Prep Kickoff 2017: Class 3A state football notes

CLASS 3A STATE NOTES

 

Following three straight winless seasons, BELLE PLAINE (Central Plains) ended a 31-game losing skid with a 48-0 win over Northeast-Arma in week four last year. The Dragons finished 2-7 overall and look to take another step this year behind four returning skill players who have started for three years including versatile back Caleb Stover, a second-team all-league pick a year ago on offense and first-team all-league kicker who played quarterback, receiver and running back. Senior lineman Nate Menhusen also was a second-team all-leaguer and junior quarterback Bo Gooch, a standout basketball player, was an all-league pick on defense.

BELOIT (North Central Activities) said goodbye to longtime coach Greg Koenig, who is now at Cimarron, and welcomes Brad Gober as its new head coach. A change at the top isn’t the only thing new as Gober has installed new offensive and defensive schemes and has seen numbers in the program rise from 25 a year ago to around 45 this year. The Trojans return four of five starting offensive linemen from last year, but must replace their top-two rushers from last year. Junior Zac Meier did run for 705 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore.

Three freshmen started for BLUESTEM (Tri-Valley) a year ago as first-year coach Jordan Echer began trying to lay the foundation for turning the Lion program into a winner. Enthusiasm seems to be running high as not only does Bluestem return eight starters on offense and 10 on defense, but will welcome a large group of seniors who did not play a year ago. Transfers Daylan Fell (Wichita Northwest) and Cole Weber (Augusta) will add size and experience to the offensive line while senior quarterback Coy Moran looks to build on a solid junior season when he led the Lions in passing and rushing.

CHAPARRAL (Central Plains) lost just five seniors off last year’s 9-2 team, but they were significant — namely leading rusher and defender and All-3A first-teamer Jacob Jenkins, leading receiver Parker Patterson and standout end Chance Bergman. But the Roadrunners have shown the ability to reload in recent years and go into 2017 having won league and district titles two of the last three seasons. The offensive burden early will fall on quarterback Andrew Clark, who threw for 1,666 yards and 20 touchdowns last year and is the unquestioned defensive leader as well. Leading tackler Drake Whealy also is back after making 101 stops last year and eight starters return overall on a defense which was much improved a year ago, allowing just 14.5 points per game.

CHENEY (Central Plains) won at least five games for the fourth straight year, finishing 5-4 with three of the losses coming in the toughest 3A district in the state. The Cardinals have a new coach this year as Shelby Wehrman replaces Cory Brack. He’ll have one of 3A’s top receivers in senior Trent Scheer, who had 46 catches for 646 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Quarterback Micah Grover also returns as do two-way starting linemen Shane Gleeson and Landen Gegen.

After getting out to a 3-0 start, CHERRYVALE (Tri-Valley) was hit by the injury bug and limped home with just two more wins. A 17-14 loss to Riverton denied the Chargers a trip to the playoffs, but Cherryvale did manage a fourth straight winning season with a 5-4 mark. A strong senior class will serve as the nucleus for a bid for a fifth straight season, but junior quarterback Cade Addis emerged last year as a sophomore starter, throwing for 1,015 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tenth-year coach Harry Hester will seek more from the running game this year as Trevor Raida led the Chargers with just 483 yards from his slot position.

A last-minute coaching change just before the start of the season didn’t have too terrible of an effect on CIMARRON (Hi-Plains), which still finished 7-3 and went undefeated in league play. The Bluejays have one of the state’s top recruits in senior end Jaylen Pickle, who already has committed to Kansas State and is a four-year starter and three-time all-league selection. Cimarron’s best player, however, might just be senior linebacker Josh Seabolt, who led the team in tackles last year and will be called on to be a bigger part of the offense this year after graduation claimed quarterback Nick Ast and back Blake Neuschaffer. Greg Koenig takes over as head coach this season after going 93-31 at Beloit.

Despite going 7-2 last year, CONWAY SPRINGS (Central Plains) missed out on the playoffs thanks to a brutal district which included 9-2 Chaparral and 10-2 Garden Plain, losing out on the points tiebreaker after the three tied at 2-1. Blessed with a number of returning three-year starters, the Cardinals figure to have an added hunger this season. Senior Matthew Lange is one of three returning offensive linemen and the Cardinals have a strong skill combo in senior quarterback Colton Terhune and running back Trenton Jones, both of whom ran for more than 800 yards last year.

