Here is a team-by-team preview of the high school football teams in the Eastern Kansas League. The teams are listed in projected order of finish this season by Ashley Scoby, high school reporter for The Star.
1. Bishop Miege
Led by junior quarterback Carter Putz — a 3,000-yard passer — and Missouri wide receiver commit Jafar Armstrong, Bishop Miege will attempt to win a third straight Kansas Class 4A-DI state championship. The team lost starting running back Dawson Downing, but junior Cameron Clark is ready to step into that role. On the defensive side, junior middle linebacker Joe Watskey is coming off an all-conference season.
2. Blue Valley
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“Unfinished business” is the motto for the Tigers this season, after losing in the Kansas Class 6A state championship game last year. Linebacker Michael Maffry, who finished 2015 with 172 tackles, is one of eight returning starters. Several offensive pieces from last year are still intact, with wide receivers Gus Gomez and Harrison VanDyne and running back William Evans all returning.
3. St. Thomas Aquinas
With all the starters and backups gone from last year’s 9-3 team, Aquinas will lean on its defense more this year. A great place to start is senior defensive end Angel Dominguez, who has committed to Iowa State. Other defensive starters are back, including Jared Flood at free safety, Dan Bollig at linebacker and Javier Derritt on the defensive line. The Saints would love to top last year’s run to the Kansas 5A semifinals.
4. St. James Academy
Kansas State quarterback commit Sammy Wheeler and linebacker Bryce Steffens will lead St. James into its first season in the Eastern Kansas League, after a 9-2 finish last year. Multiposition player Dylan Streeter will also figure heavily in St. James’ offense. He rushed for nine touchdowns last season and also returned four kickoffs for scores; he’ll bring the same versatility this year.
5. Blue Valley North
Peter Klug, a South Dakota defensive line commit, will anchor a stout defense, along with all-state linebacker Harrison Frazier and all-EKL cornerback Keilon Hunter. The team only has two returning starters on offense, but senior Cole Chapman, with good size and a strong arm, is the team’s new starting quarterback. BV North will try to collect its second straight EKL championship.
6. Mill Valley
For the first time in school history, the Jaguars enter a new football season as defending state champion, and the 23 seniors on the team are ready for the challenge. The experience back is really in the offensive and defensive line, said coach Joel Applebee. Look for senior wide receiver Ben Hartman, senior free safety Joel Donn and senior defensive end Blaine Boudreaux to make plays and provide leadership.
7. Blue Valley West
After eight years as an assistant coach, Josh Koerkenmeier begins his first season as head coach. Despite having only one starter back on defense, Koerkenmeier is upbeat because of the hard work the players have put in during the offseason. Also, the Jaguars have seven starters back on offense. One player they will rely on is junior linebacker Adam Davis, who started last year. He will also take some snaps at running back.
8. Blue Valley Northwest
It’s a little deceiving to say BV Northwest only has three to four returning starters on both sides of the ball, because a lot of underclassmen saw varsity action without starting. The players who should make their presence felt are senior Garret Tierney at linebacker and running back, junior Seth Zegunis on the offensive and defensive lines and senior wide receiver and free safety Riley Zerni. The return of senior running back Daeron Robinson from a knee injury could also make an impact.
9. Gardner Edgerton
The Trailblazers enter this season with vastly more experience on offense and defense, and that has them optimistic about rebounding from last year’s 2-7 season. Nearly all their starting skill position players return, including senior quarterback Griffin Johns and senior running back Hunter Skeems. With eight defensive starters back, Gardner Edgerton expects to have one of its strongest defensive units in the last decade.
10. Blue Valley Southwest
Finishing the season with a shutout victory and having 26 seniors out this year has second-year coach Anthony Orrick excited about 2016. The Timberwolves, coming off a 3-6 season, will be counting on offensive and defensive linemen Brett Sabath and Caleb Ash. At the skill positions, running back Jack Sailer and wide receiver Daniel Foulon figure to make an impact.