By LARRY VAUGHT
One of the top players in Kentucky will be playing in the Little Caesar’s Fort Harrod Bowl Saturday night in Harrodsburg — and it will be his first high school game.
Ballard linebacker Jared Casey will play against defending Class AAA state champion Boyle County in the bowl’s first game at 5 p.m.
The 6-3, 220-pound Casey already has 15 Division I scholarship offers, including Kentucky and Louisville, despite missing last season with a torn labrum after transferring from Trinity to Ballard.
“He’s not played a snap of varsity football,” said Ballard coach Adrian Morton. “Now it is his time to lead and he is such a selfless player. All our guys want to win and set championship goals. But it has been a Who’s Who of college coaches in here asking about him.”
Purdue, Syracuse, Temple, Oregon, Eastern Michigan, Cincinnati, Eastern Kentucky, Marshall, Western Kentucky and Toledo have all offered scholarships while other schools such as Notre Dame, Ohio State and Mississippi State are among those waiting to see him actually play in a game.
Morton says Casey’s recruitment taking off like it did in the spring based on his performance at various camps caught them off guard.
“I thought maybe he would have four or five offers and then the offers started rolling in after what he did in camp,” Morton said. “We also have elite universities that have called and said they are waiting to see him play. We play Boyle County and then Male. That will give schools a lot to see.”
Morton, a Lexington native, thinks in a way Casey’s injury saved his football career. The coach said when a player likes powerhouse Trinity, almost immediately its assumed the player had problems or lacked talent.
“When you leave Trinity, you hear all sorts of bad things. It was just a misunderstanding. He’s not a disrespectful kid at all. Once you get in his ear, he will run through a wall for you,” Morton said. “He leads by example. I am not asking him to a rah-rah guy. That’s not him. But when the lights come on and the ball is kicked off, you want to watch No. 6 (Casey). He flies around and gets to the ball. He lines guys up on defense for us and has fun playing. You will enjoy seeing him play.”
There will be a lot of other future Division I players on the field, too, for both teams.
Two other Ballard juniors — defensive back Josh Minkins and running back Markeice Warner — have scholarship offers from Kentucky. Minkins father played at Louisville. Warner also has offers from Kent State and Howard and he ran the 40-yard dash under 4.4 seconds twice at a UK summer camp.
Ballard also has a new quarterback — Louisville Christian Academy transfer Austin Carr. He led LCA to the 2016 Class AA state championship when he threw for 1,610 yards and 21 touchdowns. Last season he threw for 1,124 yards and 11 scores.
Boyle County has Division I talent, too. Junior receiver Reese Smith has offers from Troy, Cincinnati, Austin Peay and Cincinnati. He had 50 catches for 1,037 yards and 14 scores and on defense had nine interceptions and 40 tackles.
Junior running back Landen Bartleson has offers from Colorado, Louisville and Purdue after running for 1,137 yards and 20 scores last year and also making 43 tackles at cornerback. Both players have had interest from Kentucky.
Junior quarterback Reed Lanter was MVP on the 2017 state title game and won the Bluegrass Quarterback Challenge at Louisville Christian Academy this summer. He threw for 2,597 yards and 28 scores last season and was 181 of 263 with just four interception. Senior running back Tanner Crawford ran for a team-high 1,927 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.
“My guys want a chance to go against good teams,” the Ballard coach said. “I was nervous at first opening with Boyle County because I did not know what we would have. Now I feel confident we will compete. I know Boyle is really good and this is a big game in the state for high school football on the opening weekend. At the end of the day, I have nothing but respect for Boyle County. I played against them growing up and coach Smith’s resume speaks for itself. It’s a huge opportunity for us to just be part of this game.”