St. James Academy senior quarterback Trey Keith has one goal on his mind. Just one.
He wants to return to the football state playoffs.
Keith and his Thunder teammates got a taste of the postseason two years ago with a first-round loss to Baldwin, but fell just short of the playoffs last year when the team finished with a 6-4 record.
“I had the opportunity to play in that playoff game, and it’s second to none,” Keith said. “I want that feeling again, and it’s what we’ve been working toward.”
St. James will try to make its first Kansas Class 5A state tournament with increased depth and senior leadership in key positions for coach Tom Radke’s fifth year at the helm.
Keith, who threw for 1,067 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, will be a big key to the team’s success. He also gets the opportunity to connect with three of his top targets.
Andrew Bierbaum leads the way among returners, after having 170 yards in pass receptions and one touchdown last season. Jake Burgmeier, who led the team in rushing last year with 708 yards and four touchdowns, also will be a pass target for Keith, along with Bryce Steffens.
On the defensive side, the Thunder will turn to veterans such as Nick Pate, Zach Abraham, Chris Trupiano, Daniel DeKraai and Sam Winger.
“We lost a few guys, but we have some good pieces coming back,” Radke said. “We filled some good spots.”
The Thunder will start their season on Thursday at Pleasant Hill.
Solely based on numbers, this is already shaping up to be a big season for De Soto coach Bring King and his football squad.
The Wildcats had 100 players come out for the team this fall, a 15-man increase, which allows them to utilize two platoons for the first time in King’s tenure. It will also pay dividends for the future, with 29 juniors and 26 sophomores on this year’s roster.
King said his team has added 40 players across the past two seasons.
“The quality of athlete this year is higher than we’ve had in the past,” King said. “We have a couple tough weeks coming up that we’ll have to get through to see where we really are. If we can stay healthy, I think we can look pretty good.”
De Soto’s deepest positions are on the line and at linebacker, where six of the team’s 10 returning starters will play. Cameron Christopher, Michael Colwell and Joe Hundley will anchor the lines. Rex Templin, Kyle Carnes and Cody Carnes will be at linebacker. The Wildcats also return quarterback Nate Thompson, fullback Mason Clark, receiver Cooper Lee and corner back Sam Regneir.
De Soto will open its season on Friday at Harmon.
In his third year at Maranatha Christian, football coach Bryan Burdette has a whole new set of challenges. First and foremost, he has to combine his program with the team at Immaculata.
According to Maranatha athletic director Dave Keener, the one-year deal was reached because Immaculata was intending to drop its football program for a year, and Maranatha has been battling low numbers. The two teams posted a combined 1-17 record last year.
“It helps us interacting with kids from another program, and (our players) already have developed good friendships with some of those kids,” Keener said. “It gives us more bodies in practice to be able to set up as opponents across the line. A lot of times we haven’t had that.”
Since the change comes in the middle of a Kansas State High School Activities Association cycle, the Immaculata players will be eligible for regular season games, but not for districts or postseason. The team’s games will be split between the two team’s fields in an effort to keep the Immaculata community involved.
Twelve of the team’s 16 players are from Maranatha, and four go to school at Immaculata. Half the team are seniors.
The combined team will start its season on Friday with a road game against Oswego.
In Mill Valley’s final season before joining the Eastern Kansas League, coach Joel Applebee is determined to get the most out of the freedom that he credits for his team’s ability to advance to last year’s Kansas Class 5A state tournament with a 5-5 record.
“Last year, with the very tough schedule, the kids focused on getting better every week and not just our record,” Applebee said. “We wanted to win, but we really wanted to improve on a daily basis. That is what we stress to our kids, and they embrace it.”
The tough schedule will continue this season, as the Jaguars start their year with a road game against Kansas Class 5A state finalist St. Thomas Aquinas. Mill Valley then turns around to face two Class 6A teams — Blue Valley Northwest and Derby.
Mill Valley might be better prepared for a run this season, considering the team returns 17 starters. Third-year quarterback Logan Koch returns after passing for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns and rushing for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Christian Jegen, the first four-year starter of Applebee’s coaching tenure, also returns. He had 44 receptions for 686 yards and four touchdowns last season, as well as 454 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
First-year coach Jason Feeback takes over the Spring Hill program with a resume that features 17 years of coaching experience, including five straight postseason appearances during his time with Chanute, Kan.
“We want to continue to build upon the previous success of the (Spring Hill) football program,” Feeback said in a release from the school after being hired. “I can’t wait to start working with the coaches and players to build the 2015 football team.”
Feeback served as head coach for just two years in Chanute, going 12-7. He led Chanute to the Kansas Class 4A state tournament in 2013.
He inherits a team that has hovered around .500 for the last several years, finishing 4-6 in 2014. Spring Hill won two of its three district games to advance to the Class 4A state tournament, but fell to Piper in 33-0 in a first-round loss.
Spring Hill will have the benefit of experienced offensive and defensive lines with Nick Nolte, Nick Sprague, RayQuon Stowers, Sam Arnold and Sam Christy returning. Quarterbacks William Lovetinsky and Parker Yust are also back, along with running backs Ty Straw, Roiel Swift and Stowers.
The Broncos start their season on Friday when they play host to Paola.