The Ryle Raiders have won eight of nine district games since the current Class 6A, District 6 formed in 2019, but have struggled in the post-season.
It was only a matter of time before the Ryle Raiders had that breakthrough.
Last season, Ryle finished 9-4, winning another district crown and first two playoff games before ultimately being dispatched by Louisville Trinity in Union, 38-16.
The Raiders are hoping to go farther this season.
Mike Engler is the only returning head coach in the district from last year entering his ninth season guiding Ryle.
A big thing Engler said the players and coaches do is, have fun. The Raiders recently had a team camp that started at 6 a.m. called ‘Raiders for Life’. The staff taught the players life lessons such as how to change a tire. They warm up with music, which is something the University of Kentucky’s football team does. In the preseason, Ryle played some 7 on 7 football and sent both teams to the finals in a tournament.
“It starts with our coaching staff,” Engler said. “Our coaching staff gets along and has a great camaraderie there. It bleeds down to the team as well. We have, I think, the best coaching staff in the state of Kentucky. We have fun together. Our players see that. They get along with our players. They develop relationships.”
Ryle’s player strengths include dynamic senior wide receiver and defensive back Kaden Gardner who caught 56 passes for 786 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He also recorded 59 tackles and had two interceptions.
Junior Logan Verax returns at quarterback and Engler said Verax has put on 15 to 20 pounds of muscle. Verax completed 190 of 333 passes last year for 2,395 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Ryle’s leading rusher also returns. Senior Jayce Harden recorded 540 yards on 112 carries and two touchdowns for an average of just under five yards per carry. Harden also had 28 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns.
The Ryle skill position players will have a nice offensive line blocking for them. Seniors Ameron Vinson, Charlie Perkins and Drew Dickerson return there. The Raiders rushed for 2,136 yards and passed for 2,451 last year for averages of between 152 and 153 rushing and just more than 175 passing. Engler said he likes the way Ryle makes adjustments during games.
“We play a very tough schedule for a reason,” Engler said. “We will not see anybody in our district tougher than what we play early in the season. I love playing teams like (Louisville) St. Xavier because they’re going to make adjustments during the game because they’re well-coached.”
Gardner and seniors Abram Cusick, Lukas Colemire and Luke Lown return in the secondary for the Raiders. Seniors Brandt Dawson, Justin Moore and sophomore Beau Faul return at linebacker with senior Luke Zimmerman returning at defensive end.
Ryle opens the season at Lexington Catholic on Aug. 19. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Simon Kenton Pioneers
After long-time head coach Jeff Marksberry retired, the administration promoted former head coach Roy Lucas to the role.
What will not change is the dynamic Simon Kenton Counter Trey Gap Spread offense. The Pioneers put up 1,921 yards rushing and 1,763 yards passing for averages of between 174 and 175 rushing and just more than 160 passing. The returning players seemed eager to put the 2-9 record from last season behind them quickly in the spring.
“They’ve worked really hard,” Lucas said. “The main thing that we’ve emphasized is to have fun with our kids. While we’ve been working, we’ve been trying to keep it upbeat and positive.”
It helps that Simon Kenton returns a fourth-year starting quarterback in senior Chase Crone in addition to the top rusher and wide receiver coming back. Crone completed 112 of 214 passes for 1,638 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions last year and rushed for 693 yards on 215 carries and 14 touchdowns for an average of just more than three yards per carry.
Senior running back and defensive back Jayden Lawson returns after rushing for a team-high 898 yards on 175 carries and 11 touchdowns for an average of just more than five yards per carry. Senior wide receiver Chase Williams caught a team-high 59 passes for 800 yards and eight touchdowns. The Pioneers have a nice offensive line led by seniors C.J. Heflin, Kaleb Russell, Nathan Bieber and juniors Jake Putthoff and Aba Selm.
Selm also hopes to help shore things up on the defensive line in Simon Kenton’s 4-3 scheme. Opponents outscored Simon Kenton, 467-304.
Senior defensive end Aidan Harris and senior defensive lineman Josh Brophy also hope to help disrupt plays in the backfield. Senior linebacker Josh Bowling returns after leading the Pioneers with 123 tackles with three for a loss including one sack. Bowling will also see some action at tight end.
A number of linebackers and defensive backs return with experience. Senior Lucas Ferment moves to defensive back. Juniors Kaleb Bleier and Mark Ober return at linebacker. Bleier could also see action at running back.
“We’ve tried to make our defensive scheme match our offensive scheme,” Lucas said. “That was one of the things that we talked about early on. Offensively, we’ve been up-tempo, aggressive, attack so we’ve tried to do that defensively as well. We’ve already been more aggressive, physical and made plays. You’re going to make mistakes. But we feel like they’ve made great strides.”
