Earlier this winter, Kansas Pregame contacted 6-Man football coaches in an effort to name a second annual Top 6 team of seniors for 6-Man football in Kansas.
This is the first and second of six player profiles highlighting the Top 6 selections released in no particular order:
Kai Cox, OL/DE, 5-11, 154, and Foster Brands, E/DE, 6-3, 200, Northern Valley
In 6-Man football, a version of the game which often sets up one-on-one situations, Northern Valley’s 6-3, 200-pound Foster Brands was at times unstoppable. All the while, teammate Kai Cox, despite a slender 5-11, 154 pound frame, found a way to make plays on both the offensive and defensive lines for four consecutive years.
As a freshman, Cox was an anchor at center for the Huskies, and also made an impact at defensive end.
Northern Valley struggled through year one for Cox, going 2-7 in their last season as an 8-Man program.
Their next season started with a move to 6-Man, helping the thin roster with depth significantly. Cox returned as center and at defensive end.
As an end Cox recorded 33 tackles, four sacks, forced four fumbles, and recovered three fumbles.
“Kai was so smart and understood his abilities and limitations,” head coach Marvin Gebhard said. “When he was not able to accomplish his job on defense, he would adjust to assure he did what he was supposed to.”
Offensively, Cox ended up creating space for his Top 6 teammate to run.
After competing in cross country his freshman year, Brands joined the football team and earned a starting spot as a sophomore, lining up at running back and defensive back. The new guy immediately made an impact, gaining 490 total yards and scoring nine TDs offensively, while recording 30 tackles, two interceptions, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Despite the sophomore duo's success, the team struggled through a tough schedule to a 2-5 record.
The 2020 Huskies were a young team, however, and brought back a majority of their talent in the form of seven returning starters in 2021.
As a junior, after starting the season in the backfield and gaining 439 yards with 14 TDs, Brands was moved to the offensive line next to Cox, and helped create space for sophomore Jeremiah Hansen and senior Bailey Sides, who combined for 1,871 yards and 32 TDs.
Brands was moved on defense as well, going from the defensive backfield to the defensive line where he used his speed and frame to overwhelm offenses with 41 tackles and a fumble recovery.
“He was a big physical kid that was able to shed blockers and make plays on the ball,” Gebhard said. “When teams spread out and left him unblocked he was fast enough to contain and bring down the opponents’ better athletes.”
His fellow D-end, Cox, also had a strong showing with 24 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery.
The Huskies finished the season 7-3 and fourth in final 6-Man standings, with their losses coming against the top three teams in the state at season’s end, including a semifinal loss to runner-up Cunningham, 57-22 – their only big loss of the year – and a loss in the third place game, 39-38, to Ashland, with their lone regular season loss, a 53-50 heartbreaker against eventual Wild West Bowl champs Natoma.
Entering the 2022 season, Northern Valley again returned seven players with significant starting experience, and Gebhard made the decision to move Brands to end offensively.
The decision proved to be wise as the senior ran the ball eight times for 112 yards and two TDs on end-arounds, and caught 23 passes for 394 yards and 13 TDs as a member of a diversified offense with five players gaining 373 yards or more, as well as a long list of others contributing yardage here-and-there.
“His combination of size and speed made him a big target to throw the ball to,” Gebhard said. “There were times where we just threw the ball up and we liked our chances that he would come down with it.”
Cox continued his excellence on the offensive line, doing his less glorified, but equally important work, to near perfection.
“Kai was our center and with what we do on offense, that position is critical,” Gebhard said. “We need a solid snap every time. If not, timing is off and the entire play can be affected. You never worried about Kai blocking the wrong person.”
Defensively Brands had 74 tackles, a team high 13 tackles in the backfield, forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles, and caused a safety, again lining up opposite from Cox, who had 53 tackles, six tackles in the backfield, a forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries – one of which he returned for a TD.
“There were a couple of games where they dominated the line and played in the offensive backfield the entire game,” Gebhard said. “When teams would adjust that would leave our linebackers and defensive backs free to make plays. When teams spread out and left them unblocked, their goal was to disrupt the offense's timing and make big plays. Which they did most of the time.”
The Huskies again finished the season 7-3, with both regular season losses coming by one point to quality opponents. In the playoffs they were knocked out in the quarterfinals against an Ashland team that went on to finish as the state runner-up.
After graduation Brands is planning on attending Kansas State to work toward an Optometry degree. Gebhard said he “looks forward to watching him pursue his goals,” but will miss having him on the team.
“His size and athletic ability will be hard to make up,” Gebhard said. “He is a competitive kid that enjoyed being in big moments.”
Cox, meanwhile, plans to attend North Central Kansas Technical College in Beloit and later return home to work in the family farming operation.
“He was a great leader,” Gebhard said. “His abilities can be replaced, but his leadership, passion, and consistency will be hard to match.”