Three state championship quarterbacks and two of the most productive running backs in state history headline the 20th Class of the Commonwealth, the Herald-Leader's annual shout-out to 22 of the top high school football seniors in Kentucky.
Patrick Towles of Highlands, who has committed to UK, is at the top of the class. The 6-foot-6, 230-pound senior quarterbacked the Bluebirds to state titles the past three years and swept the post-season honors — Mr. Football, the Paul Hornung Award, and Gatorade's player of the year in Kentucky.
Bowling Green's Scooter Hollis and Newport Central Catholic's Brady Hightchew also quarterbacked championship teams in their careers.
J.J. Jude of Johnson Central smashed the state career rushing record by more than 400 yards, and Anthony Wales piled up the third most rushing yards in state history and helped Central win three state titles along the way.
Besides Towles, UK also has commitments from Mason County's Josh Harris and Highlands' Austin Sheehan.
Players were chosen for the Class of the Commonwealth based primarily on their individual and team accomplishments, and in some cases college potential.
Defensive lineman, Trinity
Height, weight: 5-11, 230
Credentials: Bob Beatty called Barry one of the top defensive linemen he's ever coached. "Very mobile and tough" and "extremely intelligent on the football field. He was a very quiet leader and spoke with his pads and not his mouth." Barry's presence up front (30 solo tackles) was one reason opponents had no luck running the ball on Trinity, which didn't get to No. 1 in the nation by only having a great offense.
Tight end/defensive end, Glasgow
Height, weight: 6-6, 245
Credentials: Bowles, who has committed to Louisville, was a big factor on both sides of the ball in Glasgow's run to the 2A state finals and reestablishing the Scotties program as a state power. He had 70 career catches for 1,018 yards and 13 TDs. He also developed into a great blocker. On defense this season he had 46 solo tackles, including eight sacks. "Hunter has great size, moves well, and has good hands," Coach Rick Wood said. "He takes care of business on and off the field."
Running back/linebacker, Collins
Height, weight: 6-0, 215
Credentials: Brooks has been a tackling machine, starting at Shelby County and continuing the past two years at Collins. He had 445 career tackles, including 149 solo at Collins. "He's the best defensive player I've ever coached," Jerry Lucas said. Brooks had 27 tackles for loss this year. He had five interceptions and four fumble recoveries, and he returned four turnovers for TDs. Brooks, whose dad Michael was 4A player of the year in 1995 at Shelby County, has drawn interest from UK, Louisville, WKU and Murray State.
Running back, Bell County
Height, weight: 5-9, 180
Credentials: Bell County's little big man helped the Bobcats to a 51-5 record in his career. He rushed for for 5,257 yards and averaged better than 10 yards a carry. He also had 95 career touchdowns. He saw spot duty on Bell County's unbeaten 4A state title team as a freshman. Besides starring in football, Davenport is also an academic standout with a 4.0 GPA and ranks in the top five in his senior class. EKU, WKU, Morehead State, Carson-Newman and several NAIA schools are interested.
Running back/linebacker, Ryle
Height, weight: 5-11, 215
Credentials: Elliott had his senior season cut short by a knee injury in early September, but he had already proven he was one of the top players in the state. If he hadn't gotten hurt, Elliott was expected to challenge Shaun Alexander's Northern Kentucky rushing record. Instead, he finished his career with 4,745 yards, including 2,215 yards and 32 TDs as a junior when he led the Raiders to the state semifinals. Elliott has commited to WKU. Ryle Coach Bryson Warner said Elliott treated his injury not as a setback but as a challenge "he'll take on and conquer."
Quarterback/defensive back, Owensboro Catholic
Height, weight: 5-10, 170
Credentials: Named 2A player of the year by the Kentucky High School Coaches Association, Hardesty played quarterback, free safety and returned kicks for the Aces. "First and foremost, (he's) a hard-nosed football player," Coach John Edge said. In his career, Hardesty passed for 6,066 yards and 81 TDs, and he ran for 1,248 yards and 15 TDs. On defense he had 156 tackles and eight interceptions. He led Owensboro Catholic to a state runner-up finish in 2010. He is being recruited by Holy Cross as a defensive back.
