Since 1991, the Blue Valley High School football has won six state titles, including last year’s in Kansas Class 5A. However, the Tigers have never once repeated — which adds some extra motivation for this year’s squad.
“Each year that we’ve had great success, our kids realize that it kind of graduates with the seniors,” Tigers coach Eric Driskell said. “It’s their chance to set their own legacy and make their own mark. They are excited to do that.”
The Tigers, who went 10-3 last year before winning the Class 5A state title, have an additional challenge this season. They are moving up to Class 6A, where they will face even tougher competition. The move does not affect Eastern Kansas League play, where the Tigers already face Class 4A, 5A and 6A teams.
Blue Valley lost a lot of talent from the championship team, including versatile quarterback and kicker Logan Brettell. The Tigers will turn to veteran leadership from offensive lineman AJ Harris, among others. Harris, who is already committed to the University of Missouri, will also serve as a captain.
“I think we have all the pieces, so figuring out where they all go is the fun part,” Driskell said. “We are going to have a lot of first-year senior starters who take a lot of pride in their position. We’ll also have a lot of juniors stepping in. We’re excited about the group, but we will just be a little inexperienced for a while.”
Blue Valley starts the season at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5 against Shawnee Mission Northwest.
Although Bishop Miege lost 2013 Eastern Kansas League defensive player of the year Brad Ivey to graduation, the Stags are in a prime position to contend as they transition to Class 4A this season.
One big reason for the Stags’ confidence is quarterback Ryan Willis, who threw for 2,983 yards and 30 touchdowns in nine games last year. With him under center, the offense averaged 450 yards per game.
“He makes our team a lot better,” Stags coach Jon Holmes said. “He loses his top three guys, so that is one thing he has worked on all summer — trying to get that timing down that he had with some of those guys last year.”
Willis is already committed to the University of Kansas.
“There are guys I see already at the college level who don’t have an arm like that,” Holmes said.
He should get a boost from an experienced offensive line which returns four out of five starters and added transfer Jack Jenkins from Rockhurst. Willis also returns junior running back Dawson Downey, who will move into a fulltime role.
Bishop Miege’s biggest challenge will be its early schedule, which features six EKL opponents in the first six games. Two of those six schools are Class 6A, including week-one opponent Blue Valley Northwest. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5 at the Blue Valley District Athletic Complex.
BLUE VALLEY NORTH
First-year coach Andy Sims has his work cut out for him at Blue Valley North, but he’s confident that he is up for the challenge.
Sims, who most recently served as defensive coordinator at Leavenworth High School, takes over after the Mustangs went 0-9 last year. They will also be young, returning just five seniors.
“Our number one goal is to try and compete every day,” Sims said. “This is not the kind of program where you can change the offense or defense and get over the hump and finally beat that team you haven’t the last couple years. This is more of a rebuilding program.”
Sims is no stranger to rebuilding a program. Prior to coaching at Leavenworth, he led Excelsior Springs to its best record in more than 45 years and grew the roster there from 28 to more than 100. He said he has drawn inspiration from Shawnee Mission East, which went to its first Class 6A state title game last year.
“Anytime you can go into a community and make football important — it is a blast,” Sims said. “After what coach (Chip) Sherman and the previous administration at Shawnee Mission East did there, it shows that it doesn’t really matter where your program is or where it has been. You can do some small things that start making you competitive again.”
Blue Valley North will travel to Blue Valley Southwest to start the season at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.
BLUE VALLEY NORTHWEST
Blue Valley Northwest started their climb back to the top last year, with a 7-3 record — the program’s best since 2009 — and a Kansas Class 6A state playoff appearance.
Even though the secret is out, coaches around the Eastern Kansas League are expecting the Huskies to continue their success this season and even contend for a league title.
“I’ve got a good, solid group of boys who have been fun to be around this summer,” Huskies coach Mike Zegunis said. “We return a few guys who played quite a bit and did well last year. Then, I think I have the best running back in the metro.”
That is, of course, Miles Alexander, who burst onto the scene last season and rushed for 1,375 yards on 187 carries with 12 touchdowns. He also garnered All-EKL first-team honors.
“He was good last year as a junior and has really looked good going into his senior year,” Zegunis said. “Any time you have a running back like that, it makes you feel a little optimistic.”
His biggest challenge will the be fact that the Huskies lost their entire starting line from a year ago, which included Kyle Styve and Christian Atteberry — both second-team All-EKL selections.
The team also lost Jaquwan Stone at receiver, but returns Dalton Schoen. He should help ease the transition.
Blue Valley Northwest will open its season by playing host to Bishop Miege at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.
BLUE VALLEY SOUTHWEST
With 19 seniors on the roster this season, Blue Valley Southwest will try to use their experience to leave a bigger mark in the Eastern Kansas League.
