An early look at what’s coming our way in the opening weekend of high school football

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

August is for practicing and playing football – and for some of us – writing about and speculating as to just what it looks like will be coming our way in the 2024 high school season this fall.

But July, when the KHSAA’s statewide schedules are released for the coming season, is mostly just for looking ahead and getting excited about what’s coming.

It won’t be long. Friday, Aug. 23 – opening night — will be here before you know it.

And it’s not too early to do what we’ve done most of our football-watching life around here, as a coach or sportswriter or just plain fan: We take a look at the early games and pick some we’re hoping we get to see.

In the bigget game of 2023, Cooper — in gold and white — and Highlands — in blue, go for the loose ball. The two teams should be at the top again in Class 5A. (Photo by Dale Dawn/NKyTribune)

After the early games, we let the teams’ play to determine where we go. But that will come starting in Week 2.

Now most folks are fans of their team so they know where they’re going to go. But we like everybody, which is what the middle of the summer is for.

We can just pencil in where it looks like the best place to be just might be.

Starting with Aug. 23 with a bunch of games we like with an intersectional matchup that has Coach Randy Borchers’ Class 5A state finalist Cooper and junior quarterback Cam O’Hara and his 47 TD passes hosting a 4A Bardstown team that won two playoff games last postseason.

In another cross-class matchup of strong programs – Class 4A state runner-up Covington Catholic under Coach Eddie Eviston, after a 14-1 season marred only by a championship game loss to Boyle County, heads to Union to face Mike Engler’s Ryle Class 6A Raiders, who won a pair of playoff games a year ago.

You think Ryle isn’t getting ready for the Colonels? The Raiders’ two preseason scrimmages are against Beechwood and Highlands.

Speaking of Beechwood and Highlands, the two “Fort” programs – Mitchell and Thomas — with all the state titles are going in different directions opening week. Second-year coach Jay Volker’s Beechwood Tigers will take a pass, holding off their opener until the second week when the Class 2A Tigers, who lost 31-28 at state champ Mayfield in the semifinals a year ago, open with Brian Weinrich’s Class 6A Campbell County Camels Aug. 30 when we’ll get to see Beechwood’s speedy Tyler Fryman.

Highlands, meanwhile, will host a strong Lexington Catholic 3A program that Coach Bob Sphire once headed. The Class 5A Bluebirds, who were upset in the playoffs by Cooper, will be in their final season in 5A before moving next season to 4A, where they’ll re-unite with district – and Northern Kentucky – historical rival CovCath. For one more season, both teams can go downstate in the playoffs and won’t block the other from making the trip.

But as Cooper proved, someone else could.

There’s also the battle for Kenton County with the Class 5A Dixie Heights Colonels of Pat Burke hosting Roy Lucas’ Simon Kenton Pioneers in 6A in a reprise of last season’s 29-19 SK win.

CovCath’s Oliver Link could be back for this year’s Ryle opener, but Ryle’s Jake Steffen was a senior last fall. (File photo)

In an interesting Class 3A-1A battle of blue and gold teams, Kyle Niederman’s Lloyd Memorial Juggernauts will meet Stephen Lickert’s Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds after the Juggs’ 24-7 win a year ago and do so at Covington Catholic.

In another cross-district, cross-Northern Kentucky opening matchup, Gary Pence’s Class A Walton-Verona Bearcats host 2A Bishop Brossart and new coach Adam Kozerski after last season’s 27-14 Walton-Verona win.

Speaking of new coaches’ debuts, Boone County’s first-year coach Dan Court will travel with the Rebels to Ben Nevels’ Holmes in a 5A-4A matchup. And in a 5A-6A matchup, Scott’s Justin Franklin gets his first game at home against 6A Campbell County. And in a road game at Sayre, Holy Cross’ Curt Spencer will get his first game in Lexington.

James Trosper’s Conner Cougars will also be traveling, on the road at Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar in a 5A-6A matchup.

In a Class A game, Jesse Herbst’s Dayton Greendevils will host Gallatin County to round out the Friday openers.

Two more Northern Kentucky teams will open on the road Saturday, Aug. 24. Chad Montgomery’s Bellevue Tigers will travel to Eminence and Newport, with Paul Wiggins coming home to coach the Wildcats from his years at Bishop Brossart, will head downriver to Carroll County.

That’s the tale for the opening football weekend – 13 games and five new coaches.

We’ll let the season come to us before we get to Week 2 – except for this. In what looks to be very much a front-loaded regular season schedule, Highlands at CovCath will easily be the marquee game there.

And finally, in what looks to be the latest opening for a Northern Kentucky team, John McMillen’s Ludlow Panthers will wait until Sept. 6 before they travel to Sayre to open a 10-game schedule.

Pick one of these games and maybe we’ll see you there.

Contact Dan Weber at Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @dweber3440.

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