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The John Hardin Bulldogs have owned Class 5-A, District 3 for the last four years and coaches don’t believe it’s going to change this season.
Since the KHSAA went to six classes in 2007, the Bulldogs have won the regular season district championship five of the last six years, with the lone exception being 2008. They also won district titles in 2005 and ’06 in the old four-class system.
To understand John Hardin’s dominance in District 3, let’s take a deeper look at the numbers. It has won 22 consecutive games against district foes and 29-of-30 with its only loss in a 27-21 setback to Louisville Doss on Oct. 24, 2008.
The Bulldogs’ average margin of victory in those 29 games is a staggering 39.8 points per game. They’ve outscored their opponents by 1,153 points and only two of those games were decided by fewer than 21 points — they beat Bullitt Central, 14-0 in 2009 and Doss, 42-28 in ’08. Ten times their opponent has failed to score.
But could John Hardin’s control of the district slip this season? The Bulldogs have a new coach with Chad Lewis stepping in to replace Mark Brown, who led the program to 116 wins in 12 years. They also have to replace nine starters on offense, including Area Offensive Player of the Year Wade Holtsclaw, and five on defense, including Area Defensive Player of the Year Domonick Brown and standout linebackers Garrett Ray and Jalen Fleming.
“I guess with the success we’ve had, coaches are going to pick us,” Lewis said. “As a head coach, I’m going to put someone else No. 1. This team hasn’t won anything. Are they going to ride the coattails of what other teams have done? They have a target on their back.”
While Lewis is right in his assessment, the other coaches in the district aren’t buying it.
“Until someone beats John Hardin, they’ve got to be the favorite,” North Hardin coach Brent Thompson said. “Coaching change, no changing change, they are still the one to beat. They have a lot of talent coming back.”
Jeffersontown, which returns six starters on both sides of the ball, might be John Hardin’s biggest threat, bolstered by the return of senior quarterback Kendrick Gardner and senior running back Richard Deloney. Gardner passed for 1,433 yards and 13 touchdowns, while adding 423 yards and six scores on the ground. Deloney rushed for 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns.
North Hardin should be in the mix as well in Thompson’s second year. The Trojans are coming off a disappointing 3-8 season but are optimistic with five starters back on offense and seven on defense.
Grayson County went 9-3 last season, but has to fill eight spots on offense and seven on defense. Louisville Iroquois has only one starter back on offense and five on defense as Mark Sander continues to try to rebuild the program.
KEY GAME: John Hardin at Jeffersontown on Oct. 11. The last time the Bulldogs traveled to Jeffersontown, they won, 41-20 but it was closer than the score might indicate. If John Hardin’s going to win another district title, it will need to win on the road as three of its four district games are away from Bulldog Stadium.
TOP PLAYER: Matt Elam, John Hardin. The mammoth defensive tackle is ranked as one of the nation’s top recruits. He has offers from Alabama, Kentucky, Louisville, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Tennessee, to name a few.
Others to watch: Patrick Anderson, John Hardin; Richard Deloney, Jeffersontown; Jeremiah Draper, North Hardin; Talon Gary, Grayson County; Dante Johnson, North Hardin; T.J. Lawrence, Jeffersontown; Malik Saunders, Iroquois; Chris Smith, John Hardin.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH. 1. John Hardin, 2. Jeffersontown, 3. North Hardin, 4. Grayson County, 5. Iroquois.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.