Prep Kickoff 2017: Class 4A Division I State football notes

CLASS 4A DIVISION I STATE NOTES

 

The Gary O’Hair Era is over at ANDALE (Ark Valley Chisholm Trail IV) with the longtime and extremely successful coach retiring at the end of last season. The Indians did their best to send O’Hair out on top, rolling to an 8-1 regular season before losing a 21-20 nailbiter to McPherson in the first round of the playoffs. Former Indian standout Dylan Schmidt takes over the program and will have to completely revamp the Indians’ backfield after graduation claimed all the skill starters including leading rusher Tristan Dagenais. Line play will be a strength with all four returning starters linemen or tight ends, including Grant and Mason Fairchild.

In 2015, ANDOVER CENTRAL (AVCTL III) played for the 4A Division I state title, falling to Miege. Having to replace three Division I players off that team last year along with several other key starters, the Jaguars stumbled to a 2-7 record last year with an extremely young squad which started two freshmen on offense thanks to a rash of injuries as well. Veteran coach Tom Audley did pick up his 100th career victory against a schedule which was chocked full of playoff teams — seven in all. Senior safety Clark Schoonover will be the first four-year starter in program history and also is a standout kicker with a Division I leg.

Coming off two straight winning seasons, AUGUSTA (AVCTL III) looks to continue its recent run of success on the strength of its largest senior class in many years. The Orioles will miss two-time All-4A linebacker Dallin Marlnee, who was the heart of the defense for the past three years, but eight starters do return to the unit which allowed just 17.3 points per game last year. Line play will be a strength for both sides of the ball with half of the four returning starters offensively coming up front led by senior Easton Brown.

Already at a stage where it was routinely posting winning seasons and advancing in the playoffs, BASEHOR-LINWOOD (Kaw Valley League) took it up a notch or two last year. The Bobcats ran roughshod through their schedule and made it to the state semifinals before an 11-1 season ended with a 52-0 loss to eventual champion Miege. The task facing fourth-year coach Rod Stallbaumer is to try and reload after graduation decimated a Bobcat offense which averaged 46.5 points per game. Gone are 1,800-yard passer Justin Phillips, 1,500-yard rusher Chas Rollo and the top-four receivers. As that unit comes together, the defense will carry the load, led by leading tackler TJ Williams (80 tackles) and four other starters who had at least 30 tackles. If a game comes down to a kick, Basehor has one of the best in senior Parker Rusk, a four-year starter who hit six field goals last year.

The last unified Class 4A state champion nearly added a split division crown as well as BUHLER (AVCTL III) worked its way through a loaded schedule to get back to the championship game before falling 53-21 to Miege. The Crusaders finished 11-2 overall with the only other loss coming to Wichita Collegiate. The path back to the title game won’t be any easier this year, but Buhler is well-equipped to make another deep run with eight starters back each way. Senior back Dalton Brown turned in the fourth-best rushing season in school history with 1,967 yards and 26 touchdowns. But the forte of the team might be defensively where the Crusaders are loaded with playmakers, including linebackers Jhet Burkhart and Braden Lock and lineman Lawson Schultz.

Even though CHANUTE (Southeast Kansas) posted its third straight losing season a year ago going 3-6, head coach Chris Shields felt the team took steps necessary in getting the program back to being a consistent winner as it was for much of the past decade-plus. Injuries on the offensive and defensive lines forced Shields to shuffle personnel, including moving skill guys to the line. As a result nine players who started on offense return and six are back on defense. Ty Bowman stepped in as starting quarterback as a freshman and will have his top-four receivers back.

Former Topeka High standout Logan Clothier takes over as head coach at CIRCLE (AVCTL III) and inherits a program which has won one game in the last four years, that coming a year ago in a 1-8 season which ended a 36-game losing skid. Despite the struggles, Clothier senses plenty of enthusiasm and numbers remain strong. The Thunderbirds return five starters on offense and six on defense.

Winless in 2013, DESOTO (Frontier) has gradually turned things around and made the playoffs the past two years. Last year, it was a first-round 21-14 loss to Basehor-Linwood which ended a breakthrough season for the Wildcats, who won their first league title in several years and finished 7-3. Injuries hampered DeSoto late in the season with starting quarterback Bryce Mohl going down late in the regular season after enjoying a big year. Though only four starters return each way, the return of a healthy Mohl will be huge. Speaking of huge, the Wildcats have a pair of big guys — offensive lineman Marshall Kellner (6-3, 285) and defensive lineman Zach Titus (6-4, 285) — who will be anchors for units which graduated the rest of their starters. Senior linebacker Jack Barger was a dominant force behind Titus on defense. DeSoto will leave the Frontier League in 2018 for the newly former United Kansas League.

