Even though he has one of the most intriguing and talent filled rosters in recent history, Olathe North football coach Gene Weir is cautious about giving into the hype.
“I don’t think any team is defined by Division I guys,” Weir said. “We have a few guys who have that athleticism that attracts college scholarships, but they need to work and develop into being player ready. We have kids who are athletic, but are they great at high school? That needs to be determined.”
The Eagles already have two Division I commits in tight end Josh Moore and linebacker Marcel Spears. Moore is headed to Ohio State and Spears to Iowa State. The team will also have some veteran leadership from running back Venus Triplett and quarterback Cole Murphy. Triplett was the Sunflower League’s top rusher last season with 1,530 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Part of Weir’s hesitation comes from the fact that last season’s talented Olathe North squad still finished 8-4 with a loss to Shawnee Mission East in the state semifinals.
“What hurt us a year ago was our lack of execution at critical times on both offense and defense, and that falls back on kids taking care of business on the little things,” Weir said. “We didn’t do the little things right, but if we improve those, we will be pretty good.”
The Eagles will start the season in Arkansas when they face Rogers Heritage at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 5. After that matchup, they will return and face eight consecutive Sunflower League opponents.
Even though Olathe East lost 27 seniors to graduation, the Hawks still have a pretty good chance to go to their 14th consecutive Kansas Class 6A state playoffs appearance.
“We’re going to have a lot of new faces, but at the same time we have quite a few guys who have some playing experience at the varsity level, so we are looking for some good things,” Hawks coach Jeff Meyers said. “I expect us to be very competitive.”
One of those new faces will be Chase Miller, who takes over at quarterback this season. His load should be a little lighter, though, with veteran targets in Brett Kelsh and three-year starter Jalen Branson at running back.
The bigger challenge for Olathe East will be the offensive and defensive lines, where the team will be inexperienced after losing Kansas Football Coaches Association first team all-state selection Conner Alexander. The Hawks will turn to Brycen Hinson for leadership on both sides of the ball.
“Our line is going to be a little bit inexperienced, but we feel like we have some pretty good size and our athleticism is pretty good in that area,” Meyers said. “We also hope we have a little bit of depth.”
The Hawks start their season with a game against Kansas Class 6A substate runner-up Garden City at 8 p.m. on Sept. 5.
When Olathe Northwest hired Chip Sherman last year, the Ravens were looking for a coach who could help them make a dent in the Sunflower League.
Resume-wise, Sherman seems like exactly the kind of coach they need. He has 34 years of experience with a 227-56 overall record. On top of that, he already has four years logged in the Sunflower League since he coached at Shawnee Mission East prior to joining Olathe Northwest. He led the Lancers to a league title, a district title and a regional title.
His first year with the Ravens, though, was a little rough since they finished with a 3-6 record. This season they return a good amount of talent on both sides of the ball.
“The team has worked hard and done everything I have asked them in the off-season, so it will be good to see some rewards for all the hard work they have put in,” Sherman said.
Senior Mitch Holsinger is the Ravens’ top returner as a defensive end and second-team All-Sunflower League selection at offensive guard. On defense, he will be joined by standouts safety Ethan Wall and the duo of Adam Harter and Eli Pruss, who double as running backs.
Olathe Northwest will start its season with an interesting challenge as the Ravens play host to Hays at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 5.
After back-to-back 5-4 seasons, Olathe South football coach Jeff Gourley is not quite sure what to expect from this season’s squad.
“One year we got more than we thought we were going to get out of the kids and they worked really hard. The other year we really underachieved,” Gourley said. “Coming into this one, it can go either way — judging from what I saw in advance.”
Turns out, the Falcons have come back more determined than ever.
“These guys have picked up and it’s almost a challenge to them that they’re going to do better this year,” Gourley said. “They listen, they’re intelligent and there doesn’t appear to be any hidden agendas. There is a real ‘We’ attitude permeating through the team. It has been a real pleasure this summer working with these guys and they’ve busted their humps.”
Although the team graduated offensive lineman Braden Smith, who was the No. 1 guard in the nation according to Rivals.com and is now at Auburn, the team returns senior Chase Latscha, who will step up into his role.
Gourley calls Olathe South’s schedule the toughest he has seen in years. His team will be tested early as it travels to Hutchinson to start the season at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5. From there, the Falcons take on five teams that played in the state playoffs last year, including state champion Blue Valley.
SHAWNEE MISSION EAST
There may not be a team in the state that comes back hungrier than Shawnee Mission East. The Lancers last season made a run to the Kansas Class 6A state title game for the first time in program history, but lost to Derby.
“We ended with a bad taste in our mouth, losing the state championship game, so it will be nice to get back in and start playing with a chance to win some games,” Lancers coach Dustin Delaney said.
Delaney begins his second year at the helm with 16 returning starters from the team that went 11-2. The most notable returner is defensive end Kyle Ball, who was tabbed as the Sunflower League’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. Offensively, the Lancers return four out of their five linemen, along with quarterback Gunnar Englund.
