By John Lachmann
Coach: Noel Rash (8th season, 76-22).
2012: 9-5, lost to Mayfield in state semifinal.
Outlook: Despite the team’s well-documented off-field issues last season, the Tigers still advanced to the state semifinal for the sixth straight season.
Beechwood has lost four consecutive games in that round since its 2008 state championship season, and Mayfield has knocked the Tigers out each year since.
In a strange way, Beechwood’s late-season player suspensions in 2012 may help this year, as several players gained valuable experience they ordinarily would not have.
That list includes sophomore quarterback Kyle Fieger, who led the Tigers to three playoff wins as a freshman.
Beechwood has nine starters back on offense and six on defense and is still the team to beat the district.
Coach: Johnny Poynter (1st season).
2012: 7-5, lost to Frankfort in second round of playoffs.
Outlook: For a team on its fourth coach in five seasons, the Tigers have been surprisingly consistent.
Bellevue went 7-5 in both of Mike Croley’s seasons at the helm after a 5-7 campaign in 2010 under coach Mike Shearer. The Tigers compiled a 9-4 record in David Eckstein’s last season in 2009.
The focal point of the offense last season, senior Dylan Huff returns after rushing for 1,845 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2012.
Bellevue has always hung its hat on its running game and has been quite successful with that approach over the years.
While that approach has made the Tigers an above-average Class A team, they need to be able to establish the passing game if they hope to compete with teams like Beechwood.
Bellevue threw the ball just 77 times last year and completed only 28 of those, but senior quarterback Tyler Ackerson does return under center with a full year of QB experience under his belt.
Coach: Chad Montgomery (3rd season, 4-18).
2012: 3-8, lost to Paris in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: Chad Montgomery inherited a mess in 2011, but after a one-win season in his rookie campaign his Greendevils improved to 3-8 in 2012.
Dayton will be very young in its skill positions, but both sophomore quarterback Dylan Adams and junior running back Logan Brewer played a significant amount last season.
Adams threw for over 500 yards and eight touchdowns, and Brewer rushed for over 500 yards and scored six times.
Seniors Austin Brockman and Eddie Combs are the Greendevils’ key defensive players, and Brockman doubles as a tight end, having caught seven TD passes in 2012.
Almost all of Dayton’s games are potentially winnable, with the exception of Beechwood and possible Bellevue, so the Greendevils should gain ample experience and take a step closer to their first winning season since 2007.
Coach: Rick Hornsby (6th season, 16-40).
2012: 1-10, lost to Frankfort in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: The Panthers pulled off a 48-37 win over Class 4A Pendleton County in their second game of 2012, and it looked like they might contend in their district.
But the season went due south from there, as Ludlow would lose its final eight while being outscored, 461-53 in that span.
The Panthers do have a three-year starter under center in senior Mitchell Cody. He has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards in his career, including 743 and eight touchdowns last regular season.
His top target is senior Zach Cole, who caught 20 passes last season for 360 yards and five scores.
Seniors Tyler Arnold and Tyler Hembree are Ludlow’s top two linemen on both sides of the ball.
The Panthers probably won’t approach .500, but Rick Hornsby is a good coach and the team should be better than 1-10 in 2013.
1. NEWPORT CENTRAL CATHOLIC
Coach: Dan Wagner (1st season).
2012: 11-4, state champions.
Outlook: Is it a good thing or a bad thing to take over coaching reigns after a team wins a state title?
On one hand, Dan Wagner takes over a program with a track record of success, having won 35 games the last three years.
On the other hand, there is ample pressure on a coach for the program to continue to succeed at a high level.
But Wagner has been at NewCath for 13 years as the defensive coordinator, so the transition should be a smooth one. Last year’s coach, Eddie Eviston, took the offensive coordinator’s job at Georgetown College after three years with the Thoroughbreds.
Plus Dave Schneider will remain NewCath’s offensive coordinator.
Senior Mac Franzen will take over under center after his record-setting 2012 season as a wide receiver. He set the school record for receiving yards (1,143), and he caught eight TD passes.
Sophomore Jacob Smith will likely pick up his workload in the backfield after rushing for 267 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman, and tackles leader senior linebacker Jack Sutkamp will key the Thoroughbreds’ defense after leading the team with 110 tackles in 2012.
