Coach: Dave Trosper (11th season, 50-59).
2012: 9-3, lost to Franklin County in second round of playoffs.
Outlook: Senior Drew Barker’s numbers look like something out of a video game.
The University of Kentucky commit was 140 for 225 for 2,067 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Oh yeah, and he rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 TDs.
Much of Barker’s supporting cast returns as well, including seniors Andrew Way (37 carries, 264 yards, 18 catches, 285 yards), Brian Loney (18 receptions, 289 yards, five TDs) and Jesse McKeehan (59 carries, 465 yards).
The Cougars averaged 460 yards of offense last season and should be able to sustain that pace this year as well.
But the defense ultimately did Conner in last season, as the Cougars lost their second-round game to Franklin County despite scoring 59 points. Here’s the mind-boggling stat of the year: Conner averaged 49 points per game in its losses in 2012.
The wealth of talent on offense makes the Cougars the favorite in their district, but they need to tighten up their defense or their playoff run could be a short one.
Coach: Randy Borchers (8th season, 34-43).
2012: 13-2, lost to Bowling Green in state final.
Outlook: In just the fifth year of its program, Cooper fell two touchdowns short of a state championship under coach Randy Borchers.
But the Cougars lost a significant amount of talent from that state finalist team and they will play a tough schedule in 2013.
Two-way seniors Avery Bricking and Aaron Morgan, who were both named first team, all-Northern Kentucky, are Cooper’s two returning players.
Bricking rushed for 376 yards last season, but he may see more touches along with senior Ty Keller, who picked up 99 ground yards.
Morgan led the team in receptions (37), receiving yards (734) and receiving touchdowns (7). He also interception seven passes in the secondary.
Bricking, a linebacker on defense, was second on the team in tackles with 90.
Senior Will Ludwig is expected to start the season under center after playing tight end and defensive end in 2012.
Cooper should still be solid, but it will be tough for the Jaguars to match Conner’s quality returning skill players.
Coach: Dan Woolley (2nd season, 5-6).
2012: 5-6, lost to Franklin County in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: In Dan Woolley’s first season at the Eagles’ helm, Scott won more games than in any season since 1990.
And the Eagles return their top two rushers from that 5-6 campaign.
Senior quarterback Ben Osborne only threw 59 passes all season, completing 31 for 367 yards, but he ran the ball 133 times for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Senior running back Josh Castleman ran for 1,291 yards on 155 carries – an average of 8.3 yards per carry – and he scored 14 times. Castleman was also the team leader in receptions with 13.
Castleman also made 46 tackles as a defensive back. Also back on defense are senior linebacker Chris Roberts (45 tackles) and senior defensive back Ray Everett (four interceptions).
The Eagles took fourth in the district last season, but their returning talent combined with the losses suffered by South Oldham could result in Scott moving up a spot in the district standings.
4. SOUTH OLDHAM
Coach: Jamie Reed (4th season, 21-13).
2012: 8-4, lost to Cooper in second round of playoffs.
Outlook: The Dragons tied their highest win total in 15 years thanks to an incredible quarterback in Jack Sherry and to a smaller part running back Dallas Banks and receiver Kyle Young.
All three are gone, although Ticorion Williams, who rushed for over 700 yards and added over 500 receiving yards, and Kevin Kuriger (694 rushing yards) are back.
South Oldham averaged 35.3 points per game with that corps, but the Dragons allowed 29.9.
A rejuvenated Scott team couple with a rebuilding South Oldham team could spell fourth place for the Dragons.
5. GRANT COUNTY
Coach: Kevin Siple (2nd season, 3-7).
2012: 3-7, missed playoffs.
Outlook: Kevin Siple was quite successful at Indian Hill (Ohio) and Bracken County improved under his direction, so Grant County’s time could be coming.
The Braves have not won more than three games since 2008, and the next playoff game they win will be their first.
Grant County expects to be stronger on the offensive and defensive lines this season, which is key because the Braves were pushed around at times in 2012.
While Siple appears to have Grant County on the right path, it would take a huge step up for the Braves to earn a playoff berth with the caliber of teams in their district.
1. SIMON KENTON
Coach: Jeff Marksberry (14th season, 77-71).
2012: 9-4, lost to Scott County in state quarterfinal.
Outlook: In one of the stranger sequences in the state, Simon Kenton’s records the past three years have been 10-3, 2-9, 9-4.
Supporters of the program had to breathe a collective sigh of relief after the Pioneers’ state quarterfinal berth in 2012 after they survived a pair of nailbiters in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
And two of Simon Kenton’s top offensive weapons are back this season.
Senior Brennan Kuntz was one of the top QBs in the area last season, as he threw for 2,098 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, and he also ran for 373 yards.
His top target, senior Grant Wassom, is also back after catching 50 passes for 800 yards and seven scores.
Four of the Pioneers’ top defensive players also return, including senior linebacker Mike Krallman, who recorded 109 tackles.
A strange stat: Simon Kenton gained just 68 more yards than it allowed last season, so were the Pioneers just lucky or are they clutch with the game on the line?
