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2019 Prep Football Previews: Walton-Verona coach expects team to adjust after losing key starters

The NKyTribune is featuring each of the 21 high school football teams in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties leading up to the first games of the 2019 season on Aug. 23. We will then provide focused coverage of our local teams throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.

By Cody Johnson
NKyTribune contributor

The Walton-Verona football team has a tough task ahead. The Bearcats need to replace a group of graduates that posted the program’s best-ever record at 11-3 and made it to the semifinals of the Class 2A playoffs for the first time last season.

One of the key returning starters is running back Peyton Smith, who ran for a team-high 695 yards and scored 14 touchdowns as a junior last year. With him around, the team can’t get down.

Senior running back Peyton Smith was the leading rusher for Walton-Verona last season. (Photos by Carla Martin)

“I’m a team leader,” Smith said. “I love getting the team loud and rowdy by bringing the energy that we need to get the team hyped back up again.”

Last season, Smith was one of three Walton-Verona running backs who rushed for more than 500 yards. He gave much of the credit to teammates on the scout team that he faced during practice.

“Our scout team defense is the key to my success on the field,” Smith said. “They’re a great group of guys who push me during practice, so I am ready for the upcoming game.”

Smith will be going into battle with several first-year starters this season. The team lost its starting quarterback, four offensive linemen and three running backs to graduation.

But coach Jeff Barth expects the team to adjust well to all the changes after last year’s successful season.

“We lost quite of bit of guys (from) last year, but we have been in this mode before with sophomores starting and other guys stepping up and playing different positions to help the team out,” Barth said.

For several years, Walton-Verona has relied on the run for a large percentage of its offense. The Bearcats finished last season with 3,016 yards rushing compared to 707 yards passing. The team’s leading scorer was Smith with 10 of his 14 touchdowns coming on the ground.

Peyton Smith

With senior center Shane Thomas as the only returning starter up front, coach Barth has a lot on his plate to reinstate the run-first offense.

“We ran the ball pretty well and Shane Thomas is a very good center for our team. We are going to build around him this year,” Barth said.

“We have a couple guys ready to step up and help the team out with the line. Dawson Catlett volunteered from playing fullback to play one of the tackle positions, and Carter Burch and Gavin Knight are going to be making an appearance as well on our line from playing mostly defense last year.”

The coach also feels confident with the player he chose to replace Garret Jones, the team’s starting quarterback the last two seasons.

“Drew Bonne is going to be our guy this year,” Barth said. “He has a good grasp of the offense, with a good arm and a good head on his shoulders. With this being his senior year, I believe he’ll have a great season.”

On the defense side of the ball, the Bearcats lost linebacker Grant Grubbs to graduation. He recorded a school-record 141 tackles and 7.5 sacks last season. The team’s top returning tackler is Catlett, a defensive end who had 60 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

“I believe he’ll be the anchor of our line and will be a leader of our defense,” Barth said of Catlett.

2018 SEASON: 11-3 record, lost in semifinals of Class 2A playoffs.
DISTRICT:  Class 2A, District 5 with Carroll County, Gallatin County, Owen County, Louisville Shawnee.
HEAD COACH:  Jeff Barth (80-40 in 10 seasons at Walton-Verona).

Aug. 23 – LLOYD, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 – vs. Holy Cross at Thomas More, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 – NORTH LAUREL, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 – at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 27 – at Gallatin County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 – CARROLL COUNTY, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 11 – OWEN COUNTY, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 – at Louisville Shawnee, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 – at Louisville Holy Cross, 7:30 p.m.

Other NKyTribune prep football previews:



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