It's time for Winnetonka to make the jump to the No. 1 spot in the Suburban Blue Conference. The Griffins enjoy running the football, and there are few teams in the area better equipped to do it. Senior Aaron Mends, junior Marquise Doherty and junior Chase Williams form a dangerous three-man running threat for the Griffins. In addition, the defense returns six starters from the team that started 5-1 last season before stumbling down the stretch.
2. RAYTOWN SOUTH
Another team primed for a breakout season is Raytown South, which returns a total of 17 starters. Add to that, most of them are seniors. The Cardinals plan to start seniors in all but three positions on opening night. That group is led by tailback Glenn Pargo, one of three players who will see carries each week. A defensive lineman a year ago, Dezmin Rucker has moved to inside linebacker and will form a formidable duo with Malcolm Bowden.
The Kearney defense was rudely welcomed to Class 5 football a year ago, when it allowed nearly four touchdowns per game. The Bulldogs chalked it up to inexperience, which isn't expected to be a factor this time. Nine starters are back, headlined by linebackers Max Filbeck and Alec Ivey. Offensively, Kearney has some size out wide. Tight end Dray Starzl is 6-7, and wide receivers Zack Davis and Coalten Klenda are 6-5 each.
4. PLATTE COUNTY
The Pirates are picked fourth here, but if they were to surpass expectations, it wouldn't be the first time. Platte County won 10 games last season, an output that even surprised coach Bill Utz. An optimist could point to linebacker Jesse Eggers as part of a hard-hitting defense as reasons the Pirates just might make it to 10 again. On the other hand, they have some developing to do offensively. Wide receiver Aliek Reed is one of only four starters back.
5. LIBERTY NORTH
With only one exception, every player who caught a pass or carried the ball for the Eagles last season is back. Well, that exception is Antwynn Beavers, who totaled 5,500 rushing yards over his career. Still, the Liberty North cupboard isn't bare, especially with quarterback Brian Sharp at the helm. Also, all-conference linebacker Nick Hess is one of seven starters back on defense.
Grandview coach Andy Leech says he has switched from being an offensive-minded coach to a defensive-minded one. No wonder. The bulk of the Bulldogs' talent is on defense, including Kansas commit Apa Visinia and Nebraska commit Freedom Akinmoladun, two players who actually plan to play offense at the next level.
| Sam McDowell, email@example.com