KSR's 2023 Kentucky High School Football Regular Season Awards

On3 imageby:Daniel Hager11/02/23


The 2023 Kentucky High School Football regular season concluded last Friday night. After three months of Friday Night Lights, it’s time for postseason play. The opening round of the playoffs begins Thursday night.

But before the playoffs get rolling, it’s time to hand out some awards. These players/coaches/teams stood out more than most during the 2023 season. Here are KSR’s 2023 Kentucky High School Football Regular Season Awards.

Mr. Kentucky Football: Daniel Thomas, Bell County

Bell County’s Daniel Thomas didn’t just put up some of the best numbers in the state of Kentucky this season, he put up some of the best numbers in the country.

The senior running back finished second in the nation in rushing yards (2,614) and tied for fourth in the country with a staggering 40 rushing touchdowns. Head coach Dudley Hilton’s Bell County Bobcats finished the season 9-1 thanks in large part to Thomas’ unbelievable 257.4 rushing yards per game and four rushing scores per game. Obviously, he was named 3A District 7 Player of the Year.

“It is absolutely surreal,” Thomas told KSR. “It has been an absolute honor and a blessing to see my name at the top of all these leaderboards, but at the same time, the amount of work that my offensive line and I have put in this offseason isn’t a big surprise to us. I would be wrong not to mention the sacrifices that my backs and receivers have made making downfield blocks and meeting linebackers in the hole for me.

“While sometimes I do make some good cuts to find myself in open field, without my offensive line I can’t possibly do the things I do. We have put in a crazy amount of work this offseason, and we all take a lot of pride in our ability to run the football on teams. To answer your question it is absolutely been crazy being one of the nation’s leading rushers, but I believe that it is something that my offensive line and I have earned.”

Thomas’ 40 rushing touchdowns this year are tied for the seventh-most in a season in KHSAA history. With his four rushing touchdowns in Bell County’s season finale against Harlan County, Thomas surpassed Treyton Humfleet (39) for the most touchdowns in a season in Bell County program history.

Thomas’ historic senior campaign will go down in the record books. Heading into postseason play, Thomas has rushed for 5,900 yards and 81 touchdowns over his four-year career.

Biggest Impact: Brady Hensley, Lexington Christian

As a junior at Madison Central in 2022, Brady Hensley rushed for 1,470 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hensley led the Indians to the 6A quarterfinals last season before deciding to transfer to Lexington Christian Academy over the offseason. Teaming up with four-star QB Cutter Boley would end up being one of the best decisions he could have ever made, as it unlocked the senior running back’s full potential.

Hensley exploded in his one and only season as an Eagle, rushing for 1,940 yards and 36 touchdowns in 2023. He burst onto the scene in LCA’s season opener against Bowling Green, rushing for 402 yards and five touchdowns while hauling in two touchdown receptions from Boley.

“It’s been unbelievable to be able to come into a brand new school and gel with the coaches and my teammates who have made my transition so easy,” Hensley told KSR. “My family and I have tried to be a LCA Eagle before but God’s plan is sometimes different than ours and as I said before, he has made this an unbelievable experience for me.”

Hensley’s addition to an LCA squad that went 9-5 in 2022 has transformed Doug Charles’ team into one of (if not) the perennial favorites in the upcoming 2A Playoffs. “As the regular season has finished, my teammates and I feel like it has been a success,” Hensley said. “But our ultimate goal is still in front of us! That is to win a state championship!”

Hensley was named 2A District 4 Player of the Year and is committed to Eastern Kentucky.

Coach of the Year: Justin Haddix, Boyle County

Back-to-back-to-back state champion Justin Haddix and his Boyle County Rebels just keep dominating.

Haddix’s squad has won 15 consecutive games (including the postseason) dating back to October 28, 2022, by an average of nearly 31 points per game. In 2023, the Rebels walked through the regular season undefeated, winning all 10 games by an average score of 48-13.

Boyle County’s smallest margin of victory this season came back in Week 2 when they won a shootout 47-38 over Cutter Boley and Lexington Christian. Since taking over at Boyle in 2020, Haddix’s combined record is a whopping 48-3 with three state championships.

