Herald-Leader Top 10: Kentucky Class 4A high school football preseason poll for 2022

·8 min read

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories ranking Kentucky’s high school football teams class by class, according to voting by the class’s coaches.

Two Class 4A state championships in two years at the helm seems a pretty good start for Boyle County Coach Justin Haddix.

But when you take on a football program that half-owns the moniker “Title Town,” winning championships is in the job description. The work’s never done and ring number 11 for the school is on the to-do list.

“We have a great core of players who have all played in big games,” Haddix said. “And we have some guys that made a bunch of plays to replace. We feel if we get better every day we have a chance to be playing in December.”

The Rebels are 25-1 since Haddix took over. They were dominant before his arrival as well, of course. With that reputation, it’s understandable how 25 of the 27 4A coaches who voted in the Herald-Leader @HLpreps preseason poll put Boyle County No. 1 for 2022. Franklin County and Lexington Catholic split the other two top nods.

Here are the preseason top 10 teams in Class 4A as voted on by coaches in the division.

1. Boyle County

Head coach: Justin Haddix (third season).

Last year: 14-1. State champions in 30-13 win over Johnson Central.

Quick look: Sage Dawson, a 6-0, 170-pound junior, takes over at quarterback and should pose a dual threat for an offense that returns eight starters. “He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Haddix said. Fellow junior Avery Bodner led the team in rushing last season with 1,262 yards and 15 TDs and has Army commit Andrew Hardwick (6-3, 275 pounds) among his blockers up front. Kentucky commit Tommy Ziesmer had 10 sacks at defensive end and linebacker Dalton Stone led the team with 93 tackles. Both are seniors.

Marquee matchups: Aug. 27 vs. Bryan Station; Sept. 2 vs. Danville; Sept. 16 at Bowling Green; Oct. 7 at Lexington Catholic; Oct. 28 vs. Frederick Douglass.

2. Johnson Central

Head coach: Jesse Peck (first season).

Last year: 12-3. District and region champions. State runner-up in 30-13 loss to Boyle County.

Quick look: The Golden Eagles’ stable of running backs has experience, but they are among only four returning starters on offense as Johnson Central rebuilds its offensive line and a defense that lost seven starters. “Our strength will be our skill people,” Peck said. Those include sophomore RB Zack McCoart (1,287 yards, 18 TDs), senior fullback Chase Price (834 yards, 14 TDs) and junior RB Carter Conley (611 yards, nine TDs). Senior tackle Jesse McCoy (60 tackles, five sacks) and Price (52 tackles, three sacks at linebacker) top the defensive charts.

Marquee matchups: Sept. 10 at Ironton, Ohio; Oct. 28 vs. Belfry.

3. Franklin County

Head coach: Eddie James (sixth season).

Last year: 10-4. District and region champions. Lost 42-24 to Johnson Central in the state semifinals.

Quick look: Much of the focus will be on running back Kaden Moorman, a 6-1, 210-pound senior who’s committed to Kentucky and rushed for 1,447 yards and 27 TDs last season. But the Flyers also bring back dual-threat QB Gavin Hurst, who threw for 1,212 yards and 11 TDs and ran for 328 yards and three more scores as a sophomore. Senior linebacker Peyton Ledford has hit the Division I recruiting charts after 101 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2021 to go with helping the offense with 213 yards and a TD receiving at tight end/fullback. “The strength of our team will be our running game and our ability to play physical defense,” James said.

Marquee matchups: Aug. 19 at Scott County; Sept. 9 at Ballard; Sept. 16 vs. Woodford County; Oct. 21 vs. Central.

Franklin County head coach Eddie James instructs his players during the Class 4A state championship game against Boyle County at Kroger Field in Lexington in 2020.
Franklin County head coach Eddie James instructs his players during the Class 4A state championship game against Boyle County at Kroger Field in Lexington in 2020.

4. Corbin

Head coach: Tom Greer (third season).

Last year: 12-1. District champions. Lost 34-13 to Johnson Central in region finals.

Quick look: The Redhounds have some questions as they begin their 100th anniversary season, but a solid offensive and defensive line and six starters back on each side of the ball should help settle them, Greer says. Three-year starter Cameron Combs returns at QB after throwing for 1,529 yards and 13 TDs to go with 563 yards and nine TDs rushing. He shared snaps with Louisville baseball commit Kade Elam last season and that remains an option. Senior linebacker Mikey Neal led the team in tackles with 112 in 2021 and lines up alongside Eastern Kentucky commit Brody Wells.

Marquee matchups: Aug. 19 vs. Pikeville; Aug. 26 vs. Whitley County; Sept. 9 vs. Pulaski County.

5. Central

Head coach: Marvin Dantzler (seventh season).

Last year: 7-5. Lost 14-8 to Franklin County in district finals.

