If Male High School football fans — or coach Chris Wolfe, for that matter — had any doubts about how the Bulldogs’ offense would function this season with new quarterback Hayden Shelton, they were answered last month in Alabama.
With former starter Davis Mattingly now a walk-on quarterback at the University of Kentucky, Shelton has taken over and led the Bulldogs to the championship at the prestigious National Select 7-on-7 event in Hoover, Ala.
Coaches typically downplay the significance of passing-league results, but Wolfe liked what he saw in his new quarterback.
“I think that right there tells you all you need to know about Hayden,” Wolfe said. “He can definitely throw the ball. He has a quick release. And he’s a track athlete, so he can run.”
Shelton will have plenty of weapons alongside him when the Bulldogs open their 2015 season Friday against Floyd Central. Male averaged 39.8 points per game last season and finished 11-1 after a 38-31 loss to eventual state champion Trinity in the second round of the Class 6-A playoffs.
Shelton and the rest of Male’s 32 seniors have been pointing to 2015 since they went 9-0 as freshmen. Playoff losses to Scott County in 2013 and Trinity last year serve as motivation.
“Our goal is to finish,” Shelton said. “We’ve been real close the last two years but just haven’t finished.”
The Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 2 behind Trinity in 6-A in The Courier-Journal’s preseason poll of coaches, return seven starters on both offense and defense.
Senior Devin Gentry (367 yards, five touchdowns) will take over as the No. 1 running back, and Keion Wakefield (40 catches, 634 yards, 11 TDs), Zach Smith (33-653-9), Ethan Britt (31-456-4) and Marcus Clark (25-248-5) all return at wide receiver.
Wakefield has committed to the University of Louisville and is among the top contenders for Kentucky’s Mr. Football award. Wakefield has moved from an outside receiver to the slot.
“It’s comfortable with Hayden, knowing I have a guy who can throw it just as well as Davis and get me the ball in space,” Wakefield said.
Male’s defense allowed just 47 rushing yards per game this season and will get a big boost from the return of senior end Marcus Davis. He missed most of last season with a knee injury after leading the Bulldogs in tackles (98) as a sophomore.
Linebacker Jack Kuerzi, cornerback Demetrius Holt and free safety James Todd are other key returnees on defense.
“I couldn’t ask for a better team coming back,” Wolfe said. “We have a lot of experience on both sides of the ball and great leadership. … Our expectations are really high.”
Here’s a brief look at other Louisville 6-A squads ranked in the top 10:
* No. 3 St. Xavier: The Tigers return just three starters (one offense, two defense) from last year’s 8-5 squad, but third-year coach Will Wolford is confident his team can make another deep postseason run.
“We put together a really difficult weight program in January, and they’ve excelled at it,” he said. “They’re a tough-minded bunch of kids, and they’re ready to show it on the field.”
St. X has a new offensive coordinator in Dave Nurnberg, who joined the program from Nashville (Tenn.) Father Ryan. Wolford said the offense “will be more wide-open” this season.
Seniors Corey Chitwood and Austin Breit and junior Desmond Ridder are battling to be the starting quarterback. Senior running back John Martinez and senior wide receiver Colin O’Daniel will be key playmakers.
Senior end Ethan Adams and senior linebacker Logan Butler are the returning starters on defense.
“We haven’t blocked those two guys in practice yet,” Wolford said. “Hopefully that shows against our opponents. Otherwise we’re going to be in trouble.”
* No. 4 Manual: The Crimsons have six starters back on both offense and defense from last year’s 8-4 squad.
Senior quarterback Tim Comstock returns after passing for 1,731 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“No one has worked harder than him,” coach Oliver Lucas said. “He has himself in top condition and is throwing the ball well. He doesn’t have to think about everything now. He can just let his athleticism and experience guide him.”
Senior Reece West and junior Andre Teague will provide a 1-2 punch at running back, and senior Eric Niemann (39 catches, 401 yards, four TDs) and junior Jailen Carter (25-341-6) return at wide receiver.
The Crimsons’ defense allowed just 11.3 points per game last season and should be stout again behind senior lineman Derek Dorsey (U of L commit) and junior lineman Sean Cleasant (Vanderbilt offer). Senior linebacker Anthony Kyser posted a team-high 92 tackles last year.
* No. 7 Ballard: Last season the Bruins won a regional title for the first time since 1992 and are hoping to carry that momentum into 2015.
Senior running back David Daniels first started as a freshman and rushed for 1,200 yards last season. Junior Kyle Wolfe takes over at quarterback. His brother, Cody, quarterbacked Eastern to the state semifinals in 2012.
“He has good bloodlines,” coach Mike Jackson said of Kyle Wolfe. “He’s a hard-working kid who plays baseball, too.”
Ballard returns three solid seniors on defense in tackle William Mbumba, end Omardrick Douglas (14 tackles for loss last year) and linebacker Hayden Smith (106 tackles last year).