High School Football

Top 10: The Kentucky Class 4A high school football preseason rankings

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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.

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Welcome to Kentucky high school football Class 4A, realigned for your entertainment.

There are two 2018 state champions here. Central won its former Class 3A division. Franklin-Simpson remains here to defend 4A. Altogether, 21 new 4A teams made it to at least the third round (where there are only 16 spots) in their respective former classes.

This should be fun.

All this competition led to a lack consensus about who might be best. Boyle County, another Class 3A transplant, and defending champ Franklin-Simpson each garnered seven first-place votes in the @HLpreps preseason survey of coaches. The Rebels took the top spot by placing higher among the other votes.

Here are the preseason top 10 teams in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Class 4A as voted on by coaches in the division.

1. Boyle County

Head coach: Chuck Smith (sixth season).

Last year: 13-1. Lost 21-0 in the Class 3A semifinals to Corbin.

Quick look: Nineteen seniors return to a squad that steamrolled through its 2018 schedule until hitting the Redhounds. Included in that number are Notre Dame commit Landen Bartleson, the team’s second-leading rusher behind the graduated Tanner Crawford. Then there’s West Virginia commit Reese Smith and Reiley Colwick, wideouts who went for 1,173 and 767 yards receiving, respectively. At quarterback, no passer in the state was more accurate than Reed Lanter last year, completing 189 of 286 tosses for 2,949 yards and 39 touchdowns.

2. Franklin-Simpson

Head coach: Doug Preston (eighth season).

Last year: 14-1. Won the Class 4A state championship over Johnson Central 14-12.

Quick look: Franklin-Simpson tries for a fourth consecutive title-game run after toppling nemesis Johnson Central two of the last three years. The Wildcats have to do it this time without its top two rushers from the last two years. Recent history (more than 5,000 yards in 2017 and 2018) shows that might not be a problem. Senior RB Tedric Partinger takes over the featured back role behind an O-line that includes 6-3, 290-pound tackle Dalton Hunter. Sophomore QB Luke Richardson started all 15 games as a freshman.

2. Johnson Central

Head coach: Jim Matney (16th season).

Last year: 13-2. Lost 14-12 in the state finals to Franklin-Simpson.

Quick look: The Golden Eagles came achingly close to a second Class 4A title in 2018 and have a lot of pieces back. Senior quarterback Ryley Preece has started since his freshman year and showed that a team that can run for 5,393 yards can also toss it around a bit. Preece had 1,039 yards and seven TDs in the air and 852 and 19 TDs on the ground. Senior RB Devin Johnson, who went for 1,218 yards and 14 TDs, returns as well. He’ll have experienced linemen Andrew Clifton and Grant Bingham breaking holes in the trenches.

4. Central

Head coach: Marvin Dantzler (fourth season).

Last year: 13-2. Won the Class 3A championship over Corbin 20-19.

Quick look: The Yellow Jackets had the stingiest defense in Kentucky, allowing just 101 points in 15 games last season. They retain 6-3, 230-pound junior defensive Aiden Moore. Senior William Marshall (6-0, 225 pounds) is expected to pressure the other edge. Questions abound on offense with most of the production graduated. QB Keileon Hathaway, RB Dayshawn Mucker and WR Deondre Howard step into roles that generated almost 4,000 yards of offense in 2018.

5. Corbin

Head coach: Justin Haddix (sixth season).

Last year: 13-2. Lost 20-19 in the Class 3A finals to Central.

Quick look: The Redhounds expect big things out of 6-2, 170-pound sophomore Treyveon Longmire, who has already locked up seven college offers, including Kentucky, Louisville, Florida State and Tennessee. Freshman QB Cameron Combs lines up behind a junior-laden offensive line that includes Logan Smith (6-1, 250 pounds), Josh Jackson (6-2, 260) and Tucker Burns (6-1, 265). On defense, AP All-State senior defensive end Ethan Wine, a 6-3, 240-pound terror, pulled down a state-high 21 sacks in 2018.

6. Lexington Catholic

Head coach: Nigel Smith (second season).

Last year: 8-4. Lost 55-51 in the second round to Belfry.

Quick look: Kentucky commit Beau Allen, a 6-2, 220-pound senior QB who led the state in passing last season, returns to a young team that lost nine Herald-Leader All-City players, including much of his receiving corps. Expect Jarrett Mullins, a 6-3, 190 senior wide receiver/safety to be a featured target. Zach DeGraff, a 6-6, 220-pound senior, and Quentin Duffy, a 6-1, 280 sophomore, are among those charged with protecting Allen, who was also the team’s leading rusher.

7. Anderson County

Head coach: Mark Peach (15th season).

Last year: 10-1. Lost 14-10 in the Class 5A first round to Highlands.

Quick look: One would be hard pressed to find a team suffering a crueler twist on their season than Anderson County last year — undefeated and virtually unworried through 10 regular-season games before hitting Highlands. The Bearcats have 11 starters back, including six on offense led by a third-year starter at QB in junior Jagger Gillis. Leading rusher Charles Collins transferred to Breathitt County, opening the door for seniors Zach Labhart and Kynan Russell to step up.

8. Madisonville

Head coach: Jay Burgett (fifth season).

Last year: 10-3. Lost 12-10 in the third round to eventual champion Franklin-Simpson.

Quick look: Leading rusher Jeriah Hightower, a 6-1, 220-pound senior, aims to improve upon his 1,769 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns from 2018. Senior defensive lineman Blake Moody (6-4, 280-pounds) racked up 92 tackles and a team-high six sacks a year ago.

9. Knox Central

Head coach: Fred Hoskins (third season).

Last year: 10-4. Lost 59-20 in the semifinals to Johnson Central.

Quick look: Knox Central looks like a dark-horse pick. Junior QB Brady Worley starts for a third season on the heels of going 181-for-300 for 2,921 yards and 29 TDs in 2018. He hands off to standout junior halfback Ethan Mills and his 1,448 yards and 16 TDs. Dylan Hoskins, a 6-4 290 junior on the O-line has drawn some significant Division I interest.

10. Hopkinsville

Head coach: Craig Clayton (third season).

Last year: 5-7. Lost 20-0 in the second round to Madisonville.

Quick look: The Tigers started off 1-6 before reeling off four straight wins by season’s close. Hoptown has three-star junior wide receiver Reece Jesse and brings back junior QB Javier Bland and leading tackler Denarius Barnes.

Others receiving votes

(Listed in order of votes received)

Wayne County, John Hardin, Waggener, Franklin County, Logan County, Lincoln County and Harlan County.

Teams participating in Class 4A top-10 vote: Anderson County, Boyd County, Boyle County, Calloway County, Central, Corbin, Franklin-Simpson, John Hardin, Johnson Central, Knox Central, Lexington Catholic, Madisonville-North Hopkins, Rowan County, Shelby County, Spencer County and Warren East.

Survey method: Every Class 4A 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.