Blue Valley West hasn’t advanced past the state quarterfinals since winning the school’s only state football championship in 2007.
Coming off an 8-3 campaign, the Jaguars expect that to change.
In fact, claiming a second Class 5A state title might be in the cards, and it is certainly the team’s goal.
And why not?
BV West returns one of the best quarterbacks in Kansas, senior Ryan Ralston, and ditto with one of the best offensive lines.
Senior Mike Fairchild, who has committed to Missouri, returns at tackle with senior Sterling Williams and junior Hunter Saulsbury also back in the trenches.
“We really feel like those three guys — Hunter Saulsbury, Mike Fairchild and Sterling Williams — are the best linemen we’ve ever had, and they happen to play together,” coach Scott Wright said.
Senior Tom Stivers and junior John Scavuzzo round out a physical front five, and also back are three of Ralston’s top passing targets — junior wide receiver Luke Curtis, senior wide receiver Spencer Johannesman and senior tight end Cale McMakin.
Replacing running back Conley Wilkins won’t be easy, but senior Grant Garcia, who started at cornerback last season, is expected to bring explosiveness to the backfield.
“Grant really hit the weight room hard this summer, and I think he can be a heckuva running back,” Ralston said. “Before this year, he didn’t always come in the summer as much as he should have, but honestly I expect him to have a breakout season.”
Ralston also sees big things coming from senior wide receiver Yousef Alagha.
Defensively, Fairchild anchors the line once again with Saulsbury and senior defensive end Troy Burgett, who also serves as the Jaguars’ kicker.
McMakin returns at linebacker along with senior Jared Jacobsen, while Garcia and two juniors, cornerback Sam Davis and free safety Sam Daily, are back in the secondary.
Two other players with extensive varsity experience — senior linebacker/tight end Andy Butts and junior running back/linebacker Jon Reams — also return.
Meanwhile, senior defensive end Ahmad Quarini, junior linebacker Zev Mallin, junior cornerback Jackson Clements and sophomore linebacker Chris Morris are expected to contribute.
Enduring a four-game skid midseason last year wasn’t fun for Bishop Miege, but rebounding to roll through the playoffs and reach the Class 5A state championship game was a blast.
The Stags hope to get back there again, only with a few less toe-stubs along the way.
“We’re a lot closer as a team and have more chemistry,” senior linebacker Brad Ivey said. “We laugh and joke around a lot more together, so there’s no tension or stress. It’s a loose feeling, a good feeling and an easy feeling, knowing you can trust the guys on and off the field. That took a while to develop last year.”
Quarterback Montell Cozart has moved on to Kansas, but plenty of talent remains for incoming starter Ryan Willis, a junior transfer from Olathe East who already has an offer from Kansas State.
Senior wide receiver McKinley Johnson, who totaled 83 catches for 927 yards and five touchdowns last season, returns along with senior Michael Murphy, who finished with 33 catches for 503 and six scores, and senior Jeffrey Martin, who also caught six TDs.
Senior Ryan Burns and junior Brandon Gonzalez are back on the offensive line with junior Chris Ford at tight end.
Freshman Colin Grunhard and sophomore Mark Golubski are expected to contribute on the offensive line, while sophomore Dawson Downing steps into a starting role at running back.
The defense only returns two starters, but there’s a lot of talent led by Ivey, who racked up 154 tackles with 19 for a loss last season, and Johnson also returns at cornerback. He registered five interceptions last season.
Senior Jack Wirtz also returns in the secondary with sophomore Kaelin Key coming back on the line.
Big things are expected from a trio of juniors —lineman Pete Smardo, linebacker Mark Ogren and defensive back Keegan Wilson.
“Our goal is to compete for the Kansas Class 5A state championship,” Coach Jon Holmes said. “We feel if we can compete in the EKL, we will have a chance at playing for a 5A state championship.”
It’s not as if Blue Valley bowed out meekly from the Kansas Class 5A playoffs last season, but for a program accustomed to playing in state finals, 6-5 wasn’t good enough.
The Tigers’ aim is pretty simple — return to the top.
“Obviously, I don’t think we can challenge for a state title today, but we’re in a good place,” Blue Valley coach Eric Driskell said. “There’s a lot of things that have to fall in place for that to happen, but we think we’ve got some kids with some talent who are hungry for that.”
The Tigers expect to be particularly strong at the line of scrimmage.
Senior Blake Freeman (6-4, 262) and junior A.J. Harris (6-5, 297) return on the offensive line, while seniors Jalen Cooks (5-11, 238) and Caleb Kjergaard (5-10, 227) are back on the defensive line.
“We like both sides our line could be a strength for us,” Driskell said. “We’ve got some returners back and have a good, physical group there.”
Offensively, senior quarterback Logan Brettell returns to guide a potent spread offense that also brings back senior running back Chance Nelson and two imposing senior wide receivers, Tristan Perkins (6-3, 177) and Mikey Henson (6-3, 184).
Nelson started at slot receiver as a junior, but he also spent time in the backfield in two-back sets.
