The best high school quarterback in Kentucky is an imposing 6-foot-51/2 senior with close to 230 pounds packed on his wide-shouldered body, is blessed with a strong right arm, is physical enough to run over defenders, has professional sports in his bloodlines, and has committed to play Division I football in the mighty Southeastern Conference.
Say hello to Patrick Towles of Highlands.
Say hello to Zeke Pike of Dixie Heights.
You can't go wrong calling either of them the best QB in the state and among the best in America. Tom Lemming, a respected football talent scout, has both of them among his top 25 pro-style QB prospects in the nation.
Lemming rates Pike, who has committed to national champion Auburn, at No. 3. He has Towles, who will sign with Kentucky, at No. 24.
Dixie Heights and Highlands are only 14 miles apart, and the last few years they played in the same Class 5A district. That made for a natural rivalry between the teams and their quarterbacks.
Towles has led the Bluebirds to two state championships since taking over at QB midway through his sophomore season.
Pike didn't take a varsity snap at QB until last season. His Colonels lost to Highlands 42-28 in the playoffs. (Pike was ejected from that game, which means he must sit out Dixie Heights' season opener against Newport Central Catholic on Friday.)
Both players said there are no personal grudges between them.
"A lot of people try to compare us," Pike said. "It's Pat this or Zeke that, but we don't listen to that stuff.
"He's a great quarterback and I'm a great quarterback. We talk a lot and get along pretty good."
Towles has the same take on the relationship: "We're two Division I guys, and we're good friends, but when we're on the field it's all business. There's no high-fivin' when we play each other."
Pike and Towles will face off one last time — at least until college — when Highlands plays host to Dixie Heights on Thursday, Sept. 1, in a game that will be televised on Fox Sports South.
Highlands Coach Dale Mueller remembers when Towles was a backup on the freshman team and didn't project him as a prime-time player.
"But Pat just kept getting bigger and more athletic," Mueller said. "By the time he was a sophomore he came in when our starter got hurt, and threw for over 1,000 yards with no interceptions."
Highlands, whose go-to guy that season was running back Austin Collinsworth, won the state title.
Last season, Towles was ready to take ownership of the team. "He just dominated," Mueller said. "He was a completely different physical specimen as a junior."
Towles passed for 2,471 yards and 21 touchdowns, and ran for 880 yards and 18 TDs in leading the Bluebirds to a fourth consecutive title.
In the state finals, Towles ran for five TDs in the first half to spark Highlands to a 50-0 rout of Christian County.
Before that performance, Towles said there wasn't much going on with his college recruitment. "It was really slow," he said. "But after the state championship game, things really picked up."
UK's interest intensified, and by the end of winter Towles got good news.
"It was after the first game of the region basketball tournament and I got a call that (UK assistant Chuck Smith) had called and offered.
"I was really excited."
On his trip back from spring break, Towles stopped in Lexington and met with UK Coach Joker Phillips and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders.
"I was on my way out when I made up my mind," Towles said. "I walked back in and told them I wanted to be a Wildcat."
With signing day still months away, Towles said he's often asked if he's firmly committed to UK.
"I tell them I've always been a huge Kentucky guy, and when I got the scholarship offer, it was a surreal feeling. I'm getting a chance to play in the SEC and for the best fans in the country."
That's next year.
Right now Towles' focus is on Highlands
"Pat is a live-for-the-moment guy," Mueller said. "He's going to do absolutely the best he can for Highlands."
That attitude played into Towles' decision to commit to UK early.
"I didn't want to put my teammates here at Highlands through my recruiting," he said. "Winning another state championship is my sole No. 1 goal."
Being the Bluebirds QB is a glamor job, but it comes with the pressure of expectations, too.
Mueller said Towles is perfectly suited to handle it all, mentally and physically.
Towles has taken advantage not only of Mueller's tutelage — "He's won nine state championships," Towles pointed out — but also that of former Highlands and UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen and former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth.
Lorenzen tutored Towles a lot last year. Collinsworth, Austin's dad, has been coaching the offense this summer.
Towles also has the genes to succeed. His grandfather is Jim Bunning, the former U.S. Senator who's in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Bunning was a right-handed pitcher who won 224 games in his 17-year career.
"He's an awesome guy," Towles said. "I go see him a couple times a week to talk to him.
"I guess I got the major- league arm gene. I think I've got pro sports in my blood."
Pike became one of the most talked-about players in national recruiting chatter before he ever started a high school game at quarterback.
Dixie Heights Coach Tom Spritzky said he was "dumbfounded" by all the attention Pike got the summer before his junior year.
But Pike's dad, former NFL player Mark Pike, who played for the Buffalo Bills' four Super Bowl teams, had taken Zeke to high-profile camps and big-name colleges to give scouts and coaches a look at his son's emerging talent.
Soon after, Division I scholarship offers began pouring in from major college powers, including Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Miami (Fla.), Southern Cal and West Virginia.
By the time practice began last August, the recruiting rush was already a stampede.
"I really didn't know the intensity of it for Zeke," Spritzky said. "It went on 24 hours a day, with emails, texts, phone calls, and coaches stopping by school."
Pike said he eventually "just wanted to shut off my phone. Some days I'd get 50 or 60 calls from unknown numbers. I couldn't even text my friends because my phone was always ringing.
"It was crazy. Besides coaches calling, there'd be media outlets calling trying to set up a phone call, and it'd be a three-way call with coaches on one of the other lines listening to what I was going to say about their school.
"It finally got to the point where I had to let my dad take care of all of it."
Pike took refuge in football and a chance to start at QB for Dixie Heights.
According to Spritzky, the early part of Pike's junior season didn't go particularly well. "Zeke thought he had to do it all. He made some bad throws and bad decisions."
Pike said he "was forcing things, trying to prove myself to people."
About midway through the season, though, the light bulb came on. Spritzky persuaded him to "just play the position" by being a quicker, more accurate passer, and becoming a "between-the-tackles" runner.
It all clicked. Pike wound up throwing for 2,144 yards and 17 TDs, and running for 947 yards and 17 TDs.
Pike goes into this season an old hand at QB. "He's much more poised, much more advanced than he was this time last year," Spritzky said.
Pike is also free of the recruiting hassles. He committed to Auburn in April.
Pike said he was encouraged by what Auburn quarterbacks coach George Whitfield told him. "He's trained Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton, and he said I had a little mixture of both of them."
Pike has already jumped into the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. He's been tweeting not-so-kind things about the Crimson Tide and their fans, which earned the attention of the Alabama media.
A few weeks ago, Pike talked as if he knew better than to stick his neck out so publicly in the social media.
"Even at a young age you've got to realize that if you're the star quarterback every move you make, every word you say, people are watching and listening. Staying out of trouble is part of it."
Pike is a fiery competitor, not only in football but also basketball. He started for Dixie Heights' Sweet Sixteen team last season.
But football is his first love, and he's head-over-heels about leading Dixie Heights to glory this fall, and playing for Auburn someday.
Pike said Bengals backup quarterback Jordan Palmer has talked to him about living in the present.
"He tells me all the time to understand that I'll never enjoy football as much as when I'm in high school," Pike said.
"So while it's cool to think about Auburn, the most important thing is leading my team here at Dixie Heights and enjoying this time of my life."