The key to another playoff season for DOUGLASS (Central Plains) is simple: find a way to replace standout quarterback Hunter Chadic. The departed signal caller had one of the best seasons in school history, throwing for 1,757 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushing for 631 yards and 14 scores. If a new QB can develop quickly, he’ll have some good weapons to work with as the Bulldogs return leading rusher Zachary Dressler and leading receivers Devon Anderson and Kolby Caster. Three linemen also return and Douglass has seven starters back on defense. The Bulldogs qualified for the playoffs despite finishing just 3-7 overall.

Josh Homolka takes over as head coach at ELLSWORTH (North Central Activities), which went 5-4 last year and just missed out on the playoffs. Only two starters return, but senior quarterback Zac Schneider had a big junior season, throwing for 1,316 yards and 16 touchdowns and running for another 553 yards and 10 scores. He’ll miss top target Kaden Davis (837 yards, 15 TDs) and 1,000-yard rusher Luke Oberle.

Losing nine players for a total of 41 games due to injury or illness made things tough on ERIE (Tri-Valley) a year ago and the Red Devils wound up going 2-7 after making the playoffs in 2015. The constant shuffling allowed third-year coach Sterling Hudson to tinker with different combinations he hopes will be beneficial this season. A total of 14 different players who started at some point return including seven who started as sophomores and three who started as freshmen. All five starting linemen return led by seniors Tallon Edwards and Kaleb Beachner.

FREDONIA (Tri-Valley) went into last season with a bunch of unknowns and wound up enjoying one of the best seasons in school history. The Yellowjackets finished 7-3 and returned to the playoffs, falling in the first round to Galena. Second-year coach Marc Svaty has a better grip on his personnel heading into this season and was pleased with the strides his team made in the offseason. Though four of five starters return on the offensive line, there’s a monstrous hole in the backfield after the graduation of All-3A back Isaac McPherson, who ran for 2,021 yards and 27 touchdowns a year ago.

Relatively young a year ago, GALENA (CNC) turned in a pretty typical Galena-type of year, going 8-3. It marked the third straight year the Bulldogs have won at least one playoff game and was the 13th straight winning season — 10 of those with seven or more victories. Graduation claimed standout quarterback PJ Sarwinski (2,100 total yards) and the job of replacing the four-year starter falls to junior JC Shelton. He can take comfort in knowing the Bulldogs return their entire starting offensive line anchored by All-Class 3A first-teamer Trevor Little and Sarwinski’s top target last year, senior Garrett Hall, also returns after catching 14 touchdown passes.

A late-season loss to Conway Springs nearly cost GARDEN PLAIN (Central Plains) a place in the postseason but the Owls knocked off Chaparral the following week and got in via the points tiebreaker. They rode the momentum to the quarterfinals, falling to Hoisington to finish the season 10-2. Line play will be the Owls’ forte this season with two-way first-team all-league selection Austin Youngers anchoring both units. Finding production to replace the departed Nate Pauly (2,047 yards total offense, 33 TDs) will be a top priority for third-year coach Ken Dusenbury, who has led the Owls to a 19-4 mark in his first two years.

Averaging 10 wins over the past three years, HALSTEAD (Central Kansas) just missed that total a year ago, but still finished 9-2 and with a third straight district title. The Dragons were able to replace standout Blake Beckett last year and this year will have to fill the big shoes left by departed back/linebacker Layke Heimerman, an All-3A first-teamer who ran for 991 yards and had 146 tackles. Graduation hit the Dragon backfield hard, also claiming 1,200-yard rusher Tony Morris and quarterback Chase VanSteenburg, but line play will be the strong suit with three starters back.

Trying to gain footing in the Central Kansas League, which had seven of 11 teams in the playoffs last year, isn’t easy and HAVEN (Central Kansas) took its lumps in Michael Hill’s first year as coach, going 1-8. Five of the eight losses came to playoff teams, but the Wildcats hung tough most of the season behind a solid ground game which averaged nearly 350 yards per game. Senior spinnerback Thane Unruh led the offense with 752 rushing yards and threw for 251 and the Wildcats return four starters on the offensive line, including honorable mention pick Kodi Dale.

