1. Which players belong on the preseason Simone Award watch list?
Two names: Skylar Thompson and A.J. Taylor.
Thompson, a senior quarterback for Fort Osage, was the only underclassman named a finalist last year for the Simone Award, which is given to the top player in Kansas City. A Kansas State commit, Thompson is a dual-threat quarterback who punishes teams with his arm (24 passing touchdowns in 2014) and his legs (nine rushing touchdowns in 2014). And there are a lot of weapons joining him on the offense, which will only aid his cause.
Taylor, a senior at Rockhurst, is a dynamic weapon who can be utilized just about anywhere on the football field. He will serve as the primary running back for the Hawklets, who finished second in Missouri Class 6 last year. He will also be a prominent feature in the defensive secondary and on special teams.
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2. Does the path to the Missouri Class 5 state title run through Kansas City?
Four teams from the Kansas City area appear in the Missouri Class 5 preseason media poll — No. 1 Fort Osage, No. 2 Park Hill, No. 5 Staley and No. 10 Liberty North.
They all have one common feature — defense.
Park Hill coach Josh Hood believes he has four Division I players on his defense, led by top junior recruit Chester Graves. Fort Osage returns eight defensive starters. Staley welcomes back seven starters — and four linebackers — from a unit that allowed only 26 points over its final five games. And Liberty North coach Ken Clemens says his defense could be even better than it was last season, when it held opponents to 9.1 points per game.
In other words, there’s a lot to like about Class 5 football in Kansas City.
3. Who are some under-the-radar players to watch?
Let’s shine the spotlight on three players who live in the shadows — Hogan Prep junior DaRon Davis, Truman senior Jordan Salima and Winnetonka junior Djimon Colbert.
Davis projects as a potential Division I wide receiver, but he’ll line up as a tailback for Hogan Prep. He’s fast. He’s strong. And he’s always a threat to score.
Salima ran for 1,508 yards and 16 touchdowns last season for a Truman team that won six games. He relies on quick feet and good vision — a menacing combination.
Colbert has drawn Division I college interest, but he doesn’t get a lot of talk locally, likely for one simple reason — he plays defense. Colbert will move from cornerback to his natural position of safety this season, and he’ll also try to help the Griffins on offense, where he will play wide receiver.
4. Who is the Suburban Gold Conference favorite?
In a state with a lot of quality conferences, the Suburban Gold Conference could be the best of the bunch.
Raymore-Peculiar won the league last season via tiebreaker over Blue Springs, and the Panthers have a plethora of experience — and size — returning this season.
Might that make them the favorite? Perhaps. But Blue Springs, Blue Springs South and Lee’s Summit West will certainly factor into the mix.
5. Which small-class teams have the best chance of bringing home a state title?
Oak Grove won the Missouri Class 3 state championship last season. And despite the graduation of tailback Aaron Graham, a lot of talent remains — even in the backfield, with Landon Cairer headlining that group.
In Missouri Class 4, Kearney is searching for its third straight trip to the semifinals (the first of which actually came in Class 5). The Bulldogs are led by senior Cale Garret, who might be the best linebacker in the Kansas City area. But in order to bring home the trophy, Kearney will have to end the Webb City dynasty. Easier said than done.