Shawnee Heights’ football team was a somewhat misleading 3-6 in 2016, with three losses by four points or less.
With a talented, experienced senior class returning to lead the way, T-Bird coach Jason Swift is confident his team has a chance to turn those heartbreakers into victories this fall.
“I definitely like our senior class and who they are as young men,” said Swift, who is starting his 15th season at Heights. “They’re outstanding young men that represent us proudly on the field and off the field. That makes it a lot of fun knowing you’re going to coach young men like that.
“A lot of these seniors have played three years. They’ve taken their licks as sophomores and as juniors and they’ve worked hard in the offseason. Our numbers have been outstanding, from our senior class all the way down to our freshman class, with kids just buying in offseason and just wanting to make this a special year for us.”
The T-Birds return three senior starters on offense and six on defense, including three-year starters Cade Holmes (6-foot-4, 280 offensive/defensive lineman), Dane Terry (5-8, 180 linebacker), Tanner Buckley (6-0, 200 linebacker), Michael Hoffer (5-10, 150 defensive back), Tre Munoz (6-0, 180 free safety) and Mitchell Lady (5-10, 175 defensive back).
Terry was in on 101 tackles as a junior while Munoz was credited with 79 tackles, Buckley had 68 stops and Holmes 51 tackles and three sacks. Lady had three interceptions.
Holmes and senior Connor Hicks (6-2, 240 center) return on the offensive line for the T-Birds while senior Trey Jenkins (5-10, 200) is a returner at running back after rushing for 585 yards and three touchdowns as a junior.
Lady will take over at quarterback and saw duty at that position as a sophomore after an injury to Trey Brown, throwing for 308 yards and 2 TDs.
Several other players with varsity experience return for Shawnee Heights including junior wide receiver/defensive back Tyce Brown, who caught 24 passes for 433 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore.
Holmes was an All-City pick as an offensive lineman in ‘16 while Tyce Brown, Buckley, Lady, Munoz and Terry received honorable mention. Brown, Holmes, Terry and Lady also reached All-Centennial League honorable mention.
“They’re not going to be nervous, they’re not going to have those Friday night jitters that first game because they’ve done it,” Swift said of Heights’ returning players. “They’ve put in the work to try to develop themselves into good football players and I think they will help calm the nerves of everybody else by saying, “You know what, we’ll be alright.’ ”
Shawnee Heights faces another tough schedule, starting with Manhattan, 9-1 a year ago, on Sept. 1 at Wetter Field. Over the first six weeks of the regular season the T-Birds face five teams that posted winning records last fall, including three 6A foes, but Swift is confident his team can hold its own.
“I think we can compete with anyone and you get those special years where you’re always going to have a chance,” Swift said. “We’ve had years like that in the past where we know that we’ve got a guy that can play that position.
“Depth is always an issue at Shawnee Heights and that’s something that we have to take into account. Maybe it’s optimism as a coach being around these kids when you see how hard they work and how great they are, but you really believe that they can do great things in the fall.”
T-BIRDS AT A GLANCE
Coach — Jason Swift, 15th year
Last year’s record — 3-6, 2-4 in Centennial League
Top offensive returners — C Connor Hicks, sr.; OL Cade Holmes, sr.; RB Trey Jenkins, sr.
Top defensive returners — LB Tanner Buckley, sr.; DB Michael Hoffer, sr.; DL Cade Holmes, sr.; DB Mitchell Lady, sr.; FS Tre Munoz, sr.; LB Dane Terry, sr.
Schedule — Sept 1 Manhattan, Sept. 8 Topeka West, Sept. 15 at Washburn Rural, Sept. 22 at Seaman, Sept. 29 Topeka High, Oct. 6 at Hayden, Oct. 13 at Highland Park, Oct. 20 Emporia