When it comes to handicapping the race for Kentucky’s 2016 Mr. Football award, it’s important to understand the history of the honor.
Many of the top recruits in this year’s senior class are linemen, but those guys don’t have a history of winning this award. Since Mr. Football was first handed out in 1986, 25 of the 30 winners have come from the following positions: quarterbacks (14), running backs (seven), wide receivers (three) and tight ends (one).
There have been four linebackers to win the award and one defensive lineman (Harrodsburg’s Dennis Johnson in 1997).
So, this list of top 10 candidates for the Mr. Football award SHOULD NOT be misconstrued as a list of the top 10 college football prospects among the senior class. Instead, it’s a list of the most likely candidates to win the award based on history and the likely success of their teams this season.
Players are listed in alphabetical order (only seniors are eligible for Mr. Football):
COLE BENTLEY, BELFRY, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
OK, we’re not going to completely overlook the top linemen in the state. At 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, Bentley was one of the state’s most coveted recruits and ultimately committed to the University of Louisville. With no statistics to rack up, Bentley’s Mr. Football hopes will rest almost solely on the success of his team. If Belfry can win its fourth straight Class 3-A state title this season, Bentley could become the face of the program and give himself a chance to win the honor.
JAMALE CAROTHERS, BOWLING GREEN, RUNNING BACK
Carothers may well be the best senior running back in the state. The 5-8, 190-pound player has committed to Navy after also considering Army, Marshall and Western Kentucky. He rushed for 1,341 yards and 20 touchdowns on 205 carries last season and also posted 44 receptions for 719 yards and six scores as the Purples won the Class 5-A state title. With Bowling Green expected to make a run for another state title this year, Carothers should garner plenty of statewide recognition.
KEYRON CATLETT, CHRISTIAN COUNTY, WIDE RECEIVER
Catlett is a long shot to win Mr. Football honors but could be the top candidate from the western part of the state. The 5-10, 180-pound prospect has committed to Western Kentucky after also considering Arkansas State, Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky and Kentucky Christian. Last season he had 62 receptions for 797 yards and seven touchdowns. He also posted 10 tackles and an interception while playing defensive back.
C.J. HAYES, SOUTH WARREN, WIDE RECEIVER
Hayes didn’t post big-time numbers in South Warren’s run-first offense last season – 18 catches, 219 yards, six touchdowns – but his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame made him a strong college prospect. He has committed to Purdue after also receiving offers from Cincinnati, Illinois, Marshall, Toledo and several others. South Warren went 15-0 on its way to the Class 4-A state title last season and will be among the top contenders for the crown again this year.
JAKE JOHNSON, PULASKI COUNTY, WIDE RECEIVER
Johnson (6-0, 170 pounds) doesn’t have the big-time offers like others on this list, but he’s poised to enter the record book as Kentucky’s all-time leading receiver. With 275 career receptions, he needs six more to pass Trinity’s James Quick (280) as the state’s all-time leader. He also has 3,913 career yards, needing 1,069 more to pass Somerset’s John Cole as the state’s career leader. If he matches his numbers from last season (104 catches, 1,606 yards, 23 touchdowns), Johnson will be hard to ignore for Mr. Football honors.
TANNER MORGAN, RYLE, QUARTERBACK
With offers from Cincinnati, Louisville and Wake Forest, Morgan surprised some observers when he committed to Western Michigan in April. The 6-foot, 200-pound Morgan completed 215 of 374 passes for 2,674 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions at Ryle last season after starting as a freshman and a sophomore at Hazard. With 7,556 passing yards and 77 passing touchdowns, Morgan is on pace to become the ninth quarterback in state history to reach 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns.
JAKE PAULSON, CHRISTIAN ACADEMY, TIGHT END/DEFENSIVE END
One of the state’s top two-way players, the 6-5, 245-pound Paulson has a bevy of college scholarship offers, including from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Marshall, Purdue, Central Florida and Western Kentucky. Last season he had 12 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns and also posted a team-high 99 tackles (40 solo). If the Centurions can make a deep run in the Class 2-A playoffs, Paulson could be in the mix for Mr. Football honors.
DESMOND RIDDER, ST. XAVIER, QUARTERBACK
Ridder (6-4, 185 pounds) committed to Cincinnati in May after also considering an offer from Eastern Kentucky. He’s one of the state’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, having passed for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 668 yards and 12 scores last season. Lafayette’s Walker Wood and Ryle’s Tanner Morgan likely are the top two quarterbacks in the Mr. Football race, but Ridder could be in the mix if St. X enjoys a stellar season.
JEDRICK WILLS, LAFAYETTE, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
There’s little doubt Willis is the most coveted recruit in Kentucky’s senior class. The 6-5, 318-pound lineman recently announced his final eight college choices: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Tennessee. Among Class of 2017 recruits, he’s ranked No. 1 in Kentucky and No. 41 in the nation by 247Sports.com. If ever an offensive lineman was going to be named Mr. Football, Wills could be the one. But he might not be the top candidate on his own team. …
WALKER WOOD, LAFAYETTE, QUARTERBACK
If there’s a preseason favorite for the award, Wood (6-0, 180 pounds) would be the one. He plays the glamorous position of quarterback and gets the Mr. Football boost of having committed to the University of Kentucky. And his numbers from last season were superb, both through the air (188 of 315, 2,611 yards, 21 TDs, 8 interceptions) and on the ground (236 carries, 1,622 yards, 22 TDs). The Generals finished 12-3 after falling to Male in the Class 6-A championship game.