“We’ll be a lot further along early in the season than we were last year, but whether that means anything about where we are at the end of the year has yet to be determined,” Delaney said. “Overall, I think we have more depth and will be playing more seniors, so we’ll be more veteran than last year.”
On paper, the Lancers appear to have a pretty manageable schedule despite facing four teams that played in the Class 6A state tournament last season. SM East starts the season at Gardner Edgerton with a 7 p.m. matchup on Sept. 5.
SHAWNEE MISSION NORTH
Although Shawnee Mission North has to adjust to its third coach in three seasons, this transition should go much smoother.
After former coach Don Simmons left for a job in Arkansas, the Indians elected to promote Ben Bartlett, who served as an assistant coach the last seven years and has been teaching at the school for nine. His ties go even deeper since he played football and also graduated from SM North.
“The players and I have gotten to know each other well over the past several years,” Bartlett said. “After essentially having a stranger come in and head coach for a year — and then very suddenly bail on them — they have expressed their excitement to have someone lead them who they are familiar with and that they know they can trust.”
The Indians went 0-9 last year, but return a lot of experienced players. Quarterback Will Schneider, who started last season as a freshman, returns. The Indians also return his top target in senior wide receiver Nick Perez, who was voted as a second-team All-Sunflower League receiver last year.
SM North starts the season by playing host to Shawnee Mission South at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.
SHAWNEE MISSION NORTHWEST
Entering this season, Shawnee Mission Northwest coach Linn Hibbs is preaching toughness.
Throughout summer conditioning the Cougars have been working on finishing games more effectively, since they posted a 3-7 record last season with a loss to Sunflower League foe Lawrence Free State in the regional final of the Kansas Class 6A state tournament.
“I think our overall fitness level has improved and hopefully we will be able to finish games better because of the training we’ve done this summer,” Hibbs said. “We need toughness physically and mentally and we are definitely headed in the right direction.”
Part of that toughness should come from the large and experienced senior class, which Hibbs said features 25 to 30 players.
“We have a really good and committed senior class,” Hibbs said. “They have done a really good job with their work and leading the younger kids, as well.”
The Cougars return the most experience on their lines, with TJ Hutton and Neil Stimach anchoring the offense and Brandon Smith and Kendall Spencer leading the way on defense. They also have a pair of linebackers in Alex Quinn and Mitch Hodson who should help solidify the defense. Even with all those seniors, Hibbs will look to junior tight end CJ Perez for veteran leadership.
SM Northwest will be tested early. The Cougars start the season against Kansas Class 5A defending state champion Blue Valley at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.
SHAWNEE MISSION SOUTH
Although Shawnee Mission South loses a lot of firepower without tight end Nick Oliver and running back Ra’Keim Abdul, who combined for 12 touchdowns last season, coach Ryan Lonergan is confident that his heady seniors can help fill the gaps.
“We’ve got a good group of returning seniors who are really smart kids,” Lonergan said. “We aren’t as big or fast as we have been in the last couple years, but I think we will make up for that in preparation and knowing where to be.”
Matt Hollingsworth will face one of the biggest challenges as he takes over at quarterback after playing linebacker last season. However, Lonergan said his transition has gone well so far.
“He has done a really good job of leading and getting people in the right places,” Lonergan said. “He’s also really improved his ability to throw the football, so I think that is something we’ll be able to do much better this year.”
He will have some help from veteran running backs Dalton Lewallen and Marshall Bland and offensive linemen Ned Bingaman and Trent Flagler. Defensively, Brendan Brooks and Tyler Perdue lead a successful secondary
SM South, which went 4-5 last season, starts by playing host to SM North at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.
SHAWNEE MISSION WEST
Shawnee Mission West coach Tim Callaghan is cautiously optimistic as he ponders the upcoming football season.
After winning the Kansas Class 6A state title in 2012, the Vikings endured arguably the toughest season of any team in the Kansas City area last year when Andre Maloney died Oct. 4, a day after he suffered a stroke and collapsed on the field during a football game at SM South District Stadium.
The Vikings finished 4-5 and lost three All-Sunflower League first-team selections from that team, but return eight starters.
“We’ve got a handful of guys coming back with experience and they’re good, but we’ve got a lot of spots to be made up by unproven players,” Callaghan said. “We’re excited and we’ve had a good summer.”
One of those seniors who will be pivotal is Carter Pembridge, who starts on both sides of the ball as an offensive tackle and defensive end. He leads an experienced offensive line that also features John Masterson and Mike McCray. The team is also set at defensive back, with Isaiah Macklin and Asher Goldston returning.
SM will get off to a quick start with an opening matchup against Lawrence Free State at 7 p.m. on Sept. 4.
“Our goal was to get a good game and we got it,” Callaghan said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you wish for, but we would rather do that than have someone we feel good about, but is not a good team. Year in and year out, Free State is a good game for us.”