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RIVER RAT: HS FB is here!

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What to watch for in 2016

By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

Welcome to the 2016 high school football season, and our special coverage of it.

Of course, today’s issue of The Kentucky Standard features an old favorite, the football preview section, where we profile the teams that will be hitting the gridiron under the lights on Friday nights for the next few months.

In addition, I hope you’ve been watching our companion coverage on PLG-TV 13, where this week we launched Season 8 (!) of Zubaty and Crew Sports Week with individual segments focusing on each of our local varsity football teams.

It’s a fun time, and exciting time, and an extremely busy time as scrimmages are in the books, and teams are making their final preparations for this weekend’s season openers.

Thanks to all the people — players, coaches, administration, sponsors, writers and other behind-the-scenes folks — who help make this section possible. I couldn’t do it without you.

With that in mind, here are some key storylines I’m looking out for this year:

 

Can Bethlehem repeat?

The Eagles went to Campbellsville and surprised the home team with a fourth-quarter win to claim the Class 1A District 2 title and roll on to the Region 1 championship, where a loaded Russellville team was too much to handle on the road.

Bethlehem loses several key starters along its offensive and defensive line, including William Brown and Jared Reece, both now on collegiate rosters. The Eagles have some beef coming back on the line, but will they gel enough to help quarterback Matt Hagan and running back Hunter Downs run wild like they did as juniors?

Several new faces can be found on the Bethlehem coaching staff as longtime assistants Michael Holt and Corbin Hack have left the program.

 

Big year for Tigers?

Bardstown has 18 seniors on board for this season, including QB Santrel Farmer, who missed several games with injuries last year. However, the Tigers suffered some key losses as RB/LB Voshon Livers and WR/DL Jarrett Dennison are both now at Georgetown, and four-year lineman standout Julian Rogers is now with the Lindsey Wilson track team.

If Bardstown can fill those holes and the senior group takes a big step forward, it could turn into a fun year.

However, Class 2A District 3 is arguably the toughest in the state, with Central and Waggener expected to be state powers, and Moore also figures to be on the uptick. If the Tigers can navigate through that minefield, who knows?

 

TNHS should improve

After a 5-5 mark in Kyle Boblitt’s first season as head coach of the Generals, his team had troubles with injuries and inexperience last year, leading to a 1-9 campaign.

The Generals have several key returnees back, and the group of sophomores who got big playing time last year are now juniors. Boblitt said his team has been hitting it hard in the weightroom and in offseason workouts, which should lead to a stronger team up front.

The Generals also have 16 seniors on the squad, and several players are embracing new leadership roles which should breed positive results.

Like Bardstown, unfortunately, Thomas Nelson is also stuck in the difficult Class 2A District 3, so the Generals will have their work cut out for them.

 

New faces at NC

Coach Kenneth Thornsberry, the former Bullitt East offensive coordinator, landed his first head coaching job when Nelson County went looking for a replacement for Jamie Egli, who for the better part of the last decade was the architect of a high-flying passing offense that left several marks in the state record book.

Egli’s gone to Montgomery County now, and Thornsberry will bring in an option-based offense similar to the Charger units that plowed through opposing defenses with a big ground game, stinging the Cardinals a few times along the way.

It could take some time for Thornsberry to get his squad where he wants it, as Nelson County graduated 18 seniors, many of them multi-year starters. He’ll lean heavily on senior quarterback Jacob Bowman and junior running back Nick Boone to jump-start the offense.

 

Key games

Aug. 19/20 — The season opener is a big deal for every team, as everybody wants to start out on the right foot. Bethlehem opens at home Friday against 1A No. 9 Nicholas County in what should be a good challenge for the Eagles. Thomas Nelson’s lone win last year was at Fort Knox, and the Eagles visit the Generals Friday. On Saturday, we have the second installment of the Bardstown/Nelson County Bowl, this time at NCHS. The Tigers open against 4A No. 6 Spencer County in a strong test, while the Cardinals will be facing some familiar faces in the nightcap against Marion County, where former NCHS player Allen Harmon is now head coach, and former Bethlehem assistant Michael Holt runs the offense. Tom Brown, former Bethlehem athletic director and a coach and administrator at NCHS, is now the Marion County High principal.

Aug. 26 — Bethlehem at Thomas Nelson — Two years ago, the Generals got their first win in program history over the Eagles. Last year, Bethlehem got its revenge as the Eagle defense came up big in the second half. Big emotional game on the calendar for both teams.

Sept. 2 — Thomas Nelson at Nelson Co. — The Generals would like nothing better than to spoil the part when the Cardinals honor the latest inductees to the Nelson County HS Athletics Hall of Fame.

Sept. 9 — Nelson Co. at Bardstown — Always the biggest game on the local schedule each year. Expect a very big crowd.

Sept. 16 — Elizabethtown at Bardstown — Good test for the Tigers against an old rival. The Panthers lost some key guys from last year’s 3A state semifinalist 13-1 squad, but with Mark Brown at the helm, you know E’town won’t be slouches.

Sept. 23 — Bullitt East at Nelson Co. — The Cards have a six-week stretch from Sept. 9 through Oct. 14 where five of six games are on the road, this one being the lone exception. Plus, it’s new NC coach Kenny Thornsberry’s first game against his alma mater, the place that gave him his start in coaching.

Sept. 30 — Bardstown at Waggener — If the Tigers are going host a playoff game this year, the Wildcats figure to be their biggest obstacle. They have several Division I recruits on their squad.

Oct. 7 — Bethlehem at Caverna — Eagles open district play in search of a second straight district crown.

Oct. 14 — Central at Bardstown, Campbellsville at Bethlehem — Central and Campbellsville are picked by the pundits to win their respective districts. Bardstown and Bethlehem would love nothing more than to prove them wrong.

Oct. 21 — Bardstown at Thomas Nelson — Good measuring stick for the Generals against a difficult 2A D3 rival.

Bullitt Central at Nelson Co. — The Cards’ regular-season finale comes a week before everyone else locally. Will this be a play-in game for the 5A D3 playoffs?

Oct. 28 — The final week of the regular season involves non-district games, as teams get their final tune-ups in before the playoffs. Most interesting on this week is Paris at Bethlehem, as the 1A Greyhounds have proven a formidable challenge for the Eagles in recent years.

 

Contact Kentucky Standard sports editor Peter W. Zubaty at pzubaty@kystandard.com.