Simon Kenton opens the season at Oldham County on Aug. 19. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Campbell County Camels
New Head Coach Brian Weinrich recalled the last time the Camels drove to the third round of the playoffs in the old Class 4A in 1994. He attended the game visiting from college.
The Camels and the Boone County Rebels entered the fourth quarter tied at 21. Campbell County drove into Rebel territory but Boone Co. great Shaun Alexander picked off an overthrown middle screen pass and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown. The Rebels added a safety in the 30-21 win on their way to a Class 4A state runner-up finish.
Weinrich takes over the Camels after spending one season at Newport and guiding the Highlands Bluebirds the previous seven years. The Bluebirds won the Class 4A crown in 2014.
Campbell County’s motto is “Brick by Brick.” He knew the daily improvement mentality is more than needed coming off a rough 10-31 stretch the previous four years including a 1-10 season last year. Campbell County last won a playoff game in 2017.
The Camels plan to continue running the 3-4 base defense with Defensive Coordinator Russell Harden and a spread offense.
“The lines have been tremendous,” Weinrich said. “We have tremendous line coaches both on the offensive side and the defensive side that have just been getting after it. We’ve really been trying to focus on committing them to one side of the ball because in high school, you have a lot of two-way players in certain situations. But the closer you get to the ball like offensive line, defensive line, the harder it is to play like that. It’s really been going well.”
Senior Seth Webb will anchor the offensive line. The Camels return a number of skill position players, including junior quarterback Nathan Smith who completed 86 of 162 passes last year for 817 yards, two touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Smith also had two interceptions on defense last year.
Three of the top four rushers from last year return in Smith, Ayden Bauwens and Keegan Hill. Weinrich also said to watch out for junior Joe Amato in the backfield. Amato also led Campbell County with three fumble recoveries last year defensively.
The three leading wide receivers from last year, seniors Keegan Hill, Creed Marr and Dez Davie, return. Hill led Campbell County with 23 catches for 278 yards and Davie scored both passing touchdowns for the Camels last year. Weinrich also said to watch for some sophomore wide receivers such as Garyn Jackson.
Sophomore Mason Haywood returns on the defensive line and Weinrich said junior twins Hunter and Mason Wiseman could make an impact there at linebacker and defensive line, respectively. Mason Wiseman will also play some tight end.
Senior outside linebacker Mitch McElroy returns after leading Campbell County with 71 tackles including six for a loss and two quarterback sacks. Bauwens at defensive back made 39 tackles last year and senior linebacker Zach Funston made three tackles for a loss including two sacks.
Campbell County opens the season against Newport Central Catholic on Aug. 19. Game time is 7 p.m.
Dixie Heights Colonels
The Colonels are led by new head coach Pat Burke who guides a team that graduated 23 seniors last year after a 7-5 season that ended in the second round of the playoffs.
“It’s more about being able to handle adversity, handle success and handle failures,” Burke said. “We talk about that a lot and how to deal with those things. We don’t talk about it in terms of the Friday night lights. We talk about it in terms of playing with a desire to excel and without a fear of failure all the time no matter where they’re at, no matter what the circumstance may be.”
The defense has the most question marks as the only returning starter is junior Brach Rice at defensive end and outside linebacker. Rice had 29 tackles and four quarterback sacks last year and will be a tight end on offense. Rice caught 16 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns last year.
Burke said the Colonels plan to use multiple formations defensively. Junior Beni Mwamba at cornerback and senior Xavier Gregg at linebacker bring back some experience on defense. Burke also likes what he sees from junior safety Miguel Rodriguez.
Burke said the plan is to run a Smashmouth Spread offense. The Colonels return three starters on the offensive line in seniors Owen Lawrence, Joey Schultz and junior Cole Fitzenberger. Burke also likes what he sees from junior Quentin Russo.
The Colonels are looking to sophomore Armani Gregg at quarterback with senior Caleb Hinkle at running back and sophomore Trey Barnett at wide receiver. Overall, Burke and staff have said they’ve been impressed with the work ethic of the returning players.
“We focus a lot on character and our core values,” Burke said. “We focus on coaching through those values – purpose, resiliency, integrity, discipline, energy. We teach about it every day and our kids are understanding those things – what they mean, what they represent and how they’re defined. They’re taking the ball and rolling with that. I’m excited about their elevation since the spring and where we’re headed. I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys.”
Dixie Heights plays host to Lloyd Memorial on Aug. 19. Game time is 7 p.m.