New Topeka West football coach Ryan Kelly knows the task ahead is a tough one, but he also knows that no one wants the Chargers to succeed any more than he does.
Kelly, a 2006 Topeka West graduate, led West to its most recent winning season as a senior in ‘05 and was a freshman starter in ‘02 when Topeka West advanced to the Class 5A championship game, the last city team to play for a 6A or 5A title.
Now Kelly is focused on trying to turn things around at his alma mater, which is coming off a 1-8 season.
“You know what, I knew how to get here for the interview,” cracked Kelly, a record-setting quarterback at Benedictine. “It’s almost something that you couldn’t really script. I didn’t know if this opportunity would ever present itself but it’s also been something in the back of my mind how cool that would be.
“I was out of Topeka for about 11 years playing and coaching college football but my parents still live about a minute away from the high school here so it’s pretty convenient and it’s fun to come home. It’s fun to see a lot of the familiar faces, but what’s most exciting is to come serve the students of my alma mater in a different way this time.”
The first priority for Kelly, a member of the West athletic hall of fame, is to get used to running his own program after collegiate experience as an assistant at Fort Hays State and Benedictine.
Topeka West running back/receiver/defensive back Chris Ellis talks to Capital-Journal preps reporter Rick Peterson about playing for a new coach, his Division I aspirations and his goals for this season.
“That’s been the most chaotic part without a doubt, just trying to figure out how things work throughout the school, how you want to do things differently, what you want to do differently and how to implement those things,” Kelly said.
“This really is in a sense my first rodeo. I’ve been around football for a long time now, the majority of my life, but this is definitely a new experience for me being the one that has to administrate everything and get things going.”
Kelly, who was named West’s head coach in early March, did get a chance to get acquainted with his team this summer.
“I felt pretty good about the core group of guys that did (work out) over the course of the summer,” he said. “I think we need to do a better job of being more consistent in attending workouts, but I learned a lot about the core group of guys, especially the juniors and seniors.
“I’m still getting to know those guys but I do feel like there was enough time over the summer to get an idea of how they work, how they think and what we need to change to their approach to the game, their approach to practice, their mindset and all those things.”
Topeka West will build this year’s team around several returning upperclassmen, led by senior wide receiver/defensive back Chris Ellis (6-foot, 175 pounds), who earned All-City and All-Centennial League honorable mention last fall. Ellis caught 47 passes for 574 yards and scored seven touchdowns last season and has 75 career receptions for 938 yards and nine TDs.
Senior wide receiver Elliot Mehrens (6-2, 185) caught 38 passes for 469 yards and two touchdowns last season while senior defensive lineman TJ Peterson (5-6, 170) received All-City and all-league honorable mention last fall.
Other top offensive returners include senior lineman Kaleb Ayers (5-11, 300), senior running backs Jadon Hagans (5-11, 175) and Kentrell Warnow (5-10, 160), senior wide receiver Kendall Sutton (6-3, 175) and junior quarterback Hunter McDaniel (6-3, 175).
Defensively the Chargers return Sutton, senior lineman DayShaun Nino (6-3, 330). junior lineman Jeff Mudoga (6-1, 250), junior defensive back Jacob Blindt (5-9, 180) and junior linebacker Willie Tucker (5-9, 180).
West opens its season Friday night at Seaman, which is coming off an 8-3 season and advanced to the third round of the 5A playoffs.
CHARGERS AT A GLANCE
Coach — Ryan Kelly, first year
Last year’s record — 1-8, 1-5 in Centennial League
Top offensive returners — OL Kaleb Ayers, sr.; WR Chris Ellis, sr.; RB Jadon Hagans, sr.; QB Hunter McDaniel, jr.; WR Elliot Mehrens, sr.; OL TJ Michael, so.; WR Kendall Sutton, sr.; RB Kentrell Warnow, sr.
Top defensive returners — DB Jacob Blindt, jr.; DB Chris Ellis, sr.; DL Jeff Mudoga, jr.; DL DayShaun Nino, sr.; DB Kendall Sutton, sr.; LB Willie Tucker, jr.
Schedule — Sept 1 at Seaman, Sept. 8 at Shawnee Heights, Sept. 15 Junction City (Hummer), Sept. 22 at Hayden, Sept. 29 Emporia (Hummer), Oct. 6 Highland Park (Hummer), Oct. 13 at Topeka High (Hummer), Oct. 20 Washburn Rural (Hummer)