Bill Shaw is the new head coach at EL DORADO (AVCTL III) and will try to do what his predecessors couldn’t. Turn the Wildcats into consistent winners. El Dorado went 3-6 last year, its 14th straight losing season and eight straight with three or fewer wins. Developing a winning mentality will be key and if Shaw can do that, El Dorado returns plenty of experience to take another step toward a winning season with nine starters back on offense and five on defense.

A 4A semifinalist in 2015, EUDORA (Frontier) couldn’t fill its holes last year well enough to stay a factor and went just 2-7, finishing the season with seven straight losses after a 2-0 start. The Cardinals welcome back much more experience this season to try and turn things back around. Gavin Elston stepped in at quarterback as a sophomore a year ago and if he can channel his older brother Grant, who was a one-man offensive machine in 2015, the Cardinal offense could take off after averaging just 15 points per game last year. Losing seasons just don’t happen for Bob Campbell. So when FORT SCOTT (Southeast Kansas) went just 3-6 last year, well, it was a huge surprise — just the second losing season in Campbell’s 21 years as coach. Reduced numbers, injuries and overall inexperience were the unperfect storm for the Tigers, but a bounce-back season should be in store this season as Fort Scott returns eight starters each way. Senior lineman Andrew Callahan is one of the best in 4A and was first-team all-league both ways last year. Senior back Zerek Fewell ran for 1,014 yards and 15 touchdowns and senior linebacker Derek Bollinger had 107 tackles.

HAYS (Western Athletic) went just 2-7 in Randall Rath’s first year as coach. The Indians return two-way starters in seniors Hunter Brown (QB/DB) and Dylan Schmidtberger (RB/DE) and junior Keaton Markley (E/LB), but only two others are back and overall numbers are down.

INDEPENDENCE (Southeast Kansas) went 8-2 last year with its lone losses coming to semifinalist Basehor-Linwood and Louisburg, the latter coming in the playoffs. The Bulldogs gave up 66 points in those two games and just 89 the rest of the season as a stout defense shut down opposing offenses. The heart of that unit, two-time All-4A lineman Peyton Usher-Pearson, has graduated along with eight other starters. The offense took an even bigger hit with running back Josh Pralle the lone returning starter. Only seven seniors are out and three of those didn’t play last year.

One of the most consistent 4A programs for the past decade, KC PIPER (Kaw Valley) have advanced to the playoffs the last eight years and won at least one postseason game five of the last seven of those. A first-round loss to Miege ended a 6-4 season last year. Entering its final season in the Kaw Valley before moving to the Frontier League next year, Piper will have to find a new playmaker after graduation claimed do-it-all JJ Letcher, an All-4A pick who had more than 2,500 yards of total offense last year. Junior lineman Cooper Beebe, younger brother of former Top 11 selection Colton, is one of the state’s top underclassmen and is a three-year starter.

LABETTE COUNTY (Southeast Kansas) had some serious offensive firepower last year in quarterback Logan Dean (2,015 yards, 14 TDs) and tailback Isaiah McPherson (1,417 yards, 22 TDs), helping the Grizzlies to a 5-5 mark and playoff berth. Both have graduated, however, leaving major holes to fill. The good news is, just about everyone else is back as nine starters return on offense and 10 on defense. New quarterback Easton Dean has top targets in Tanner Russell (53 catches, 773 yards) and Owyn Back (42 catches, 744 yards). Senior linebacker Rogan Bruce had 163 tackles and end Braden Baker added 100.

Despite experiencing a coaching change only weeks before the season started, LOUISBURG (Frontier) stayed the course and put together a solid 8-3 record, advancing to the 4A I quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Miege. Former assistant Robert Ebenstein now takes over the program and has some rebuilding work to do after graduation claimed a stellar senior class highlighted by standout linemen Mason Koechner and Dustyn Rizzo and skill players Grant Harding and Thomas San Agustin. Only three starters are back on offense and four return defensively with senior Garrett Lowry the only lineman among them.

Somewhat quietly, MAIZE SOUTH (AVCTL III) has become one of the top programs in 4A — quiet because the Mavericks have yet to play in a state championship game. They almost got there a year ago, a 27-7 loss to Buhler in the state semifinals denying the title-game berth. The only other loss in a 10-2 season came to Buhler as well as the Mavericks posted their fifth straight season with eight wins or more. Graduation claimed standout quarterback Ethan Richardson and several key starters from a year ago, but the defense which was stout last year should remain strong with seven returning starters, six of whom were all-league performers including first-team defensive backs Tyler White and Jack Wagner.