Haddix is slowly climbing up the ranks of legendary coaches in KHSAA history and his legacy could strengthen with a fourth consecutive title in December.

Jared Lorenzen Award (Best QB): Brady Atwell, Owensboro Catholic

After throwing for 2,743 yards and 30 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2022, Owensboro Catholic’s Brady Atwell entered his junior season with lofty expectations. Atwell completely delivered, as he threw for 3,073 yards and a staggering 45 touchdowns with just five interceptions in 2023. He also rushed for 444 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Aces returned a boatload of talent from 2022’s 9-4 squad and that has definitely paid off this season. Atwell led a team that finished the regular season 10-0 with an average margin of victory of 35 points. Owensboro Catholic’s games were so lopsided that Atwell actually played in the fourth quarter of games on only three occasions. Imagine what his numbers could have been if he had seen full-game action all 10 weeks.

“It’s been special for sure,” Atwell told KSR when asked about their season. “The work me and my guys have put in together is countless hours. It truly starts up front with the guys who protect me. A season I will never forget!”

The junior slinger averaged 307.3 passing yards per game and 4.5 passing touchdowns per game. His best game of the season came back on Sept. 15 when he passed for 446 yards and five touchdowns in Owensboro Catholic’s 41-21 victory over Henderson County. He threw seven touchdowns in Catholic’s 57-7 victory over Todd County Central on Sept. 29.

Shaun Alexander Award (Best RB): Daniel Thomas, Bell County

DeVante Parker Award (Best WR): Isaiah Johnson, Cooper

The second season of the Cam O’Hara-Isaiah Johnson connection completely over-delivered in 2023.

Johnson emerged as a rising star as a junior, hauling in 1,149 receiving yards and 18 receiving touchdowns in 10 games played. Johnson ranked second in the state in receiving yards and first in receiving touchdowns. He hauled in an average of 114.9 yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game. To keep it simple, Johnson was simply unguardable.

“We’ve got some really great coaches and some of the best players in the state, so my stats are a huge reflection of that,” Johnson told KSR. “I am very excited that my hard work every single game paid off in such a big way. It helps to have a top-ranked QB, like Cam, that I can depend on the same way he depends on me. We definitely have each other’s backs and aren’t afraid to critique one another so that the next time around we will be flawless.”

Johnson’s emergence helped lead Cooper (8-2) to eight wins for the first time since 2015 when the Jaguars finished 10-3. He recently picked up an offer from Eastern Kentucky with more certainly to come. Johnson and O’Hara will be names to keep an eye on in upcoming seasons.

Dermontti Dawson Award (Best OL): Aba Selm, Simon Kenton

Considered a four-star prospect and a top 300 player by On3, Kentucky offensive line commit and Simon Kenton senior Aba Selm was the most dominant man in the trenches all season long across the state. Behind Selm, the Pioneers finished among the state’s top 50 in total scoring (33rd; 35.6 PPG), total rushing yards (36th; 2,015 yards), and total passing yards (13th; 2,152 yards). Keep in mind that Simon Kenton only played nine regular season games this season compared to the usual 10; those numbers could have been higher had they played one more game.

Additionally, with Selm leading the charge, Simon Kenton running back Turner Durell finished eighth in the state in rushing yards per game at 156 while quarterback Brady Lee was 11th in passing yards per game at 234. Selm even suited up on the defensive line for the Pioneers, totaling 53 total tackles (35 solo), a team-high 15 tackles for loss, and a team-high five sacks (14th-most in Class 6A).

Frank LeMaster Award (Best LB): Mikel Clack, Ballard

Mikel Clack is a player who has slipped through the cracks as one of the best defensive players in the state of Kentucky this season.

Clack starred for Ballard in 2023, totaling 94 tackles (14 TFL) and 15.5 sacks. Along with leading the state in sacks, Clack totaled an interception, which he returned 25 yards for a score in Ballard’s 50-21 regular-season finale victory over Woodford County.