Quick look: Lining up road games at last season’s Class 3A, 5A and 6A state champions on this season’s schedule speaks to Dantzler’s confidence in his team’s ability to grow from them — or he’s insane. Fifteen starters return, seven on offense, including sensational running back Cortez Stone, who rushed for 1,377 yards and 21 TDs last year as a freshman. Senior Xavier Brown (554 yards, five TDs passing, 118 yards, four TDs rushing) returns under center. Senior linebacker Andre Jackson anchors the defense and is the team’s leading returning tackler with 66 to go with a sack, two interceptions and a fumble recovery in 2021.

Marquee matchups: Aug. 19 vs. Manual; Aug. 26 at St. Xavier; Sept. 9 at Belfry; Sept. 23 at South Warren; Oct. 21 at Franklin County.

6. Lexington Catholic

Head coach: Bert Bathiany (first season).

Last year: 9.3. Lost 47-13 to Boyle County in district finals.

Quick look: The Knights will be rebuilding their offensive line around all-city junior Joe Schlarman, but Bathiany feels he has good depth in the running game behind senior Walker Hall (1,198 yards, 12 TDs). Senior Lafayette transfer Hayden Dawahare will see time on the field in some capacity regardless of how the QB competition with junior Jackson Wasik and sophomore Justus Wertzler turns out. Senior Max DeGraff kicked a game-winning field goal against Pulaski County and his athleticism means he’ll see time as a field player, as well.

Marquee matchups: Sept. 2 vs. Covington Catholic; Sept. 16 vs. Lexington Christian; Oct. 7 vs. Boyle County; Oct. 28 at Scott County..

7. Logan County

Head coach: Todd Adler (seventh season).

Last year: 10-5. District and region champions. Lost 54-16 to Boyle County in the state semifinals.

Quick look: The Cougars seem loaded for another deep playoff run with 18 starters back, including dual-threat QB Davin Yates (1,319 yards, 16 TDs passing, 512 yards, eight TDs rushing) and 6-3, 185-pound senior rusher Ryan Rayno (1,173 yards, 14 TDS). “The guys really attacked the weight room this season to put on good weight and strength,” Adler said. Linebacker Eli Hawkins led the team in tackles as sophomore with a whopping 127 and five sacks.

Marquee matchups: Aug. 19 vs. Allen County-Scottsville at Warren East; Sept. 2 vs. Russellville; Sept. 9 at Franklin-Simpson; Sept. 23 vs. Hopkinsville; Oct. 28 at South Warren.

8. Hopkinsville

Head coach: Marc Clark (first season back; sixth season at Hoptown).

Last year: 7-5. Lost 39-37 to Logan County in district finals.

Quick look: Clark returns to Hoptown after five seasons at McCracken and has Mr. Football candidate Daisjaun Mercer, a senior Miami (Ohio) commit who was a 1,127-yard, 13 TD receiver and a ball-hawking defensive back with 51 tackles and six interceptions. New playmakers in the backfield, including a quarterback, will need to emerge, but Clark sees a defense returning seven starters as a strength.

Marquee matchups: Aug. 26 at Mayfield; Sept. 9 vs. Bowling Green; Sept. 23 at Logan County; Oct. 28 at Paducah Tilghman.

9. Spencer County

Head coach: Mike Marksbury (12th season).

Last year: 9-4. District champions. Lost 52-14 to Logan County in region finals.

Quick look: The Bears look to build on last year’s 3rd District title with 15 starters back, seven on offense, including QB Gabe Bowling (674 yards, 12 TDs passing, 621 yards, 9 TDs passing) and experienced rushers Kellen Marksbury, Camden Cardwell and Wade Hutt, who each tallied more than 600 yards and at least eight TDs. Senior WR/DB Brice Roark led the team in receiving and interceptions. Senior linebacker Nolan Boston is the team’s top returning tackler with 102.

Marquee matchups: Aug. 26 at Bullitt East; Sept. 2 vs. Taylor County; Sept. 16 at Bardstown.

10. Franklin-Simpson

Head coach: Max Chaney (third season).

Last year: 5-7. Lost 35-28 to Allen County-Scottsville in the district finals.

Quick look: The Wildcats earned respect in 2021 playing several top opponents close. “We have some tough kids that are hungry for success,” Chaney said. With five starters back each way, Franklin-Simpson will look to senior RB/LB Jesse Punzalan to take advantage of the experience in his offensive and defensive line to make big plays.

Marquee matchups: Sept. 9 vs. Logan County; Sept. 16 at Russellville; Oct. 28 vs. Glasgow.

Others receiving votes

In order of votes received: Bourbon County, Letcher County Central, Scott, Allen County-Scottsville, John Hardin, Harrison County, Warren East, Lincoln County, Rowan County, Knox Central, Wayne County and Boyd County.

Survey method: These rankings reflect the participation of coaches from 27 of the 38 Class 4A teams (71%). Every coach in the division 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 each coach.