“We feel like we’ve got a pretty veteran group back and feel like they’re going to put up points,” Driskell said.
As always, Blue Valley also has a few impressive linebackers in seniors Henry McGrew and Joe Forlenza.
McGrew (6-3, 241) is a throwback kind of player, big and physical, while Forlenza (5-10, 201) is smaller and faster.
Of course, they share a few things in common. For one, both get the job done and “both of them are great leaders for us,” Driskell said.
Senior safety Brandon Lee is the top returner in the secondary.
“Our goal is to give our best effort every Friday night and hopefully play deep into November,” Driskell said.
BLUE VALLEY NORTH
Blue Valley North limped to a 1-8 season a year ago, and while a Kansas Class 6A state title seems unlikely, there are reasons for optimism in the land of the Mustangs.
“We’re awful excited about the year, and we really like our senior class,” BV North coach John McCall said. “There are some sophomores and juniors that complement that group well.”
The Mustangs don’t return a ton on either offense or defense, but senior tackle John Puetz (6-4, 280) and senior guard Connor Kagy provide two sturdy building blocks for the offensive line.
“We’re building around them,” McCall said. “There’s no doubt they are a focal point of our offense. Everything kind of is built around those two.”
Most other teams have a few skill players that lead the offense, but that’s not the case as much for BV North.
Puetz and Kagy are joined by senior center Daniel Klein, while senior Tom Apuzzo takes over at the other tackle spot with junior Matt Luke and sophomore Angus Stoddart competing for the other guard spot.
Of course, there are skills guys, too.
Senior running back Ben Brock and senior fullback Anthony Loftus return with junior Dante Hanks continuing to provide depth in the backfield. Senior Ja’ante Perkins and junior Luke Sells have been splitting snaps at quarterback.
“I think finally we’ve reached a point where we’re balanced on offense, so that’s pretty exciting,” McCall said. “That balance is only going to help our defense.”
BV North’s defense will be built around senior linebacker Marland McGee, a two-year starter and ferocious hitter.
But he’s not the only fearsome and fearless defender. Brock returns at safety, and senior Blake Bohannon is back at cornerback.
“Those are three seniors we’re going to rely on heavily,” McCall said.
Hanks also returns in the secondary, while Kagy and senior Caleb Edwards are back on the line for a defense likely to feature three sophomores in the starting lineup — Stoddart and Cooper Lantefield at linebacker with Jack Gordon at defensive back.
BLUE VALLEY NORTHWEST
For Blue Valley Northwest’s offense, it begins up front.
The Huskies return all five starters on the offensive line, giving rise to the hope that better things are in store than last season’s 5-5 record.
Senior Kyle Styve (6-0, 225) is back at center and flanked by fellow seniors Carter Tierney (6-1, 240) and Nate Johnson (6-4, 230) with seniors Anthony Bennett (6-2, 280) and Christian Atteberry (6-5, 250) returning at tackle.
“It’s awesome having guys that have experience and know how we play,” BV Northwest coach Mike Zegunis said. “We have confidence in them, and they have confidence in each other. I’m really pleased with our offensive line.”
The reasons for optimism don’t stop there.
Senior fullback Kyle Pottinger returns to the backfield, and Zegunis also is excited to unleash junior running back Miles Alexander.
Senior Jacob Rominger, who started at linebacker as a junior, will no longer play defense. He’s moving to quarterback and is blessed with three talented passing targets — seniors Jaquwan Stone, Brett Henning and Dante Starks.
“We’re pretty excited about our offense,” said Zegunis, whose son, Zack, a junior, serves as Rominger’s backup.
The defense isn’t bad either. Coach Zegunis loves that he’s got a faster and more athletic bunch on that side of the ball with junior defensive tackle Adrian Bennett working his way into the mix.
Pottinger headlines the linebackers, a group that also includes junior Caleb Hughes and senior Jack Truitt, but the defense’s real strength might be the secondary.
Senior free safety Kyle Harrison might be the Huskies’ best defensive player.
“He’s all over the field,” Zegunis said. “He’s a good player, and he’s probably going to play some offense for us as well at wide receiver.”
Harrison, who also starts for BV Northwest’s state champion basketball team, will line up next to another Huskies hoopster, senior strong safety Vince Fritz, who didn’t play football last season.
Stone will start at cornerback.
BLUE VALLEY SOUTHWEST
Blue Valley Southwest achieved another football milestone by finishing with a winning record last season, but the Timberwolves failed to make the playoffs in their first season in Kansas Class 5A.
The sledding will be even tougher after graduating a top-notch senior class, which included quarterback-safety Aaron Ramsey, off that 5-4 team.
“It’ll be real tough,” BV Southwest coach Bill Lowe said. “Kids of that quality that we had last year, it’s real tough to replace them — Aaron and Anthony (Miller) and a whole bunch of seniors who did a great job for us last year.”
Still, the cupboard isn’t completely bare in year four of the school.
Senior running back Sal Vanasse returns along with junior running backs Johnny Dunlap and Luke Wilmes.
