Kentucky Class 4A high school football preseason poll for 2021

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.

It didn’t take long for Coach Justin Haddix to adjust to the high expectations that go along with leading the storied Boyle County football program in Title Town.

The first-year coach led the Rebels to their ninth state championship.

And, guess what? Boyle County comes into 2021 ranked as Class 4A’s No. 1 team, according to coaches responding to the @HLpreps Preseason Football Survey. Boyle County received 19 of the 26 No. 1 votes cast.

There are plenty of contenders who have other ideas. Johnson Central got three No. 1 nods and is always a threat. Franklin County, last year’s runner-up, and Lexington Catholic got two No. 1 votes each.

Here are the preseason top 10 teams in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Class 4A as voted on by coaches in the division.

1. Boyle County

Head coach: Justin Haddix (second season).

Last year: 11-0. State champions. Defeated Franklin County 31-28 in overtime in the state finals.

Quick look: With eight starters back on defense and seven on offense, including fifth-year senior quarterback Jagger Gillis, the Rebels look no less formidable than past years. Gillis threw for more than 2,000 yards and 25 TDs and could run, too, with 415 yards and 12 TDs. Two-way starter Cole Lanter led the team in receiving and will look to build on his 647 yards and nine TDs from a year ago. Junior defensive end Tommy Ziesmer has been on Division I radars for a while and has multiple offers including Kentucky. Sophomore transfer Sage Dawson will give Boyle even more big-play ability.

Marquee matchup: The Rebels host Class 5A defending champion Bowling Green on Sept. 17.

2. Johnson Central

Head coach: Jim Matney (18th season).

Last year: 10-1. District 8 champs. Region champs. Lost 20-12 to Franklin County in the state semifinals.

Quick look: Four-star Kentucky commit Grant Bingham, a 6-foot-6, 302-pound tackle, anchors an experienced line that makes the Golden Eagles’ run-first offense tough to stop. Junior rusher Mason Lawson likely steps into the featured back role a year after gaining 812 yards and scoring 10 TDs as the alternate hand-off — not bad. Senior linebacker Mason Lemaster led the team in tackles (88) last season and is among nine returning starters on defense.

Marquee matchup: The Golden Eagles hit the road a lot this season, including a trip to Lexington Catholic on Aug. 27.

3. Franklin County

Head coach: Eddie James (fifth season).

Last year: 9-2. District 4 champs. Region champs. Lost 31-28 in overtime to Boyle County in the state finals.

Quick look: The Flyers return nine starters on both offense and defense but the turnover included all-time players at quarterback and wide receiver. Among the returnees are standout juniors like Kaden Moorman (606 yards, 13 TDs), who has drawn a lot of Division I college interest, and two-way player Zach Claudio, who ranked second in receiving and led the team in interceptions with six, including three pick-sixes. Junior linebackers Brenton Sears and Peyton Ledford each recorded more than 100 tackles last season.

Marquee matchup: An early test in a difficult schedule comes at Class 5A powerhouse Scott County on Aug. 20.

4. Corbin

Head coach: Tom Greer (second season).

Last year: 8-2. District 7 champs. Lost 24-14 to Johnson Central in the region finals.

Quick look: The Redhounds appear primed for 2021 with quality experience including junior quarterback Cameron Combs, senior running back Seth Mills and UK recruiting target Dakota Patterson, a wideout and the No. 1 junior in the state, according to Kentucky commit Treyveon Longmire can make an impact on offense, defense and special teams. Eastern Kentucky commit Ethan Goforth, a 6-4, 260-pound tackle will set the tone in the trenches.

Marquee matchup: State runner-up Franklin County comes to town on Sept. 3.

5. Central

Head coach: Marvin Dantzler (sixth season).

Last year: 6-1. Lost 42-6 to Franklin County in the district finals.

Quick look: Dantzler has a lot of reasons to believe his team can make a run to Kroger Field, chief among them 6-1, 225-pound senior running back/linebacker Malachi Williams, who led the team in rushing (835 yards, 10 TDs), tackles (33) and sacks (three) in a COVID-19 shortened seven-game season. Quarterback Vernon Duncan will be a three-year starter. Dantzler also has three starters back on the O-line, 6-2, 260 Cameron Jackson; 6-0, 330 Sam Mentee and 6-3, 240 Franciso Lopez.

