Markeacio Jackson and sophomore Jax Rogers understudied the graduated 1,872 rushing yards of Kent Trey Matthews.
Head coach: Noel Rash (14th season).
Last year: 12-2. Won the Class A state championship.
Quick look: The 14-time Class A champion, coming off a three-peat, moves up to 2A for 2019. Having 14 seniors who’ve never experienced a playoffs loss helps. They’ll be led by junior dual-threat quarterback Cameron Hergott, who led Beechwood’s balanced offense with 1,671 yards passing and 24 TDs and was their second-leading rusher with 547 yards from scrimmage and seven TDs. The last Class A champ to win 2A in its first year up? Mayfield in 2015 after its own Class A three-peat.
3. Lexington Christian
Head coach: Doug Charles (first season).
Last year: 9-4. Lost 35-31 in the third round to Somerset.
Quick look: Longtime offensive coordinator Doug Charles takes the reins and the Eagles appear loaded. LCA has 95 percent of its offensive production returning, including senior quarterback Jayden Barnhardt and senior wideout DeAirious Smith. Barnhardt had 2,159 yards passing with 26 TDs, with 923 and 11 of that targeting Smith. The backfield has Thomas White, a junior, and Xavier Brown, a sophomore, who each topped 600 yards rushing in 2019. Oh, and the Eagles return nine starters on defense, led by senior Andrew Long’s 104 tackles.
Head coach: Clay Clevenger (seventh season).
Last year: 5-7. Lost 27-14 in the second round to Somerset.
Quick look: The Admirals took a tumble after their 2017 title, thanks in part to a brutal early schedule, but they bring back one of their leading tacklers from the last two years in senior linebacker/tight end Darrian Bell. A young team with only seven seniors will also need to find answers in the backfield with its dual-threat quarterback Zach Thornton graduated. Sophomore Brady Morse got in a few snaps and two TD passes last year.
Head coach: Robbie Lucas (11th season).
Last year: 11-3. Lost 35-12 in the semifinals to eventual champion Christian Academy of Louisville.
Quick look: The Briar Jumpers return a whopping 23 seniors, including leading rusher Alex Miller, who tallied 1,008 yards and 12 touchdowns. They also get back 6-foot-4 junior quarterback Kaiya Sheron, who threw for 1,846 yards and 13 TDs while running for a second-best-on-the-team 505 yards with seven scores. An experienced offensive/defensive line has senior Chase Cimala and juniors Drew Johnson and Ethan Harper, all listed at 6-foot-2 and the latter pair tipping the scales at 265 pounds apiece.
6. Caldwell County
Head coach: David Barnes (14th season).
Last year: 8-4. Lost 44-41 in Class 3A second round to LaRue County
Quick look: A young team with only six seniors drops down from 3A and looks to leading-rusher DeEric Hollowell to build on his 896 yards and eight TDs from his junior year. He also had 200 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers’ hallmark might be their defense, which returns some standout experience with leading sack man Russ Beshear at linebacker, who pulled down the quarterback 11 times last year to go along with 92 tackles.
7. Owensboro Catholic
Head coach: Jason Morris (second season).
Last year: 8-4. Lost 41-32 in the second round to Murray.
Quick look: Drew Hartz, a 6-foot-3, 195 pound quarterback with a preferred walk-on offer from Western Kentucky, takes up his third year as a starter after a season that saw him throw for 2,606 yards and 32 TDs. He’ll have one of his favorite targets in senior wideout Hagan Edge, another three-year starter. On defense, linebacker Chris Boarman had a team-high 113 tackles as a sophomore.
Head coach: Jeff Barth (12th season).
Last year: 11-3. Lost 38-7 in semifinals to Mayfield.
Quick look: The Bearcats’ rush-heavy offense gets back its leader, Peyton Smith, who gained 695 yards with 10 TDs. He’ll get help from 6-foot-1 sophomore Jacob Gaines, who has “elite level speed and vision,” according to his coach. Senior Tristen Spalding will also join the multi-back attack that will run behind an experienced line that includes 6-3 senior Josh Walton, 6-2 junior Dawson Catlett, 6-0 junior Gavin Knight and 5-9 senior center Shane Thomas.
Head coach: Keith Hodge (sixth season).
Last year: 8-5. Lost 57-13 in third round to Mayfield.
Quick look: Murray has nine running backs listed on its roster to replace the production of Mark Thompson, but it has no such worries at quarterback with 6-2 senior Hunter Utley taking snaps again after 2,454 passing yards and 26 TDs in 2018. Leading receivers Jaiden Jackson (672 yards, nine TDs) and Jorden Duffy (648 yards, seven TDs) are also seniors.
10. Breathitt County
Head coach: Kyle Moore (seventh season).
Last year: 8-4. Lost 40-7 in Class 3A second round to Bell County.
Quick look: Junior Braxton O’Hara, a 6-foot-3, 205 pound dual-threat quarterback who had 1,078 yards passing and 955 yards rushing with 28 TDs combined, leads the Bobcats down to 2A. Top target Brandyn Slaughter caught 37 passes for 785 yards and eight TDs his junior year. Senior Dalton Manns is the team’s leading returning rusher. He’ll share carries with transfer Charles “CA” Collins, who ran for 1,474 yards and 21 TDs as a junior at Anderson County.
Others receiving votes
(Listed in order of votes received)
Shelby Valley, Washington County, Lloyd Memorial, Butler County, West Carter, Monroe County, Martin County, Todd County Central, McLean County and Carroll County.
Teams participating in Class 2A top-10 vote: Ballard Memorial, Breathitt County, Butler, Danville, East Ridge, Gallatin County, Green County, Lexington Christian, Martin County, McLean County, Metcalfe County, Monroe County, Murray, Owensboro Catholic, Shelby Valley, Somerset, Walton-Verona, Washington County and West Carter.
Survey method: Every Class 2A coach was given the opportunity to participate in the @HLpreps annual survey, emailed to their address listed on KHSAA.org. Multiple attempts were made to contact every coach.