Another junior, Sam Randall, returns at linebacker, while Drake Herrman takes over at quarterback and has already emerged as a leader.
Still, the Timberwolves will be banking on a brand-new offensive line.
“We have five new guys up front, and anytime you’ve got to replace linemen, you know you’re in trouble, at least for a while,” Lowe said.
Junior Austin Lawrence is an experienced lineman, but he is sidelined because of a shoulder injury for the opener and perhaps beyond.
That puts a lot of pressure on senior Vincent Lafreddo and juniors Nick Finley and Joe Galamba, who form the interior of the line with junior Beau Lawrence at right tackle.
On defense, Herrman returns at free safety, and Wilmes is back at corner, but there isn’t much additional experience and precious little depth.
Vanasse and junior defensive end Seth Thomas logged some varsity time on the line, but there are a lot of holes to fill.
Safety Aleksei Cohee, cornerback Nathan Peroo and twin brother, linebacker Ryan Peroo, will plug a few of them, but a lot of question marks remain.
“We’ve got to grow up fast, so it’ll be a challenge,” Lowe said. “But every year is a new year, and sometimes the kids surprise you. We’re excited about the attitude of the team and the character.”
Gardner Edgerton’s first season in Class 6A didn’t go off without a hitch.
The Trailblazers took a few lumps in a tough, balanced East Kansas League and wound up with the No. 3 seed in the 6A playoffs. That meant a matchup with Lawrence and a first-round exit.
“We always expect good things going into the season,” Gardner Edgerton coach Marvin Diener said. “Our boys are very aware that there are some very good football teams in 6A in the eastern half, but we’re very exciting about our chances.”
Offensively, the headliner is tailback Traevohn Wrench, a speedy big-play threat who has crushed the 2,000-yard barrier in back-to-back seasons.
Quarterback Jared Hobby also returns for a third season under starter, giving the Trailblazers uncommon experience and leadership at two key spots.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I return a third-year starter at both the quarterback and tailback spots,” Diener said. “That doesn’t happen very often. We feel extremely fortunate.”
Seven other players return on offense for Gardner Edgerton, including senior running back Marshall Wade and junior tight end Josh Lang.
Two senior wide receivers also are back, Deonte Kendrick and Jaylon Radel, while senior center Donovan Fahy and senior guards Chris Oathout and Justin Periman also return.
The newcomers are the line’s two tackles, seniors Sean Callahan and Kelly Bromley.
Gardner Edgerton only returns four starters on defense, but Diener remains pumped about that side of the ball anyway.
Senior Logan Powell and junior Emilio Fowler emerged as forces on the defensive line a year ago and provide a sturdy anchor along with seniors Austin Gardner, Jacob Moore, Blake Goff and Mijo Gray rotating through.
Senior Dustin Williams returns at linebacker, while senior Tommy McLennan returns at cornerback.
“We really like our players on defense,” Diener said. “There’s way more question marks than on the offensive side, but our defense is taking a lot of pride in carrying their end of the bargain.”
Three juniors — Seth Pesek, Nick Wohlford and Carson Hobby, who can also play safety — round out the linebackers, while seniors Mike Corrales will start at cornerback with Trey Smith at free safety.
SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS
Picked to finish seventh a year ago, St. Thomas Aquinas stunned the East Kansas League and stormed to the title, finishing 10-2 overall and reaching the Kansas Class 5A semifinals.
The Saints won’t be taking anyone by surprise again.
“I think other teams are going to be looking for us now, but no matter what game it is, we always expect to get the other team’s best shot,” Aquinas coach Mike Thomas said. “That’s just the way the EKL is. We better be ready. Payback’s always coming.”
With a young, inexperienced team, there could be a quite a few more lumps to take.
The good news is that senior quarterback Danten Cosentino returns. He’s a team leader, and he still has his top target, senior Ryan McNellis.
Senior running back Joel Edwards will get the bulk of the carries. Senior linemen Nick Vena and Andrew Hagemann are also back along with junior tight end Kyle Raunig.
That still leaves a lot of holes to fill, especially up front.
“We’ve got Danten coming back, which really helps, but we’re still going to have some growing pains with the youngsters,” Thomas said.
It’s a similar story on defense.
The Saints will build around senior linebackers Joe Maxwell and Cole Pickert.
“Cole Pickert and Joe Maxwell will really have to carry the load for us,” Thomas said. “Those two were our leading tacklers last year, and they’re going to have to step it up again.”
Edwards returns in the secondary, while senior defensive lineman Jack Pauley and junior linebacker Ben Ewing are back as well.
Beyond that, experience is tough to find for the Saints
On offense, seniors Chris Ernst and Vince Washburn step in at wide receiver with senior Johnson Thesing and junior Tyler Mann joining the line. Sophomore James Cosentino is expected to make an impact as a running back and wide receiver.
Defensively, contributions are expected from senior defensive back Justin Jirovec and three linebackers, senior Jack Casey and Richard Hartzel and Nick Gadwood. Hartzel also could play defensive back.