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Teams to Watch (Not rankings. These will be interesting teams to keep an eye on this season.)
Beechwood, District Four-
The landscape of 1A Class Football will be much different in Kentucky in 2015 as perennial powerhouse Mayfield jumped to 2A following last year. Beechwood, with 11 state titles, is no stranger to being a powerhouse. The Tigers will look for title number 12 this year behind quarterback Kyle Fieger. One of the three returning starters for Beechwood, Fieger was the district player of the year in 2014. Beechwood plays on the easier side of the postseason bracket. Barring an upset or a lost to district-foe Bellevue or Frankfort, Beechwood could be looking at a position in the state title game.
Williamsburg, District Seven-
The aforementioned move for Mayfield will please no one more than Williamsburg. The Yellowjackets lost to Mayfield in the last two 1A State Championship Games. The toughest loss coming last year in a 28-27 overtime defeat to Mayfield. Much like Beechwood, Williamsburg will have to replace several key pieces from last year's team. Quarterback Skyler Griffith graduated, and the Yellowjackets will have a competition to fill that spot between Alex Patterson or Alec Poore. Despite losing key pices, Williamsburg looks primed to make a deep postseason run behind linebackers Austin Huskey and Dalton Shacklelford.
Pikeville, District Eight-
Both Williamsburg and Pikeville were undefeated entering the postseason, and both were sent home with a loss. Paintsville upset Pikeville early in the tournament to end their season. The Panthers return one of the top rushing attacks in the state. Led by the powerful Daric Pugh who ran for 24 touchdowns in 2014 and Blake and Cody Charles. Pugh will be one of the top players in the class as he will get more carries as a senior who did not play in the postseason, including the loss to Paintsville. Look for Pikeville to rebound and make a run in the postseason with a healthy Daric Pugh.
Paintsville, District Six-
Their surprising run to the quarterfinals was led by quarterback and linebacker Kash Daniel (more on Daniel below). The team will look to build on their breakout season in a difficult region that includes rival Raceland. Paintsville will have a tough road to the postseason with games against Pikeville, Williamsburg, Frankfort, and Raceland.
Players to Watch
Kash Daniel, QB/LB, Paintsville-
Kash's name is one that should be very familiar at this point for Kentucky fans. Daniel committed to UK on July 4th
before his senior year. The 6'3" athlete will play linebacker in Lexington, but he plays both sides of the ball in Paintsville. On defense, Daniel had 111 tackles, four picks, and two defensive touchdowns. Painstville will enjoy seeing Kash tear it up on offense as he contributed 23 touchdowns from the quarterback position. If you have a chance, watch his QB highlights on Hudl. The lefty has good arm strength and can run the ball very well. He is crazy athletic, and will most likely be a candidate for Mr. Football if he has as great of a year on both sides of the ball as he did in 2014.
Kyle Fieger, QB Beechwood-
Fieger will look to repeat as District Four Player of the Year as a senior. The 5'11" quarterback is elusive and can make solid throws on the run. Fieger started the season with 19 touchdowns and only one interception, proving that he is very accurate. Along with being a star QB, Fieger also stars for the school's baseball team who he led to the state tournament with a two-hit, complete game in the round of 16. Fieger will return to the gridiron this fall looking to lead the Tigers past the state semifinals.
Nick and I will have the same pick in 1A with Beechwood as our projected winner. An easier side of the bracket will help them reach the finals.
A safe pick in 1A has always been either Mayfield or Beechwood, and I doubt there will be any surprises this year - Beechwood.
2A and 3A after The Jump...
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Austin Johnson (front) and the DeSales Colts celebrate consecutive state championships in the rain. (Austin Anthony | BG Daily News)[/caption]
[Nick Roush is taking control of this class, the one where I learned elite football.]
Teams to Watch
DeSales, District 4-
On a cold, rainy December evening, I was honored to call the color commentary as my alma mater rolled through Newport Central Catholic 26-0, to successfully defend their state title. For a school without a home football stadium, it's been a pretty nice run for the Colts. Harold Davis has only lost seven games in his three years as head coach, losing only to CAL in '13 and '14. The Colts have what it takes to go for the Threepeat, but there's stout competition standing in the way.
Mayfield, District 1-
The prevailing question in Class 2A couldn't have happened without an offseason change. Perennial Class A powerhouse Mayfield is now in the mix, making the Western half of Class 2A top-heavy. Much like Mayfield's Mayor and Matt Jones, there's a disagreement whether they can successfully take their talents to 2A. They're replacing their entire offensive line, but returning their leading passer, rusher and receiver. Unfortunately we won't be able to potentially answer the, "DeSales or Mayfield?" question until Semi-State.
