Here is a team-by-team preview of the high school football teams in the Sunflower League. The teams are listed in projected order of finish this season by Ashley Scoby, high school reporter for The Star.
1. Shawnee Mission East
The Lancers will use 17 returning starters to try to avenge a Kansas Class 6A state quarterfinal loss last year. Two running backs — power back Milton Braasch and speedster Nigil Houston — will figure heavily into SM East’s offensive equation. Inside linebacker Simon Bradley, coming off a first-team all-Sunflower junior season, will lead the defense.
2. Shawnee Mission West
Starting running back Jason Meeker is back from a broken ankle that took away his junior season. He’s part of a 23-player senior class that will give West the experience to build on last year’s 7-3 finish. The linebacker corps will be strong, with several experienced players returning. Montel Madlock, Jay Hawkins and Cole Fletcher will help anchor that crew.
3. Olathe North
Coach Chris McCartney returns only two regular starters from last year’s 10-2 team. Deion Poindexter, a safety and running back, and lineman Wyatt Creek lead a reloading year for the Eagles. North needs to replace a starting quarterback, running back and several receivers, but it will have help on the defensive side from cornerback Malik Baynum-Brown and linebackers Ryan Huck and Jonya Boyd.
4. Lawrence Free State
Dallas Crittenden, a senior transfer from Topeka Hayden, will quarterback the Firebirds. The team will attempt to erase the sting of losing in last year’s Kansas Class 6A state semifinals to eventual champion Derby.
The Lions will try to get past a Kansas Class 6A sectional loss, which ended their previously undefeated 2015 season. Dante’ Jackson, second-team All-Sunflower as a punt returner last year, will be the team’s quarterback after a switch from defensive back/receiver. The team also returns junior wide receiver Ekow Boye-Doe.
6. Olathe Northwest
The Ravens are ready to soar to the next step after coming off their second straight winning season. Quarterback Easton Crupper returns and offensive linemen Chase Hartquist, Conrad Kaminsky and Nate Oswalt are eager to protect him and create holes for the running game. The Ravens look poised to top last year’s 6-3 record.
7. Shawnee Mission North
Quarterback Will Schneider, who accounted for 29 of SM North’s touchdowns last year, returns, along with running back Marcos Garcia. The Indians will use a high-scoring offense to try to finish better than last year’s 3-7 record. Linebacker/safety Spencer Dubois and lineman Danny Presler will try to spark a defensive renaissance this year.
8. Olathe East
Olathe East has only 10 seniors, so the sophomore class will get an opportunity to step up and make an impact this season. Coach Jesse Owen figures to play as many as six sophomores, many at the skill positions. Senior Ben Waldron will spend some time at running back as well as defensive back. Senior Ryan Strong will be counted on to open holes on the offensive line for the young running backs.
9. Olathe South
Under first-year coach Craig Lewis, it is a new beginning for the Falcons. Lewis arrives at Olathe South after six years as an assistant coach at Staley. The Falcons will be young, relying on juniors and sophomores, but expect senior running back Oakley Reed, senior safety Brady Norenberg and senior linebacker Luke Meenahan to make an impact.
The Pioneers finished 2-8 last season and are hoping for an improvement this year. Receiver Jacob Bohnemann and running back Wade Jackson will lead Leavenworth’s offense, while linebacker Arik Parker will be a defensive player who’s counted on early. Jackson was the team’s leading offensive player last year, notching eight touchdowns, and will be expected to lead the charge again this year.
11. Shawnee Mission Northwest
Second-year coach Bo Black has four returning starters from last season’s 1-8 team. Senior running back Xavier Perry had nearly 1,300 yards last year, and he will pace the offense again this season. Free safety B.J. Harvey and linebacker Noah Roberts are both back after solid 2015 campaigns.
12. Shawnee Mission South
SM South returns 14 starters after going 1-8 last year. A quarterback battle between sophomore Deonte Carroll and senior Will Choate will be key for the team’s offense. The Raiders have a few returning offensive tools: wide receivers Kamau Kimaru and Ciaron Willis, and running back Cam Union.