Seven of Simon Kenton’s games in 2012 were decided by a touchdown or less, and the Pioneers won five of them.
Either way, Simon Kenton has tons of returning talent and are the team to beat in the district.
2. CAMPBELL COUNTY
Coach: Steven Lickert (10th season, 48-51).
2012: 7-5, lost to Simon Kenton in second round of playoffs.
Outlook: Steven Lickert has proven without a doubt that he can take a fledgling team and make it competitive in a very short period of time.
The next test for him is to mold a state contender.
After a 4-8 season in 2011 – one which saw the Camels take out Lexington Tates Creek in the first round of the postseason – Campbell County won seven games last season for the first time since 2006.
Having an outstanding new football complex to play at won’t exactly work against the program in future years.
Quarterback Tyler Durham was a big reason for the Camels’ success the past couple of seasons, and while he will be hard to replace, 6-foot-7 sophomore Matt Wilson will ultimately end up under center, if not this year, certainly next.
Senior Jake Zabonick, a track star, averaged a ridiculous 26 yards per reception in 2012 because of his speed, leading the team in catches (28), yards (731) and receiving touchdowns (7).
Senior Avery Wood, a tight end in 2012, is in the mix under center, but he will help the Camels significantly wherever he lands. Senior offensive lineman Logan Schneider is also an elite talent.
Defensively, Campbell County has seven returning starters, including senior linebacker Joe Kremer.
The Camels have won the district title both years since Lickert took over. On paper, Simon Kenton appears to be the team to beat, but Lickert’s teams always seem to exceed expectations.
Coach: Bryson Warner (11th season, 71-49).
2012: 3-8, lost to Scott County in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: In 2010, the Raiders celebrated a state semifinal berth, but two years later they won three games.
With the parity in this district, quick slides and recoveries will likely be commonplace, as one or two talented players could be the difference between first and last place.
Ryle has plenty of solid returning players on the offensive and defensive lines, but skill players something the Raiders do not possess in abundance.
Senior Ryan Hill will likely see a lot of touches out of the backfield after gaining 285 yards on the ground last season on 52 carries. Senior David Aulick is the only other returning rusher with more than 100 yards in 2012 – he rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
Junior Eric Moore should start under center, although he threw just six passes last year. He completed three of those for 24 yards and a touchdown.
Seniors offensive lineman Lex Sowards, an Indiana State commit, and senior tight end Kevin Walker should key a strong blocking corps for the Raiders.
Defensively, seniors defensive linemen Jonah Ashcraft and Shazaad Mann, ends Jacob Lamping and Nathan Winegardner and linebackers Alex Brownell and Ryan Woolf should help improve a unit that allowed 28.5 points and 273 yards per game.
Ryle should be better than 3-8, but the team likes to play a tough schedule, and this year’s is no exception. The Raiders will host Cooper and Conner and face CovCath and Scott County on the road in non-district play.
4. DIXIE HEIGHTS
Coach: David Brossart (4th season, 13-22).
2012: 3-8, lost to Henry Clay in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: David Brossart took over a team that finished 3-7 in 2011, and the Colonels matched that mark in 2012.
But Dixie Heights has plenty of young talent returning, starting with junior quarterback Drew Moore. Moore threw for 1,758 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 814 yards and 10 TDs in 2012.
The Colonels have several options out of the backfield, including senior Darion Washington and senior Shawn Brown.
Junior Andrew Hedger thrived in his first season as a tight end, catching 32 passes for 347 yards.
But Dixie Heights will need to improve its defense if it hopes to challenge the upper echelon of its district. The Colonels gave up 34.9 points in 2012, and nine of their 11 opponents reached the 30-point mark.
Seniors Trey Simmons and Shawn Brown, and junior Ethan Harrison will lead Dixie Heights in the secondary, and seniors Seth Caple and Brendan Fisk lead the linebacking corps.
5. BOONE COUNTY
Coach: Jeff Griffith (1st season).
2012: 1-10, lost to Pleasure Ridge Park in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: Volumes could be written about the Rick Thompson era – both positive and negative – but Boone County pulled the plug after an injury-marred 1-10 finish last year that followed a state semifinal berth in 2011.
Jeff Griffith takes over after holding the defensive coordinator position for 2012 Class 6A state champion Bowling Green the past decade.
Griffith will have his work cut out for him, as the Rebels gave up 30 or more points in eight of their 11 games last season.
Boone County has many good players but lacks exceptional talent. Senior Mustafa Diaw is the Rebels’ best returning skill player, having rushed for a team-best 735 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
Junior Aaron Floyd could also emerge as a dominant ball carrier. He rushed for 376 yards and a pair of TDs on 62 carries.
Several other key players on Boone County Version 2013 are juniors, including tight end Michael Bacigalupo, offensive lineman Jesse Bowling, defensive back Carlos Figueroa offensive and defensive lineman Tyler Hickman, running back Jerry Marshall and linebacker Jacob Schlarman.
So the future looks bright for the Rebels, but in such a competitive district it will probably take a year before Boone County can become a contender again.
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Updated through Thursday's games.
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