Corey Peters Award (Best DL): Jerod Smith, Corbin

The addition of twin brothers Jerod and Jacob Smith at Corbin has given the Redhound faithful belief that they could win their first state championship since 1982 in December.

Jerod is listed as the fourth-highest prospect in the state of Kentucky in the Class of 2024. His brother Jacob is ranked just ahead of Jerod at three. Both tabbed as high three-stars by On3, the Smith twins made headlines back on Sept. 15 when they flipped their commitment from Michigan to Kentucky following Corbin’s 6-0 victory over Frederick Douglass.

“Earlier in the week, they both came in and sat down with me,” Coach Tom Greer told KSR back in September. “They said, ‘Coach, you know we love Kentucky. We want to flip and come to UK. We’d like to do an announcement.” Greer continued, saying “We had an idea of what we wanted to do there. They’re super young men and they fit in with what we do. I’ve got a football team of great leadership with seniors and great, great young men.”

Jerod was an offensive lineman’s nightmare this season, as he totaled 72 tackles (17 for loss) and eight sacks. Smith’s 17 TFL tied for third in the state of Kentucky this season.

He was named Class 4A District 8 Player of the Year.

Frank Minnifield Award (Best DB): Blake Burnett, Bell County

Daniel Thomas wasn’t the only game-changer at Bell County in 2023.

His teammate, sophomore DB Blake Burnett, led the state of Kentucky with nine interceptions and ranked second in the state in interception return yards (260). He returned a goal-line interception 96 yards for a score in Bell County’s 46-7 victory over McCreary Central.

Rob Bironas Award (Best K): Shep Esper, Paducah Tilghman

Paducah Tilghman senior kicker Shep Esper was perfect in 2023.

Although he didn’t attempt a single field goal, Esper converted all 72 extra points attempted this season. Esper’s 72 consecutive extra points is tied for the eighth-longest streak in KHSAA history. Paducah Tilghman ran the table in 2023, finishing 10-0 with an average margin of victory of 36 points.

Mr. Do it All: Kaydon Custard, Harrison County

Quite frankly, Kaydon Custard was Harrison County this season.

Custard made national headlines back in August when he totaled 325 passing yards, 280 rushing yards, and six total touchdowns in Harrison County’s opening week 40-33 victory over Calloway County.

For his efforts, Custard was included in the November 2023 edition of Sports Illustrated as one of the “Faces in the Crowd”, showcasing the top performers in non-professional sports around the globe.

“It was very exciting,” Custard told KSR. “They only select three athletes a month in the entire United States and for them to have taken notice of me was very surreal.”

Custard finished the regular season with 2,291 passing yards, 1,154 rushing yards, and 40 total touchdowns (23 passing, 17 rushing). Along with his outstanding offensive production (in which he accounted for 83% of Harrison County’s total offense on the season), he totaled 65 tackles, a tackle for loss, and three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown.

“I feel like every time I step on the field on the field, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win and so will my team,” Custard told KSR. “We did not have a good record last year and we have had low numbers this year with almost everyone having to play on both sides of the ball. It’s been a great team effort!”

Thanks to Kaydon’s outstanding season, Harrison County won six games for the first time since 2018, when the Thorobreds finished 7-5.

Team of the Year: Boyle County Rebels

The Rebels ran the table in 2023, beginning the season ranked No. 1 in KSR’s Preseason Top 25 Rankings and ending the season ranked No. 1 in KSR’s Final Top 25 Rankings.

Boyle County played four games against teams ranked (at one point) in KSR’s Top 25 Rankings (Lexington Christian Academy, Scott County, Lexington Catholic, Frederick Douglass) and won those four games by an average margin of 25 points per game.

Adding Danville transfers WR Demauriah Brown and LB Josh Bixler over the offseason strengthened a core led by superstars WR Montavin Quisenberry, RB Avery Bodner, WR Geordon Brown, and QB Sage Dawson (Class 4A District 7 Player of the Year).

The Boyle County offense averaged 425 yards of offense per game while the Rebel defense allowed just 218 yards per game.

No team touched the Rebels in the 2023 regular season, so we’ll just have to wait and see if they are finally tested in the 4A Playoffs.

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