CAL, District 4-
CAL is hoping to get over the hump and end DeSales' postseason reign. They've won the District the last two regular seasons, only to Fall to the State Champs during postseason play. I have many reasons to root against CAL, but the reason you should is because their coaching staff is made up entirely of ex-UofL football players, led by head coach and former quarterback, Stefan LaFors. There's nothing he'd rather do than defeat DeSales in the playoffs. There's nothing I'd rather do than watch him lose his mind after another loss. No matter how many yards his quarterback throws, he'll still end up being disappointed.
Somerset, District 7-
You won't see us hype too many teams that were winless last year, but there is a buzz around the Briar Jumpers. Last year's 0-10 team took their lumps, but the young guys learned a lot and have a shot to shake things up in the Eastern half of the bracket.
Players to Watch
Jacob Smith, RB Newport Central Catholic-
Every year, Newport Central Catholic has one player that is the best player on the field, making big plays on both sides of the ball. For the last two years it's been Smith. He is closing in on 3,000 career rushing yards after 1,500 last season. If he can stay healthy, he can (quite literally) carry the Breds back to the State Championship game (they're back-to-back runners-up).
Austin Johnson, QB/K DeSales
- Johnson is an extremely talented athlete. He has good velocity in his throws, and is even faster on his feet. However, none of those skills compare to his kicking. He's already accepted a scholarship offer to punt for UofL, and can make field goals in clutch situations.
The Mayfield Trio-
Mayfield has their three greatest weapons returning this Fall- QB Landon Arnett, RB Trajon Bright and WR Lane Kennemore. Arnett threw for more than 2,000 yards with 24 TDs last season, Bright rushed for almost 2,000 with 32 TDs, and Kennemore caught 36 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and 11 TDs. Who knows who will WOW the most, but either way, these three will pack a punch.
They'll have to get past the upstart Owensboro Catholic on their way, but I look for DeSales to repeat once again.
If I picked against the Colts it would be blasphemy, but I have good reason. The Seniors have not been caught up in the hype, and still remember their humble beginnings as a school without a state title that was forced to workout in the parking lot. If I had to guess a score - #Coltsby90.
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Two-time defending champs, Belfrey. (Joshua Ball | Daily Independent)[/caption]
Teams to Watch
Belfry, District Six-
The Belfry Pirates have been in the driver's seat of Class 3A the last couple years with back-to-back state titles. Belfry rarely, if ever, dropped back to pass last year. The Pirates return running backs Xondre Davis and Cameron Catron from a team that ran for 381 yards and passed for zero in the state championship against Louisville Central last year. Belfry also returns seven members of their defense that allowed under 12 points per game in 2014. Look for Belfry to bid for their third consecutive state title in 2015.
Central, District Three-
Following a tough loss to Belfry in the state title last year, the Yellowjackets will look to find more consistency in their offense in 2015. Starting quarterback Myron Norfleet struggled at times with accuracy as a junior, but two of his top targets in Clavon Armstrong and Kambrin Brown return this year. Norfleet may share snaps with junior James Simpson. Brown led Central with 41 receptions as a junior, and Armstrong caught 27. Another issue at hand for Central is one that carries over from last year. The Yellowjackets struggled to stop the run game last season, allowing over 200 yards three times in the postseason. There are lots of questions about Central's ability to return to the title, but the talent is there.
Paducah Tilghman, District One-
The Blue Tornado of Paducah Tilghman look to steamroll through District One behind star quarterback Jessie Dunigan (20 passing touchdowns last year). The senior stud has been starting since his sophomore season for Paducah Tilghman. Dunigan has led his team to the state quarterfinals and semifinals in his first two years, and he will look to take it a step higher in his final season. His number one target Sayveon McEwen returns after catching 40 passes for 588 yards as a junior. The Blue Tornado have lots of experience on both sides of the ball and look to be a dark horse behind Belfry to win the state title.
Russell, District Five-
Yet another one of Belfry's victims in last year's postseason, Russell will look to move past the 33-0 loss in the state semifinals. Russell returns their big names from last year's team, Jacob McKee and Nick Conley. Conley has a combined for 2,295 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns in his two years at Russell, while McKee also has the ability to run the ball as he ran for over 1,000 yards as a junior.
Players to Watch
Jessie Dunigan, QB Paducah Tilghman-
As mentioned above, Dunigan will be a key cog for The Blue Tornado for the third straight season. Dunigan developed over the course of the 2014 season. The junior threw five interceptions in the first three games of the season, and did not throw another until the team's 13th game. Dunigan threw 20 touchdowns last season as a junior, and he returns along with 18 other seniors for PTHS.
Rayquan Horton, DT Belfry-
Perhaps the top recruit in the class, Horton is a junior anchor for the Belfry defensive front. Horton has received interest from Louisville and Kentucky, as well as being invited to Ohio State and Marshall. The interest from big time schools has been warranted. Horton finished with 114 total tackles in his sophomore season. Look for Horton to begin to make a bigger name for himself as a junior.
Led by their rushing attack and defensive front, Belfry will win their third straight state championship.
There will be a buzz around the Yellow Jackets this Fall as Central returns to the top of Class 3A.