Wide receiver/safety, Paducah Tilghman
Height, weight: 6-3, 190
Credentials: Harmon has been a playmaker for Tilghman for three years, first and foremost as a receiver. He was part of the Blue Tornado's 3A title team in 2009, and he has increased his production every year. He had 52 receptions for 846 yards and 11 TDs this season (and also ran for 242 yards and three TDs). In his career he totaled 107 catches for 1,931 yards and 21 TDs. He also played safety for Tilghman. Harmon has scholarship offers from UK, WKU and Arkansas State.
Running back/linebacker, Mason County
Height, weight: 6-2, 200
Credentials: A foot injury in September ended his senior season early, but Harris had already established himself as one of the state's top talents. He was the first player in the Class of 2012 to commit to UK. On defense Harris had 287 tackles and six fumble recoveries in his career. On offense he totaled 3,535 yards and 50 TDs. Coach David Buchanan said that Harris sorely missed playing on Friday nights this fall, "but on the flip side, he's going to get well and have a great career at Kentucky. They're going to love him."
Running back/linebacker, Boyle County
Height, weight: 6-2, 230
Credentials: Hester was a versatile performer for the Rebels, and an integral part of back-to-back undefeated state title teams in 2009 and 2010. On offense, he played wide receiver, tight end, running back and quarterback, and generated 1,700 yards. On defense he played linebacker, strong safety and free safety, totaling 375 career tackles. "Zach is a rare player who is unbelievably smart as well as athletic ... a terrific leader on and off the field," Coach Larry French said. Hester will attend Navy.
Quarterback/defensive back, Newport Central Catholic
Height, weight: 6-1, 180
Credentials: A standout in football, basketball and baseball, he shone brightest in football as a dual-threat QB. In his career, he ran for 3,448 yards and 34 TDs and threw for 4,370 yards and 37 TDs. He led NewCath to the 2A state title in 2010. "He's one of the most competitive kids you'll ever find," Coach Eddie Eviston said. "Newport Catholic is a school with a lot of tradition and has had some tremendous talent, and Brady will graduate from here as one of the best." Hightchew is drawing interest, mostly from smaller schools, in football and baseball.
Quarterback, Bowling Green
Height, weight: 6-1, 175
Credentials: Hollis was the triggerman of Bowling Green's high-powered offense. He showed his talent in totaling 308 yards and four TDs running and throwing in the Purples' state championship game rout of Anderson County. In his career he passed for 4,711 yards and 56 TDs, and ran for 1,461 yards and 22 TDs. He generated more than 3,100 yards and 41 TDs this year for unbeaten Bowling Green. He is being recruited by Air Force, Army, Navy, Columbia, Princeton and Centre.
Quarterback/running back/defensive back, Jeffersontown
Height, weight: 5-11, 190
Credentials: One of the best football athletes in the state, Jackson was a running back his first three years at J-town, but he moved to quarterback in the single-wing this season. In his career he rushed for 4,464 yards and 54 TDs, had 600 yards and six TDs receiving, and this year he passed for 1,053 yards and 13 TDs. "He's a winner and a great student-athlete," Coach Gary Weiter said. Jackson is being recruited by OVC schools, including EKU and Murray State, as well as Indiana and WKU.
Running back, Johnson Central
Height, weight: 5-9, 190
Credentials: The leading rusher in state history. Not bad for a guy who's also a state champion wrestler. Jude rushed for more than 3,000 yards each of the last two seasons and broke Derek Homer's career record of 8,224 yards. Jude finished with 8,637 yards and scored 104 TDs. He ran for a state-record 584 yards against Woodford County in 2010. Johnson Central lost in the playoffs to eventual state champ Highlands the past three years. Jude's top two choices are EKU and Liberty. "A great young man," Coach Jim Matney said. "A 4.0 student and a great football player and wrestler."
Offensive lineman, Bowling Green
Height, weight: 6-6, 320
Credentials: The anchor on the offensive line, Manley had the size and technique to dominate. He was a big reason Bowling Green averaged almost 50 points a game in rolling to an undefeated 5A state title. Coach Kevin Wallace said once Manley, who's committed to U of L, gets into an FBS training program, he'll "transform his body and elevate his skills so that he'll compete at an elite level."
