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Debut weekend for Northern Kentucky’s limited number of Division I college football players

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

With the first full week of college football upon us, it’s a good time to check on where the 13 Northern Kentuckians listed on Division I rosters will spend this weekend.

But if that number doesn’t seem like a lot, considering there are 21 Northern Kentucky schools playing high school football, you’re not wrong. It seems like it should be higher, so we did the math.

Considering that Northern Kentucky’s population of 400,000 or so is about 18 percent of the Cincinnati metropolitan area of 2,258,000 – 30th highest in the U.S. – and that the total number of Division I players from Greater Cincinnati is right at 183 this year, it looks like Northern Kentucky isn’t keeping up.

Jacob Gideon, Western Michigan (Image Provided)

With that 18 percent of the population, Northern Kentucky should have 33 Division I football players, not 13. As a point of reference, my old high school – Cincinnati St. Xavier – has 15 by itself, more than all the Northern Kentucky schools combined. So what’s the deal here?

Some of it is just plain how no one is paying attention, as Highlands Coach Bob Sphire, who has coached at the top levels of Georgia high school football as well as in Kentucky, told us a couple of weeks back.

We’re not Louisville or Lexington in Kentucky and not Cincinnati in Ohio. Northern Kentucky, in so many ways including high school football recruiting, can seem something like a “no-man’s land.”

Sphire’s senior quarterback Brody Benke, who at 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds will be a tight end in college but is responsible for 293 yards a game (passing, running and throwing the football with seven touchdowns), would have all sorts of colleges interested “if he was playing at North Gwinnett,” Sphire says of his former team, “he’d have way more offers,” than the likes of Toledo, Wofford and UAB.

Cameron Hergott, Eastern Kentucky (Image Provided)

At Covington Catholic, 6-5 senior quarterback Evan Pitzer could not have had a stronger start in his first two outings, averaging 293 yards a game passing and running with six TDs and no interceptions in 52 passes. And while there’s nothing wrong with Culver-Stockton, Otterbein or Thomas More, the athletic, accurate Pitzer should be getting much more attention – and from Division I programs.

Of this fall’s 13 Division I players, CovCath has produced the most with four. Beechwood and Ryle are next with two each. Conner, Cooper, Newport Central Catholic, Holmes and Dixie Heights have one each. Kenton County has eight players here, Boone County four and Campbell County just one.

Here’s the list:

• Four in action Saturday at Cincinnati: If you want to go for scalper’s tickets at Cincinnati’s sold-out Nippert Stadium for the 3:30 game, you can catch four of our D-1 guys – three for visiting Eastern Kentucky, one for UC.

Two of them are on Eastern’s two-deep with former Kentucky Mr. Football Cameron Hergott, a redshirt freshman quarterback playing behind Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year Parker McKinney and the team’s holder along with senior linebacker Kyle Kelly (6-2, 235) out of Newport Central Catholic.

Also with Eastern will be Holmes grad, 6-4, 255-pound freshman offensive lineman Damarcus Wynn. Suiting up for the Bearcats will be redshirt freshman offensive lineman Matt Mason from Ryle.

On Friday, Conner’s Nick Keller, a redshirt freshman from Hebron, is the backup kickoff man for Louisville at Georgia Tech.

On Saturday, CovCath alum Trey Gronotte’s West Point team will be at Louisiana-Monroe. A junior placekicker from Crestview Hills, Trey has played in three games in his two seasons at West Point. Also another CovCath alum, DE/LB Aiden Jones, is a freshman at Army but not listed on the depth chart.

When Miami of Ohio opens Friday at the other Miami, the one in Florida, CovCath alum Jack Coldiron (6-5, 251), a senior tight end from Florence, will be starting for the Redhawks.

• Kam Butler (6-3, 262), a sixth-year grad student at Virginia from CovCath, will get the start Saturday at the Bandit position when the Cavaliers open against Tennessee in Nashville.

Redshirt junior Michael Spencer (6-4, 323) from Union and Cooper High is listed on the two-deep for Vanderbilt as the Commodores host Alabama A&M Saturday.

Kyle Kelly, Eastern Kentucky (Image Provided)

• Evan Wibberley (6-5, 300), a freshman offensive lineman from Edgewood and Dixie Heights, will be on the Western Kentucky University roster when the Hilltoppers host South Florida Saturday.

• Junior Jacob Gideon (6-2, 295) started for the third straight season – this year at center – at Western Michigan where the Ryle High grad has started 23 games the past two seasons and faced St. Francis (Pa.) at home in Kalamazoo Thursday.

Corner Antonio Robinson Jr., who played his senior season at Beechwood a year ago, was listed as a 168-pound freshman on the Wake Forest roster when the Demon Demons opened Thursday at home against Elon on the ACC Network.


One measuring stick for the Northern Kentucky numbers would be how many high school football prospects are listed state-by-state by the top rating service in the nation, 247 Sports. It has the state of Kentucky with 21 ranked prospects for the Class of 2024 led by Simon Kenton offensive lineman Aba Selm (6-5, 295) and CovCath tight end Willie Rodriguez (6-4, 235), both committed to UK.

That’s about 4.8 per million population, a number that’s way down from the states Kentucky – with two Power Five programs in Kentucky and Louisville – must compete with in the SEC and ACC.

Jack Coldiron, Miami of Ohio (Image Provided)

For example, Alabama, with just a half-million more population, has 109 listed. Mississippi, with just over half Kentucky’s population, has 71. Both have more than 20-per-million prospects.

Tennessee, meanwhile, where 247 Sports is headquartered in a Nashville suburb, has 82 for a population of 7,000,000 to Kentucky’s 4.5 million. That’s some 11.5 per million, more than double Kentucky’s numbers.

And it’s not just in the college football crazy South. Utah, with two-thirds of Kentucky’s population, has 54 listed, or 16 per million. Hawai’i has 20 despite just 1.4 million people, or 15 per million. Washington, home of 247’s main competitor Rivals.com, has 120 listed with just three million more people, 15 per million.

So it’s a which-comes-first, chicken-or-the-egg situation here. Is the less attention to Kentucky prospects the cause of the lower number of college scholarships — or the result of the lesser talent in Kentucky?

Probably a bit of both. But it’s something you’d like to see Northern Kentucky football people figure a way to address.

And a reason to salute our guys who made it onto Division I rosters now that Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, also a CovCath guy, is off to the NFL.

Contact Dan Weber at dweber3440@aol.com and follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @dweber3440.

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