Starting the season 0-2, MCPHERSON (AVCTL III) reeled off eight straight wins to reach the 4A I quarterfinals where the Bullpups lost 35-27 to Maize South. It was the second loss of the season to the Mavericks with the other loss coming to 4A I runner-up Buhler in the season opener, all three losses by 13 or less points. McPherson was stout defensively a year ago and should be again with eight starters back, including standout senior end Wyatt Seidl and top-two tacklers Kollin Goering (76) and Jayse Alexander (71). In all six of last year’s top-seven tacklers are back to a unit which allowed just 11.8 points per game. The offense gets a makeover with the graduation of quarterback Casen Hoover and All-4A Division I receiver Jack Reifschneider, but junior back Jace Kinnamon was second on the team in rushing with 460 yards.

In comparison with the state’s great dynasties, MIEGE (Eastern Kansas) may not quite be at the level of the Lawrences, Hutchinson or Smith Centers. But there’s no question the Stags have completely dominated Class 4A Division I for the past three years. Miege rolled its way to its third state title, drilling Buhler 53-21 in the championship game and over the past three years, the Stags have outscored their 4A foes by a combined 678-127 in the playoffs and 1,154-192 overall. Graduation claimed Top 11 receiver Jafar Armstrong and lineman Colin Grunhard and All-4A I safety Landry Weber, but more than enough returns to make Miege the overwhelming favorite to win a fourth straight crown. Senior quarterback Carter Putz set a state record with 50 touchdown passes last year and needs just seven to become the state’s career leader. He’s also well within reach of the career passing record, needing just 2,410 yards to break the current mark. Though his receiving corps has been depleted, he’s got a big-time backfield complement in sophomore Brison Cobbins (800-plus yards) and the defense returns its top-two tacklers in All-4A I pick Joe Watskey and junior Dylan Downing.

How close was MULVANE (AVCTL IV) to taking an undefeated record into the 4A I state semifinals last year? Try 19 points — the margin of defeat for the Wildcats in their three losses in an 8-3 season. Mulvane rode a big senior class to its most wins since 2012 with a 21-14 loss to Buhler ending the run. Graduation claimed 25 seniors, including all five two-year starting offensive linemen and seven defensive starters. The cupboard is far from bare, not with All-Class 4A I first-team quarterback Jayden Price back after amassing more than 3,100 yards of total offense on his way to AVCTL IV offensive MVP honors.

PAOLA (Frontier) suffered through a rare losing season under Mike Dumpert, going just 4-5. In order to bounce back, the Panthers will have to grow up quickly as only three starters return on offense and just two are back on defense. All three returning starters are at skill spots on offense or in the secondary on defense, leaving plenty of question marks in the trenches — positions where the Panthers have traditionally been strong.

ROSE HILL (AVCTL IV) may be coming off a 3-6 season but fifth-year coach Ray Boese, in his 20th year overall with the program, feels like the Rockets have their team since the 2011 state championship season. Seven starters return on offense, including three-year starters in receiver/free safety Cody Wallis and center Luke Culbertson. Senior Nolan Ast and junior Tyce Carlson will both see time at quarterback and will be boosted by the return of senior back Chandler Flanagan who missed last year.

Even though SPRING HILL (Frontier) went just 5-4, the Broncos had plenty to celebrate in 2016. The winning season was the first in two decades and Spring Hill’s 5-1 league record was good enough to earn a share of the title, the program’s first since 1990. If the Broncos are to build on those accomplishments, they’ll have to reload at some key areas. The backfield duo of quarterback Jacob Letellier and Ty Straw are gone after producing the bulk of the team’s offense a year ago and top lineman Sam Arnold and linebacker Justyn Kyner also have graduated.

Once a fixture in the playoffs, WELLINGTON (AVCTL IV) missed out on the postseason for the sixth straight year last season, going winless for the first time in more than three decades. Second-year coach Zane Aguilar will look to right the ship behind four returning starters on offense and three on defense with a trio of honorable mention all-league picks who are juniors — receiver DeAndre Washington and safeties Joe Ybarra and Julian Jimenez.

Linn Hibbs returned to south central Kansas last year, taking over at WINFIELD (AVCTL III) and the Crusaders went 1-8. It wasn’t the kind of start he might have hoped for, but Hibbs expects year two to go much better and with seven starters back, it very well could be. The key will be rebuilding an offensive line which lost all five of last year’s starters and a defensive line which returns just one.

NOTE — The following schools did not return questionnaires: Coffeyville and Ulysses.

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