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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.
Kentucky high school football’s Class 3A loses one champion out of Louisville (Central moves up to 4A this year) only to get another as 2018 Class 2A champ Christian Academy of Louisville takes a leap up a division and right into the mix.
Despite coming from a smaller class, coaches in its new division pay the Centurions tons of respect, giving them 17 of the 26 first-place votes cast in the Herald-Leader’s annual preseason survey.
Here are the preseason top 10 teams in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Class 3A as voted on by coaches in the division.
1. Christian Academy of Louisville
Head coach: Hunter Cantwell (first season).
Last year: 15-0. Won the Class 2A championship over Mayfield, 34-26.
Quick look: Among the reasons the Centurions are expected to immediately challenge for the 3A title despite moving up a class and having a new head coach is having three highly regarded Division I recruits. Start with 2A title game MVP Brandt Babin, a three-star junior who led the team in rushing with 1,012 yards and 15 TDs and then realize he still gets to run behind Kentucky offensive lineman commit John Young, a 6-foot-6, 277-pound four-star guy who chose the Cats over offers from teams including Auburn and Georgia. On the other side of the ball, CAL returns senior defensive end Austin Collins, a 6-4, 260 three-star Louisville commit.
Head coach: Philip Haywood (36th season).
Last year: 10-3. Lost 41-24 in the third round to Boyle County.
Quick look: The Pirates return their top two rushers from 2018 in 5-10, 176-pound junior Isaac Dixon (1,393 yards, 16 TDs) and 6-0, 190-pound senior Ben Bentley (873 yards, 12 TDs), who will run behind 6-3, 280-pound senior center Ethan Wolford, a two-star prospect, according to 247Sports.com. Brett Coleman, a 6-2, 178-pound junior safety, led the team with 116 tackles a year ago and Grayson Cook, a 6-4, 220-pound senior linebacker, poses an intimidating presence on the edge.
Head coach: Harold Davis (eighth season).
Last year: 11-2. Lost 34-7 in the third round to eventual 2A champion Christian Academy of Louisville.
Quick look: A two-time Class 2A champ (2013, 2014) jumps up and has a number of its pieces back. Senior Antione Johnson led the running-back-by-committee backfield in 2018 with 693 yards and seven TDs and he has his senior fullback Darren Hollenkamp to share the load. Another senior, tight end Demetri Scott, led the colts in receiving with 480 yards and five TDs. Defensively, some of their most imposing linemen return in Scott, Dejuan Watkins and Mekhi Lewis, backed by linebacker Hollenkamp, who was second on the team in tackles last year.
4. Ashland Blazer
Head coach: Tony Love (seventh season).
Last year: 11-2. Lost 50-14 in the Class 4A third round to Johnson Central.
Quick look: Dropping down from 4A, the Tomcats need two wins to reach 700 in program history. Keontae Pittman, a 5-11, 170-pound three-star junior running back, rushed for 1,040 yards and had 16 total TDs in 2018. He figures to remain a threat behind 6-4, 275-pound center John Stone in the heart of the offensive line. Senior Blake Hester had more than 1,500 all-purpose yards with 22 TDs. Leading tacklers Caleb Tackett (138) and Steele Workman (115) anchor the defense.
5. Bell County
Head coach: Dudley Hilton (19th season).
Last year: 11-2. Lost 42-16 in the third round to Corbin.
Quick look: Dual-threat quarterback London Stephney had 806 yards passing and 1,128 rushing with a combined 30 TDs as a junior and he’ll have favorite target Jason Jones (561 yards, 10 TDs). Sophomore Brandon Baker looks to pick up the rushing load with 6-1, 291-pound senior tackle Lane Hoskins, a three-year starter in the trenches. Senior Caleb Lefevers helps there, too, and led the team in sacks with eight. Leading tacklers Adam Partin and Hunter Bailey also return.
Head coach: Mark Brown (sixth season).
Last year: 8-5. Lost 40-32 in the third round to LaRue County.
Quick look: Senior running back Joseph Becherer led the team with 1,332 yards and 14 TDs and proved a weapon on special teams with three return scores. His 130 tackles as a linebacker also was a team-best. Junior QB Clay Games tossed for 1,600 yards and 18 TDs, finding junior wide-out Camden Williams most often (652 yards, nine TDs).
7. Paducah Tilghman
Head coach: Jonathan Smith (first season).
Last year: 9-3. Lost 27-21 in the second round to Elizabethtown.
Quick look: The Blue Tornado return senior Damien Ford, their second leading rusher from a year ago (698 yards, seven TDs) and expect a huge boost from senior transfer Jonathan George who Coach Smith said “will have an immediate impact on both sides of the ball.”
Head coach: Jeff Garmon (fourth season).
Last year: 11-2. Lost 18-14 in the third round of the Class 2A playoffs to Walton-Verona.
Quick look: Senior defensive lineman Chase Jones, 6-3, 260 pounds, has gotten notice from college recruiters as a three-star prospect by 247Sports.com. He’ll help the move to 3A, as will 6-0, 225-pound senior Nick Mitchell, whose 2,071 yards from scrimmage last year are the most of any returning running back in the state. Quarterback Tanner Abernathy threw for 1,122 yards and 20 TDs and ran for 799 and six more scores.
8. Taylor County
Head coach: Sam Marple (first season).
Last year: 12-2. Lost 33-0 in the Class 4A semifinals to Franklin-Simpson.
Quick look: The stars aligned for the Cardinals’ best season ever in 2018 and they bring back their leading rushers in junior Wes Oliver (1,155 yards, 14 TDs) and senior Tre Goodin (725 yards, 14 TDs). Goodin hits the recruiting radar at cornerback as a two-star recruit, according to 247Sports.com. Senior linebacker Matt Oliver led the team in fumble recoveries (four) and tied for the sacks lead (six), while junior linebacker Conner Roney racked up a team-best 120 tackles.
10. LaRue County
Head coach: Josh Jaggers (third season).
Last year: 8-6. Lost 48-8 in the semifinals to eventual champion Central.
Quick look: Jaggers took a 5-5 team into the playoffs last year and made a serious run. The Hawks look to avoid the roller coaster this season with Jeremiah Belton in the backfield. He ran for 1,301 and 10 TDs as a sophomore. In one season of organized football, 6-6, 255-pound senior defensive end/tight end Mark Goode made a fast impression and earned an offer from Western Kentucky.
Others receiving votes
(Listed in order of votes received)
Mercer County, Bardstown, Russell, Lawrence County, Powell County, Rockcastle County, Trigg County, Casey County, Fleming County, Greenup County and Estill County.
Teams participating in Class 3A top-10 vote: Adair County, Ashland, Belfry, Bell County, Christian Academy of Louisville, Casey County, DeSales, Elizabethtown, Estill County, Fleming County, Garrard County, Glasgow, Greenup County, Hart County, Jackson County, LaRue County, Lawrence County, Mason County, Mercer County, Nelson County, Paducah Tilghman, Powell County, Rockcastle County, Taylor County, Trigg County and Western Hills.
Survey method: Every Class 3A 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.