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Quarterback talent abounds in west Kentucky

By Mike Stunson mstunson@paducahsun.com

Cash Jones could be the best quarterback in west Kentucky.

Coaches in the area seem to think so, as he was voted the All-Purchase Quarterback of the Year last year when he threw for 29 touchdowns with 2,319 passing yards in McCracken's high-scoring offense.

After a successful junior season for the Mustangs, Jones has now become more of a leader of the team, according to head coach Shawn Jackson.

"He has the arm strength, can run, has the football mind and everything that goes with it, and now we're looking for him to grab the reins and take the team over," Jackson said. "You'll never coach a better kid than him. I want him to call some of the plays, make some decisions and just run the team."

Jones credits his success last year to his receivers, led by current seniors Tyce Daniel and Darien Woods. His talent around him may have been top notch, but it was also his own hard work that he said was his biggest reason for his breakout year.

"It's insane the talent we have here. They make me look good, and people like Darien and Tyce have been big for me," he said. "We have an advantage because we have a lot of athletes at receiver."

The receiving corps for McCracken features as many as eight players who could see action, giving Jones plenty of options. Four players with at least 16 receptions and three touchdowns return.

And now with him knowing the playbook better in Jackson's second year at the program, it has allowed him to fine tune other parts of his game.

"I can focus more on my mechanics and my footwork along with knowing the plays now. It helps a lot," he said. "This year we have mastered the offense and have it under our belt."

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Landon Arnett could be the best quarterback in west Kentucky.

He has the hardware to prove it, as Arnett's two state championship rings as Mayfield's starting quarterback give him the most bragging rights in the area.

And while Arnett could put his name in the record books as one of the best statistical quarterbacks in school history, there is one record in particular he's chasing.

"The main record I want to grab is a fourth state title. No quarterback here has started three years at quarterback and won three state championships," the senior said.

Arnett feels it's his will to win and hatred of losing that sets him apart, and for his head coach Joe Morris, it's his smarts.

"He's an excellent student of the game who has worked hard. He knows his limitations and knows our offense inside and out, as good as any coach," Morris said. "He's a great teammate, encouraging teammates and his guys to work harder."

Many look at Mayfield as a running team, but while Trajon Bright is a star in his own right, Arnett still managed to throw for 38 touchdowns with 2,801 yards last year.

Now with a revamped receiving corps, it comes down to Arnett stepping up into a leadership role to groom his unproven receivers. He said he's taken it upon himself to make sure those receivers are ready for Friday nights.

"When they mess up, I have to try to pick them up. I have to work out with them and be the best leader I can be," he said.

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Shane Burns could be the best quarterback in west Kentucky.

The quarterback from Caldwell County with the biggest shoes to fill last year made a name for himself, and has thrust himself into the conversation of the best quarterbacks in the state.

As a sophomore replacing former Mr. Football Elijah Sindelar, Burns threw for 34 touchdowns with nearly 3,200 passing yards. What made Burns special last year, according to head coach David Barnes, is him not thinking about Sindelar's successes and only focusing on himself and the current team.

"Elijah had a great career here for us but that didn't bother Shane. He had a great year, and did a remarkable job for our perspective of running the offense," Barnes said.

Burns said he is still trying to improve every day, with Barnes working plenty with his progressions and reads.

Led by Zach Gaither, he'll have a capable receiving corps, but they'll be a group that is for the most part unproven. Burns said this year's group of receivers could be just as good as last year's, which had four players with at least 38 receptions.

"It's something I have to overcome, but I have faith they can go out there and do what the guys last year did," he said. "I don't think it's about having the receivers, it's more just your reads."

Even entering year two as the quarterback, the junior Burns can't help but feel butterflies when he steps on the field. But even with all the nerves he felt, he still lifted a Tiger team to the regional championship game.

That game was a disappointing last-second defeat for Caldwell, which wants nothing to do with that again this season.

"We just try and make it back this year and finish it off," Burns said of the regional title game. "(Elizabethtown) got us in the fourth quarter. We want that game again."

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Ryan Mathis could be the best quarterback in west Kentucky.

He perhaps has the most room for improvement out of quarterbacks in the area, as the Graves County quarterback with the high ceiling threw for 15 touchdowns with 156 passing yards per game last year.

But at times he played like the freshman he was, turning the ball over 16 times through the air. It's not often freshmen are given the keys to a state runner-up football team, and now a sophomore, Mathis is looking for his breakout year.

"Ryan's arm is a lot stronger this year and he has grown about an inch, so he's physically grown and fundamentally his mechanics are much better," said Graves coach Lance Gregory, who mentioned Mathis' footwork as another improvement.

Strength training has been the key in the offseason for Mathis, who oftentimes had difficulty staying on his feet last year against pass rushes.

With the improvement Gregory has seen out of Mathis, he'll be relying on his sophomore quarterback more this season. Graves is going to be airing it more, with Mathis the focal point of the offense.

"It means a lot to me that Coach Gregory has that faith in me, but it puts a lot more on my back and others, too," Mathis said. "The line and receivers are coming along. It has to be all of us working together."

Mathis sees a deep receiving corps, one led by Trevor Grant, but one with players poised for breakout seasons of their own in Graves' move to more of a passing offense.

"They can be to where they don't have to catch two or three balls a game. They can catch one and make a big play, whether it be a screen for a first down or a bomb for a touchdown," Mathis said of his receivers. "They can step up in the moment and make a big play."

He has not set individual goals for himself, rather making it about the team -- but he's saying he won't accept another mediocre season.

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