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Dan Weber's Just Sayin': NKY Players in College Football's Opening Week

Dan Weber writes a column for The River City News. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

We're Just Sayin' it's looking like a good start in Week 1 for Northern Kentucky college football fans who just want to check things out on TV. From the weekend's first game - Thursday's 8 p.m. Ohio State at Minnesota Big Ten opener on Fox - to the Sunday 7:30 p.m. finale on ABC, Notre Dame at Florida State, you'll have big-time rooting interests.

Start with Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, a fifth-year senior out of Union and Ryle High School. The holder of 11 school records at Minnesota, Morgan will have to play perfect against the No. 4 Buckeyes who haven't lost to Minnesota in 21 years. Tanner led his team to 11 wins and a Top 10 finish two seasons ago. And then the 3-4 Covid-impacted 2020 season went the other way.   

Tanner and fifth-year senior wide receiver Mohamed Ibrahim have racked up nearly 9,000 yards of offense and 79 touchdowns together in their Minnesota careers.

"Tanner Morgan is the heartbeat of this football team,'' Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said this week. "There's a person behind that number and that arm leading that team. I couldn't think of a better person leading our football team than Tanner Morgan."

At Notre Dame, sophomore tight end Michael Mayer, the Covington Catholic alum from Independence, already has moved into a similar leadership role as possibly the nation's top tight end for the No. 7 Irish.  

The Athletic's Pete Sampson was describing Mayer at practice the other day: "Mayer glides into the end zone and elevates, high-pointing the pass. Every time. It’s hard to describe how unique his body control is in these moments."

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees describes Mayer this way after a freshman All-America season. “Mike is as intense and as competitive of a guy that I’ve been around,” said Rees, the former Irish quarterback. “He is wired in a way that is unbelievable. I mean, his intensity, his competitive level, his command . . . I mean, he’s just a special kid, he’s a special player.”

Here's how SB Nation sees Sunday going: "If there’s one player you'd expect to feast for the Irish in this game, it’s Michael Mayer." The two FSU defenders who will have to handle him, they say, won't be able to. "Neither is a physical match for Mayer. 

*** So Highlands wasn't kidding around when they hired veteran Kentucky native Bob Sphire out of one of the top programs in Georgia -- Camden County -- to bring the now 2-0 Bluebirds back -- and in a hurry after last season's 5-6 year. Impressive move by the folks in Ft. Thomas that shocked the Georgia high school world where Sphire was on the Top Ten list of highest-paid football coaches in a state where they pay their coaches top dollar with 44 earning six figures. Sphire's salary at Camden County was $119,454 in 2019. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Covid-19 is gaining back a bit in its battle for the control of Kentucky high school football this weekend. After 17 of the first weekend's games were lost to the pandemic, just 15 were lost in Week 2. But so far this weekend, 20 games have been canceled for Covid, although for the third week, none so far in Northern Kentucky, the only section of the state to go unscathed the entire season. Keep it up. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** There was, however, a 21st cancelation in Kentucky this Friday, although not because of Covid -- and involving a team no one ever heard of -- before last weekend anyway. And now it's the most famous -- infamous? -- program in the nation. We're talking of course about the folks from Bishop Sycamore, whose campus apparently is a post office box in Columbus, Ohio, and who somehow finagled their way into a national appearance on ESPN Saturday in a game from the College Football Hall of Fame where, despite a roster of postgraduate players, BS got beat 58-0 by IMG Academy of Florida, the nation's No. 2 high school team. BS -- has a nice ring to it, woudn't you say -- would have been headed to Paintsville and a game with Johnson Central until the eastern Kentucky school discovered Tuesday just who these guys were they were scheduled to play and called the game off. No wonder there's a move by the Kentucky High School Football Coaches Association to allow teams to schedule more than the permissable 10 games because the way things are now, you just never know who or when you're going to get to play. . . . Just Sayin'.

*** For most of the time Kentucky high school football has had classes and playoffs, there wasn't even one team here in Union. And now there are two. And as you might guess, they're big rivals with Ryle (1-1) heading to unbeaten Cooper (2-0) Friday (7:30) in a Boone County early season bragging rights showdown. 

But Boone isn't the only place to be this weekend as high-scoring Highlands and unscored-upon Beechwood (both 2-0) and CovCath (1-1 after a romp over a Belfry team that's already had to cancel this week because of Covid) all return for their first home games of the season.

Against downstate opponents, Beechwood hosts Somerset and CovCath is home to rival Lexington Catholic, the team that ended the Colonels' 22-game win streak 29-28 last season. Highlands will welcome Campbell County to David Cecil Stadium in the Alexandria Pike rivalry.

And we'd be remiss if we didn't note Walton-Verona's 100th all-time football victory in 14 seasons, 47-24 over Holy Cross last Saturday. The Bearcats host Grant County Friday.

Lots of games to go to this weekend around here. Get to one of them. We will. . . . Just Sayin'.

-Dan Weber

Photo: Tanner Morgan (University of Minnesota Athletics)