Four games into the 2016 season, HESSTON (Central Kansas) hardly looked like a team that would come within an eyelash of capturing a state title. The Swathers were just 1-3 with a daunting schedule still ahead of them. But Hesston caught fire in a 35-0 rout of 4A II playoff qualifier Smoky Valley and kept rolling all the way to the 3A championship game where the Swathers dropped a heartbreaking 48-42 overtime decision to three-time champion Rossville — a game they led by double-digits in the fourth quarter. The architect of Hesston’s recent run, Clint Rider, is gone with Rider now the coach at Blue Valley Northwest. Former Sterling coach Tyson Bauerle takes over and will have seven offensive starters back, though huge holes are left at quarterback and receiver with the graduation of Zach Esau (3,650 total yards, 47 TDs) and Zach Vogt (903 yards, 10 TDs). Junior Cameron Cox who had 58 catches for 886 yards and 6 TDs moves from receiver to quarterback to replace Esau and will have a strong backfield complement in classmate Parker Roth, who ran for 1,270 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore. Four offensive linemen return, but the defense will need to be rebuilt around Roth (115 tackles) as only three starters are back on that side of the ball.

HILLSBORO (Central Kansas) went 3-6 in Devin Metzinger’s first year as coach, ending the season on a high note with an upset win over Southeast-Saline. Five starters are back for the Trojans led by the pass-catch combo of quarterback Kaden Kleiner and receivers Elliot Ollenburger and Jacob Funk.

It’s always hard to play the “What If?” game, but one couldn’t blame HOISINGTON (Central Kansas) for having some of that sentiment at the end of last year. The Cardinals tackled a brutal schedule and posted an undefeated regular season and were steamrolling toward the 3A title game when standout tailback Hunter Hanzlick got hurt late in the season and missed most of the postseason. Hoisington still reached the state semifinals before falling to Hesston, finishing 12-1. Hanzlick has graduated after rushing for 4,895 yards and 76 touchdowns in his career and the Cardinals also lost Top 11 All-State lineman Landen Urban and 1,400-yard rusher Cam Davis. Only a handful of starters return and the offensive load will fall to senior Sean Urban, who had 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns last year.

Despite posting a sub-.500 record, HUMBOLDT (Tri-Valley) returned to the playoffs last year. The Cubs fully expect to post their first winning season since 2013 with almost everyone back after losing only two players to graduation last year. A total of 12 different returners made starts both ways as Humboldt battled youth and injuries, including six different players who got snaps at quarterback. If that position gets settled, third-year coach Logan Wyrick likes the make-up of his offense, which returns 1,100-yard rusher Jacob Barker and three-year starters in lineman Noah Johnson and Hesston Murrow. Junior Dagen Goodner led the defense with 112 tackles as a sophomore.

Only three seniors are on the roster for HUTCHINSON TRINITY (Heart of America), but fourth-year coach Jordan Bell likes the make-up of his junior class, many of whom seen ample playing time since their freshman year. The Celtics were 5-4 a year ago and graduated all three running backs and two linemen, but six starters return on offense and five on defense. Junior linebacker Aaron Guerrero led the team in tackles a year ago with 54.

LAKIN (Hi-Plains) made a three-win jump to a 5-5 mark a year ago in Chris Bamberger’s second year as coach and could take another step this year with nine starters back on defense and eight on offense. Four of the Broncos’ top-five ground gainers in their flexbone offense return with Dawsen Shalburg leading the way with 591 yards and Clay Michel adding 445. Shalburg also led the defense with 63 tackles.

With numbers low, health will be a big key for LYONS (Central Kansas) this year as they try to get back on the winning track after going winless last year. The Lions return just two starters on defense and four on offense and coach James Johnston expects a big year from senior quarterback Terek Smith.

A combined program with Immaculata a year ago, MARANATHA (Crossroads) is on its own this year after Immaculata closed at the end of the 2016-17 school year. The program went just 2-7 last year and will have to replace 1,000-yard rusher Micah Webb. Off the seven returning starters, six are sophomores who started as freshmen last year, including quarterback/linebacker Nate Burdette.

Any time you have a four-year starter at quarterback, you have to feel good about things. MARION (Heart of America) not only has that in senior Jack Schneider, but the Warriors also return six other starters on offense and six total on defense. Senior Tyler Palic will finish his career as one of the best linemen Marion’s produced and also led the Warriors with 140 tackles a year ago.

