Offensive player to watch
Bishop Miege quarterback Ryan Willis is already committed to Kansas, where he will join Miege graduate Montell Cozart. Willis, who was tabbed as first-team All-Eastern Kansas League quarterback, passed for 2,983 yards and 30 touchdowns in nine games last year. With Willis at the helm, the Stags averaged 450 yards of total offense per game.
Defensive player to watch
Although Blue Valley defensive end Jackson Maase was not one of the spotlight names on the Kansas Class 5A state championship team, he held his own on a talented defensive line. He registered 63 tackles last season and tied for first on the team with two fumble recoveries, was second with eight tackles for a loss and third with 2 1/2 sacks on the season.
After winning the Kansas Class 5A state title last season, Blue Valley is still the team to beat in the EKL. The Tigers lost a lot of talented seniors who helped lead them to the trophy, but they return another experienced group. They will definitely feel pressure from Blue Valley West and Blue Valley Northwest. Both teams are a threat to wrestle away the league title.
1. BLUE VALLEY
It’s safe to say Blue Valley, the Kansas Class 5A defending state champion, will not repeat as 5A titlist. The Tigers can’t. The team has moved up to Class 6A. Still, coach Eric Driskell’s squad is considered the team to beat in the Eastern Kansas League. The Tigers lost a lot of talent from last year’s team, so standouts such as offensive lineman AJ Harris, who is committed to Missouri, and defensive end Jackson Maase will have to provide leadership.
2. BV NORTHWEST
The Huskies return one of the top running backs in the state in senior Miles Alexander, who rushed for 1,375 yards in 187 carries with 12 touchdowns last season. Their biggest challenge will be reloading the offensive line, which graduated all five positions. Even so, Northwest is considered a contender to win the league.
3. BV WEST
The Jaguars will look to finally take that next step in Kansas Class 5A, where they have won back-to-back regional championships and even made it to the substate championship game last season before a loss left them one game short of playing for a state title. They return nine full-time starters, with lineman Hunter Saulsbury and Sam Davis, who plays cornerback and wide receiver, leading the way.
4. BISHOP MIEGE
Bishop Miege lost just once in the regular season last year and made it to the Kansas Class 5A sectionals before falling to Blue Valley West. The Stags return Kansas commit Ryan Willis, who was last season’s All-Eastern Kansas League first-team quarterback. He will play a pivotal role for Miege, which lost EKL defensive player of the year Brad Ivey to graduation.
5. GARDNER EDGERTON
The Trailblazers’ offense will look pretty different this season after losing the Eastern Kansas League’s top running back in Traevohn Wrench. However, they return tight end Josh Lang, who will try to make up some of the difference on offense. On defense, linebacker Seth Pesek will be a leader.
6. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
The Saints made a power move in the spring by bringing in former Hutchinson coach Randy Dreiling. He won seven state titles, including six straight during 2004-09, in 17 years with the Salthawks. Aquinas returns an experienced defensive line, led by Ben Ewing, Angel Dominguez and Kyle Raunig.
7. BV SOUTHWEST
With 19 seniors on the roster, the Timberwolves will look to make more of an impact in the Eastern Kansas League this season after finishing sixth last year. While the team has some depth at the skill positions, Southwest will focus on improving defensively. Luke Wilmes returns at quarterback and Johnny Dunlap at running back.
8. BV NORTH
After going 0-9 last season, the Mustangs seek a turnaround under first-year coach Andy Sims. Their youth could be an obstacle since they only return five seniors. Sims said the team has been very receptive to the changes so far. Michael Valentine, who was honorable mention All-EKL as a kicker and punter, will help smooth the transition.