NewCath plays five much bigger schools to start the season, facing Ashland Blazer and Cooper before three straight road games against Campbell County, Simon Kenton and Dixie Heights.
2. HOLY CROSS
Coach: Bruce Kozerski (10th season, 55-54).
2012: 4-8, lost to NewCath in second round of playoffs.
Outlook: No team in Northern Kentucky had a bigger dropoff last season than Holy Cross.
The Indians were state champions in 2011, but they regressed to a 4-8 mark last season.
Defense was a major problem in 2012 for Holy Cross, which allowed 39.9 points per game. Opponents averaged 249 rushing yards vs. the Indians last regular season.
Senior Jalen Beal is Holy Cross’ top returning skill player, having rushed for 704 yards and 12 touchdowns last regular season. He also caught 18 passes for 201 yards prior to the playoffs.
Beal is also a standout on defense, as is senior lineman Sean Sullivan.
If the defense improves, the Indians should post a more respectable record, but they still have a difficult non-divisional schedule that includes Simon Kenton, Beechwood, Conner and Campbell – all away from Tom Ellis Field.
Coach: Eric Turner (1st season).
2012: 8-4, lost to Walton-Verona in second round of playoffs.
Outlook: Josh Stratton led the Juggernauts to their first winning season in eight years, but in the offseason he took the head coaching job at New Richmond (Ohio).
Eric Turner, the offensive coordinator at Boone County the past 10 seasons, takes over at the helm and will try to build on Lloyd’s best season since 2003.
Senior Jared Gabbard will start under center this season on an offense that lost the majority of its skill position players. Senior Brian Freeman does return after being one of the Juggernauts’ top returning receivers in 2012.
Junior Hayden Molitor picked off seven passes last season and seniors Brian Warren and Jacob Sand were among Lloyd’s tackles leaders on a defense that allowed 26 points per game.
The Juggernauts open with a neutral-site game vs. Marion County, followed by two homes and then all four of their road games consecutively before finishing with three straight at home.
NewCath is still the favorite in this district, but if Lloyd’s defense can take another step forward the Juggernauts could host a first-round playoff game.
Coach: Lee Teegarden (5th season, 14-29).
2012: 1-9, missed playoffs.
Outlook: The Mustangs could not catch a break last season.
After beating Middletown Christian in its opener, Brossart came back from 13 down to score a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter only to fall by one because the Mustangs missed an extra point and were stopped going for two.
Numerous injuries derailed the season after that and Brossart did not win another game, getting outscored 313-25 in its final six.
Lee Teegarden, formerly the head coach at Pendleton County, takes over this season. Teegarden led the Wildcats to a 7-4 mark in 2009 – the record that team has ever posted, and the last three seasons he was an offensive coordinator at Ryle.
The Mustangs do have ample talent returning. Senior quarterback Casey Pelgen threw for 644 yards and rushed for 442 – averaging over eight yards per carry – and ran in four touchdowns.
Sophomore Logan Schoulthies and senior Sean Tieman both return after rushing for over 300 yards each in 2012.
Senior defensive linemen Teddy MacDonald and Jacob Bauman and junior linebacker Justin Schack are key returnees on Brossart’s defense.
With their returning talent, the Mustangs should rebound a bit in 2013 and will likely return to the playoffs.
Coach: Matthew Schmitz (1st season).
2012: 3-8, lost to Walton-Verona in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: Neither of their last two coaches could reach the .500 mark the past six seasons, so the Wildcats are hoping former Austin Peay quarterback Matthew Schmitz can raise the bar.
Schmitz was a quarterback in college, a coach at Tennessee Tech and most recently the offensive coordinator at Clinton High School in Tennessee.
Newport does not boast much experience at the skill positions. Junior Dominic Joseph is the team’s top returning rusher, having gained 105 yards on the ground last regular season. Senior Charlie Mullins also saw a handful of carries and caught five passes.
Defensively, the Wildcats must improve against the run. They allowed an average of 217 rushing yards per game last year, and five times opponents scored 40 or more points vs. Newport.
Senior linebacker Daryl Youngman and Joseph lead the defensive corps after combining for over 100 total tackles last season.
A tough schedule will make improvement on last season’s record a challenge. The Wildcats open up with Campbell County and Walton-Verona on the road, and also play bigger non-district schools Scott, Mason County and Holmes.
Coach: Jeff Barth (6th season, 33-24).