Just two years removed from an 8-4 season and trip to the 3A semifinals, MINNEAPOLIS (North Central Activities) has struggled the past two seasons going winless in 2015 and just 1-8 last year. Fourth-year coach Jhon Haehn hopes the trials were merely growing pains and this year will be a tell-tale sign where the program is headed. A total of 10 starters return each way, giving Haehn plenty of experience to work with. Finding a big-time offensive threat this year will be a key as the Lions managed just 110 points last year, scoring more than 20 just three times.

After making the playoffs five times in the previous six years, NEODESHA (Tri-Valley) missed out last year with tight losses to Fredonia (26-19) and Caney Valley (23-14) keeping the Bluestreaks from the postseason. The 5-4 season was a bit of a disappointment and the Bluestreaks could be in for a rebuilding year this season. Both sides of the ball will miss All-3A first-team lineman Jordan Linn, who anchored both lines for three years. Seven starters do return on offense and six are back on defense.

NORTON (Mid-Continent) had much higher expectations for the 2016 season than the 7-4 record the Bluejays settled for, which included a 2-3 league mark. Then again, the MCL was loaded last year and the margin for error was slim. Despite graduating two-time All-3A lineman Jacob Green and several other key starters, Norton will keep the bar set high and for good reason. Senior quarterback Jace Ruder is a North Carolina commit who finally stayed healthy last year and finished with 1,598 yards passing, 746 rushing and a total of 30 touchdowns. He’s got a solid running mate in 1,100-yard back Tevin Petrie and a top-notch lineman in senior Collyn Auker.

State champions in Class 2-1A in 2015, PHILLIPSBURG (Mid-Continent) made one heck of a run at another state crown last year in its return to Class 3A. The Panthers went undefeated in the regular season and rolled to the quarterfinals before falling 38-26 to Hesston to finish the year 11-1. The near-miss should only fuel the program even more as Phillipsburg looks to finish the job this season. Several key pieces from the 2015 still are around, namely tailback Kirk Coomes (1,312 yards, 17 TDs) and linebacker John Gower (139 tackles, 12 tackles for loss). In all, Phillipsburg returns 10 offensive starters and nine on defense.

SOUTHEAST-CHEROKEE (CNC) enters its final year in the CNC League, moving to the Three Rivers League next year. Dwindling numbers in the program and a lack of success were big factors in the move, which starts in some ways this year as the Lancers took games with Frontenac and Columbus off the schedule and only have seven games scheduled. Southeast was not only winless last year, but scored just 20 points all season, getting shut out in seven games. Nine starters are back, but less than 20 players are out.

Last season, Hunter White was a complementary component in the offense for SOUTHEAST-SALINE (North Central Activities), which featured the talents of quarterback Bryce Banks and receiver Ben Murray in a 7-3 season. This year, White will be the focal point with Banks (2,617 total yards) and Murray (1,002 total yards) having graduated. White had 566 yards rushing and 342 receiving last year, but stood out defensively where he had 60 tackles and was a first-team all-league pick. He’s one of five returning starters each way with junior lineman Dylan Marks also a first-team all-league pick on defense.

SOUTHWESTERN HEIGHTS (Hi-Plains) was just 2-7 last year, but returns nine starters each way. Linebacker play will be the strength of the defense with senior Pepe Jimenez making 126 tackles last year.

Second-year coach Jason Cauley is counting on a big senior class to help TMP-MARIAN (Mid-Continent) improve on last year’s 2-7 mark. Running back Gavin Schumacher and receiver Creighton Renz were honorable mention all-league selections last year and are two of seven returning starters on offense. Schumacher also is one of seven starters back on defense. Only three of the returners either way are linemen and a lack of depth up front is a concern.

It wasn’t the amount of wins that mattered for WICHITA INDEPENDENT (Central Plains), but when they came. Winless after six weeks, the Panthers swept all three district foes to reach the playoffs where they nearly upset one-loss Garden Plain, falling 12-7 after getting rolled 51-20 by the Owls earlier in the season. First-year coach Eric Swenson has spent the offseason trying to improve numbers for the program and has accomplished that. Four linemen return led by seniors Gunnar Jensen, Grant Burmeister and Ethan Chandler.

NOTE — The following schools did not return questionnaires: Caney Valley, Eureka, Jayhawk-Linn, Larned, Lyons, Northeast-Arma, Riverton, Russell, Sterling, Syracuse and TMP-Marian.

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