Marquee matchup: The Yellow Jackets host Class 3A monster Belfry on Sept. 10.

6. Lexington Catholic

Head coach: Nigel Smith (fourth season).

Last year: 5-3. Lost 49-41 to Boyle County in the district finals.

Quick look: Smith expects a more productive and fluid offense thanks to returning all five offensive linemen as seniors, quarterback Jack Gohmann, wide receiver Blake Busson and tight end/H-back Jack Monday. Monday made ESPN “SportsCenter” with a spectacular touchdown play in the Knights’ thrilling win over Covington Catholic last year. Quentin Duffy, a 6-2, 310-pound lineman ranks as LexCath’s strongest-ever player in the weight room, Smith says.

Marquee matchup: Lexington’s Holy War takes place at Lexington Christian on Sept. 17.

7. John Hardin

Head coach: Doug Preston (second season).

Last year: 5-3. Lost 14-10 to Hopkinsville in the district finals.

Quick look: Preston believes this year’s balance of talent could make for a “very good football team.” Leading rusher Keyandre Strand ran for 828 yards and nine TDs and will be a part of a one-two punch for the Bulldogs alongside Isaiah Harris who had 547 yards and six TDs. Devon Rogers, starts at point guard for the basketball team and takes over at quarterback.

Marquee matchup: The rivalry with Class 6A’s North Hardin is strong and takes place in Radcliffe on Sept. 17.

8. Hopkinsville

Head coach: Craig Clayton (fifth season).

Last year: 7-3. District 1 champs. Region champs. Lost 55-0 to Boyle County in the state semifinals.

Quick look: With 12 seniors back, including quarterback Treyvon Jefferson (1,476 yards passing, 16 TDs), look for the Tigers to make another deep run into the playoffs. Junior defensive back Daisjuan Mercer is likely to have a bigger presence on both offense and defense. He led the team with three interceptions last year and had a team-high eight in a full season as a freshman.

Marquee matchup: The city-county rivalry game with Christian County takes place Sept. 17.

9. Knox Central

Head coach: Travis McDaniel (first season).

Last year: 5-3. Lost 41-0 to Corbin in district finals.

Quick look:. After former head coach Fred Hoskins was named principal at Knox County Middle this summer, the Panthers named a new coach in preseason. McDaniel inherits an experienced and speedy defense that includes linebacker Steve Partin, who made 73 tackles as a freshman. Partin is also tapped as the team’s quarterback this season in an offense looking for its next set of playmakers. He’ll have some big targets, including 6-5 sophomore tight end Gavin Chadwell and 6-6 senior wideout Devin Hoskins.

Marquee matchup: District overdog Corbin visits on Oct. 8

10. Rowan County

Head coach: Kelly Ford (fifth season).

Last year: 4-4. District 8 champs. Season ended due to COVID-19 protocol that forced forfeit in region finals.

Quick look: Ford has been building Rowan into a contender since 2017 and got a district title and a 464-yard single-game rushing effort out of Cole Wallace last year. Wallace returns as a fifth-year senior with three seasons of more than 1,300 yards. The team’s leading tackler, Arian Brown (82 tackles, three sacks), returns for a fifth year, as well.

Marquee matchup: Rowan’s Aug. 20 game against Class 2A contender West Carter should be a good one.

Others receiving votes

(In order of votes received)

Letcher County Central, Allen County-Scottsville, Warren East, Holmes, Logan County, Franklin-Simpson, Harlan County, Wayne County, Bourbon County, Lincoln County, Madisonville, Scott, Boyd County, Anderson County, Spencer County and Russell County.

Survey method: These rankings reflect the participation of coaches from 26 of the 38 Class 4A teams (68.4%). Every coach in the division was given the opportunity to participate in the @HLpreps annual survey emailed to their address listed on Multiple attempts were made to contact each coach.