“We have good senior leadership,” Timberwolves coach Bill Lowe said. “They are excited about this year and the upcoming season and I like the way they have been pulling the team together.”
The Timberwolves posted a 4-5 record last year, including victories over EKL foes St. Thomas Aquinas and Blue Valley North. On the flipside, all five losses came against EKL teams and were decided by 10 or more points.
“We have good skill positions and we’re just going to have to keep developing our linemen and trying to get better on defense,” Lowe said. “It’s the little things like taking the right first step, reacting and running to the ball that we have to (improve).”
At the skilled positions, Blue Valley Southwest returns running backs Johnny Dunlap and Ryan Peroo, and wide receiver Sam Randall. Luke Wilmes, who was selected second-team All-EKL as a running back last season, will take over at quarterback for Drake Herrman.
That group will work behind a veteran line that returns Nick Finley, Seth Thomas and Jon Meyer.
Blue Valley Southwest starts EKL play right off the bat, playing host to Blue Valley North in their home opener. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.
BLUE VALLEY WEST
With last year’s state semifinal loss to eventual champion Blue Valley still fresh in their minds, the Blue Valley West Jaguars set out with the goal of taking that next step in Kansas Class 5A.
It was the second straight season that the Jaguars made it to at least the quarterfinals but fell short of the ultimate goal. Last year’s loss stung a little more though, since the Jaguars gave up a touchdown in the final minute to Blue Valley after having defeated the Tigers earlier in the season.
“We are getting so close every year and we hope this might be the year we figure out how to push forward,” Jaguars coach Scott Wright said.
The team appears to be in a good position, returning seven players who have started since their sophomore years. Blue Valley West also adds tight end Blaise Gammon, who is the son of former Chiefs long snapper Kendall Gammon. As for the veterans, Wright will look to lineman Hunter Saulsbury and wide receiver Sam Daily, among others, for leadership.
“I feel like we’ve got good enough players to make a run at it, but you have to have players who are completely selfless and understand the team concept, which will be a key for us,” Wright said.
Blue Valley West will start the season at 7 p.m. on Sept. 4, when it plays host to Lawrence. A week later, BV West plays at Blue Valley.
For Gardner Edgerton, the first challenge this year will be finding an identity.
The Trailblazers graduated a large group of skill players, including quarterback Jared Hobby and receiver Jaylon Radel. They took an even bigger hit when they lost offensive player of the year Traevohn Wrench, who rushed for 2,091 yards and 30 touchdowns.
“We’ve worked very hard as a staff and the players to find out first of all who is ready to play at this level, and then secondly what those players can do best,” Diener said. “Especially with the number of skill players we will be replacing, there will be growing pains, but I think we have made some good progress.”
Senior Colton Mullin is lined up to replace Hobby in the pocket and Diener said he will add a running threat as well in Wrench’s absence. He will be joined in the rushing attack by tailback Jadon Pearson-Bruce and have two-year starter Josh Lang as a target at tight end. The Trailblazers also return Sean Callahan, who was a first team All-EKL selection on the offensive line.
The Trailblazers’ second challenge will come in their opener against high-profile opponent, SM East, Kansas Class 6A state runner-up last season. They square off at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.
“We open up with a very good opponent, so we are going to be put to the test early. But I’m really very optimistic from what I’ve seen so far,” Diener said.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
One of the most intriguing storylines coming into this season is St. Thomas Aquinas’ high-profile hire of Randy Dreiling, who came to the Saints from Hutchinson.
Dreiling brings a decorated resume, which includes seven state titles — six consecutive — in 17 years with the Salthawks. In that time, Aquinas has made the Class 5A state title game just once and, ironically, lost to Dreiling’s squad in 2008.
“I was impressed with their desire to be champions,” Dreiling said. “I didn’t take it lightly. It was a difficult two weeks making the decision.”
Dreiling takes over a squad that has struggled lately, with just one state playoff appearance in the last four seasons after 12 consecutive trips. Most recently, the Saints went 3-6 last season.
Although Aaquinas struggled, they have a lot of veteran talent coming back, including first-team All-EKL selection Ben Ewing on the defensive line. Two other defensive line standouts are Kyle Raunig and Angel Dominguez. Raunig also doubles as a tight end, where he will balance running back James Cosentino in the ground game.
With the talent in place, Dreiling’s biggest challenge will be adjusting to the Eastern Kansas League competition.
“I hadn’t really thought about the EKL when I was in Hutch,” Dreiling said. “We played Gardner in 2009 and Blue Valley in 2011, but it is a solid league. It’s as good of competition as you’re going to get.”
Aquinas will travel to Mill Valley to start the season at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.