Quarterback, Dixie Heights
Height, weight: 6-5, 230
Credentials: Pike, who has committed to Auburn, was touted as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation. His senior year didn't go as planned. He missed the first and last games of the season for disciplinary reasons, and Dixie Heights won only three games. But there's no denying Pike's talent. In two season as the Colonels' QB, he passed for 4,108 yards and 30 TDs, and ran for 1,677 yards and 33 TDs. He's been chosen to play in the U.S. Army Bowl in January.
Wide receiver, Highlands
Height, weight: 5-10, 165
Credentials: Sheehan, who will walk on at UK, was the Bluebirds' deep threat the past two seasons. He used his speed and great hands to give quarterback Patrick Towles a reliable target down field. Sheehan's 29 catches for 1,013 yards (and eight TDs) this year set a national record of 35 yards per catch. He missed the last three games with an injury. Over the past two seasons he had 58 catches for 1,679 yards and 12 scores.
Linebacker/running back, Bryan Station
Height, weight: 6-0, 195
Credentials: As a star receiver at UK, Bryan Station Coach Craig Yeast ran up against plenty of linebackers, so he knows a good one when he sees one. He sees a Division I prospect in Talbert. "When you've got a player with talent who wants to be great, you've got something," Yeast said. "(Talbert) has talent, a work ethic second to none, a 3.2 (GPA) student and a leader on and off the field." Talbert led the Defenders in tackles the past two years, including 95 solo hits and 26 for losses. He was also a hammer on offense in the red zone, rushing for 11 TDs. Yeast said UK would like Talbert to walk on. EKU, Murray State, Miami (Ohio), Army, Navy and Air Force are recruiting him.
Height, weight: 6-6, 235
Credentials: Mr. Football. Gatorade player of the year in Kentucky. Paul Hornung Award winner as the top player in the state. The honors keep coming for Towles, who had a 38-1 record as a starting quarterback and helped Highlands win three state titles. In his career, he passed for 7,429 yards and 73 TDs, and he ran for 1,718 yards and 38 TDs. This season he threw for 3,820 yards and 42 TDs and was intercepted only once. The grandson of Baseball Hall of Famer and former U.S. senator Jim Bunning, Towles has commited to UK. "Words can't describe Patrick," Highlands Coach Dale Mueller said. "Everybody in the state is so fired up for him (going) to Kentucky. The guy is a man in every sense of the word."
Running back, Central
Height, weight: 5-9, 170
Credentials: A key player on three state championship teams, Wales was one of the most explosive running backs in state history. If not for late-season injuries, he might have had a shot at becoming the all-time leading rusher. He still wound up third on the list with 8,213 yards. He also had 665 receiving yards, and scored 114 TDs in his career. Coach Ty Scroggins said Wales' talent and accomplishments made him the best player in the state. He has scholarship offers from UK and Louisville, among others.
Wide receiver/defensive back, Covington Holy Cross
Height, weight: 6-0, 160
Credentials: Coach Bruce Kozerski said Walker was one of several Holy Cross stars whose talent wasn't recognized state-wide until the Indians won the 2A title. Walker had a big senior season, with 72 catches for 1,283 yards and 20 TDs. In his career he had 123 receptions for 1,891 yards and 28 TDs. He was also a force on defense for the Indians with nine career interceptions.
Offensive lineman, Trinity
Height, weight: 6-5, 200
Credentials: A three-year starter at right tackle, Warburg was key to Trinity's high-octane offense, equally effective in pass protection and run-blocking. Coach Bob Beatty described him as an "extremely good athlete who's long, with a great wing span, superior feet ... and a frame to carry 300 pounds" as a college player. Warburg has scholarship offers from Illinois and Louisville.
Quarterback/defensive back, Rowan County
Height, weight: 6-4, 210
Credentials: Wing is probably better known as the shooting star of the Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament last March, but before that he was regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the state, and had a scholarship offer from Marshall. In three years orchestrating Rowan County's offense, he passed for 4,095 yards and 35 TDs, and ran for 2,193 yards and 34 TDs. On defense, he had 10 interceptions over four years. Wing signed to play basketball at the University of Evansville.