2012: 10-3, lost to NewCath in state quarterfinal.
Outlook: It’s hard to believe Walton-Verona’s football program is just five years old.
After consecutive losing seasons in 2008-09, Jeff Barth’s Bearcats have won eight or more games each year since and last season advanced to their first-ever state quarterfinal.
Junior Justin Kline returns at quarterback after playing in 11 games last season. He only threw 33 passes for run-happy Walton-Verona.
The Latimore brothers – Chris and Will – are both back. Will Latimore rushed for more yards (961), but Chris Latimore scored more rushing touchdowns (12).
They combined for over 1,500 ground yards and 25 total touchdowns. Will Latimore also led the team in receptions (17) and receiving yards (345).
Defensively, Will Latimore intercepted four passes and recovered a fumble, returning one of each for a TD.
Junior David Carr and senior Ben Whelan are also key returnees on the offensive and defensive line, and senior Daniel Tilley is back on the O-line and at linebacker.
The Bearcats ran the table in their district last season, and with the retuning talent they have, they have to be considered the favorite to repeat as district champions.
Coach: Dale Mueller (29th season, 275-73).
2012: 14-1, won state championship.
Outlook: The Bluebirds set a Kentucky record last season by winning their sixth consecutive state title. They have an 87-3 record in that span.
Senior Drew Houliston is the latest Bluebird to take charge of the Highlands offense, and his numbers in limited action behind Donovan McCoy last season were outstanding. Houliston was 33 for 58 for 610 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Senior Zach Harris returns after rushing for 1,001 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2012, and senior tight end Nick True, a 6-foot-6 tight end who caught 15 passes for 218 yards and four TDs, is also back.
Senior defensive end Seth Hope leads the D-corps after recording five sacks in the championship game last season and 20.5 overall.
Highlands has difficult matchups against University Christian (Fla.) and Cincinnati Elder this season, but the Bluebirds should run the table vs. in-state teams.
Highlands has to be the district favorite again this season, but it will have to win at Covington Catholic to accomplish that.
2. COVINGTON CATHOLIC
Coach: Dave Wirth (5th season, 31-19).
2012: 9-4, lost to Highlands in state quarterfinal.
Outlook: Three-year starter Blake Bir was a once-in-a generation quarterback, and his graduation probably means the Colonels run more in 2013.
The good news is another Bir will likely help CovCath in that department – senior Luke Bir. Bir rushed 72 times for 555 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Junior Adam Wagner will start under center for the Colonels. He saw limited action behind the elder Bir last season, completing 6-of-10 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 33 times for 164 yards and a TD.
Senior Evan Braun in CovCath’s lead retuning receiver after catching 32 passes for 565 yards and seven scores.
Senior linebacker Sam Burchell, a Division I recruit who made 97 tackles last season, leads a Colonels defense that recorded five shutouts and allowed just 12.9 points per game in 2012.
CovCath has made strides the past few seasons, but Highlands is still the team to beat in this district. But the Bluebirds will have to win on the Colonels’ home field to take the district title.
Coach: Ben Nevels (1st season).
2012: 6-5, lost to Ashland Blazer in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: Terry Liggin stepped down in the offseason, so Ben Nevels becomes the Bulldogs’ third coach in four years.
Nevels, who was an assistant at Holmes as well as Lloyd the past nine years, takes over a team that has posted winning records three of its last four seasons despite the turnover on the sidelines.
Senior Jon Scruggs is the Bulldogs’ top returning offensive threat. Scruggs can run the ball, catch it, throw it and block. He also plays a major role as a defensive back.
Senior Freddie Wardlaw is expected to be an impact receiver and defensive back, and juniors Marco Bright and Breandon Johnson will key the offensive line.
Holmes is always competitive, but the Bulldogs are not in a class with Highlands or CovCath, so it’s highly unlikely they finish above third in their district.
4. HARRISON COUNTY
Coach: Jim Carr (2nd season, 1-10).
2012: 1-10, lost to Johnson Central in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: The Thorobreds have a number of skill players returning, including junior quarterback Robbie Stroud.
Harrison County should improve on an injury-plagued 2012 campaign, but the team isn’t at the level of any of the other three teams in its district.
It’s a shame the KHSAA doesn’t move the Thorobreds, who have a beautiful sports complex, into a district where they have a chance to compete instead of being trounced by Highlands and CovCath every year.