Throughout early to mid-December Kansas Pregame contacted 8-Man football coaches in an effort to name the third annual Top 8 team of seniors for both divisions of 8-Man football in Kansas. After an overwhelming response from coaches, and once all the votes were tallied, 16 players were selected.
This is the 11th of 16 individual player profiles highlighting the Top 8 selections in each division and released in no particular order. Look for more in the coming days.
Dylan Bice, QB/DB, 6-2, 205, Thunder Ridge
Thunder Ridge football has been a force to be reckoned with for the majority of the last four seasons, and a noteworthy portion of that success has much to do with the efforts of quarterback and defensive back, Dylan Bice.
The Longhorn program has enjoyed a return to dominance under fifth-year head coach Joel Struckhoff, who has amassed a 41-13 record since taking over at his alma mater. The Longhorns witnessed a drastic decline following the resignation of coach Jerry Vorhees after the 2014 season, faltering to just three wins total in the three seasons prior to Struckhoff taking the reins for a team he helped lead to a state title as a player in 2011.
A big reason for that improvement, Struckhoff’s ability to rely on Bice on booth sides of the ball. With 435 tackles, 13 interceptions, 8,953 total yards, and 89 touchdowns in his four seasons of varsity football, Bice has put together a truly elite 8-Man football résumé that helped Thunder Ridge to a 36-9 record with three deep playoff runs in his time as a Longhorn.
As a freshman, Bice’s presence was felt primarily on the defensive side of the football. His 676 total yards and eight total touchdowns were an important factor offensively, but as a defensive back he was immediately a major issue for the opposition. He recorded 99 tackles, two interceptions, 12 pass deflections, and a fumble recovery, earning him the first of four career All-District nods.
“Dylan's biggest impact on defense was that he would bring the energy,” Struckhoff said. “He played physical all the time on defense and made good reads. He was a solid open field tackler and was a tough block for linemen because he really attacked the line of scrimmage.
The Longhorns finished 9-2 after advancing to the state quarterfinals, where they were defeated in a 64-60 shootout against Central Christian of Hutchinson.
After being used sparingly on offense as a freshman Bice became a centerpiece as a sophomore, taking over as the starting quarterback with an 86 of 146 for 1,394 yard and 15 TD to 11 interception statline as a passer, to go with 129 carries for 973 yards and 14 TDs on the ground.
Defensively, Bice was again a force, recording 81 tackles, five interceptions, 11 pass deflections, and a forced fumble in nine games, returning two of his picks for touchdowns.
Despite it looking like he may have taken a step back in terms of tackles, his numbers were over the course of two less games, with his tackles per game staying at nine, the same as his freshman season.
Thunder Ridge finished the season 5-4 after a 42-40 loss to Axtell in the first round of the playoffs, the only playoff exit Bice saw prior to the quarterfinals in his high school career.
Going into his junior season Bice cleaned up the one arguable issue he had as a passer, reducing his interception total to just two, while completing 61 of 81 attempts for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns in the air with an incredibly efficient 143.7 QB rating. He also ran for 1,459 yards and 27 TDs on 122 carries with a career high 12 yards per carry.
On the other side of the ball Bice recorded 103 tackles, a tackles-for-loss, an interception, 17 pass deflections, and a forced fumble as the Longhorns went undefeated in the regular season and didn’t see their first loss until the state semifinals where they were finally eliminated by historically good Axtell team that would win the first of back-to-back 8-Man II titles.
After accomplishing more than most athletes could hope for in a career in his first three seasons, Bice saved his best for last.
The senior went 92 for 145 passing for 1,474 yards and 10 TDs, along with 228 carries for 1,900 yards and 34 TDs last fall. Bice gained at least 100 yards rushing in 10 of the Longhorns’ 13 games and averaged 8.3 yards per carry despite the massive workload. He also brought in a receiving TD in the final game of the season.
“Dylan's biggest impact offensively would have to be his leadership,” Struckhoff said. “He had a way of making sure everyone knew what they were doing and making whatever play was called work. He ran with an attitude that you were not going to get him down easily, and his field vision was great. He was a dual-threat QB who made you stay honest because he could beat you with the pass too.”
Defensively he put together a magnum opus season, totalling 152 tackles, six tackles for loss, five interceptions, 21 pass deflections, a forced fumble, and four fumble recoveries, including one he returned for a TD.
Bice was dominant throughout the playoffs as Thunder Ridge worked their way to the state championship game. The senior put together a particularly dominant performance against Dighton to advance through the semifinals, running the ball 18 times for 236 yards and five TDs to go with 19 tackles and three interceptions.
“Great player with no weaknesses,” Dighton head coach Ken Simon said. “Extremely tough on both sides of the ball. He has great vision running the football and runs hard. It seemed to me that he was very intelligent on both sides of the ball. We had no answer for him whatsoever.”
The Longhorns ended their season with a loss to the aforementioned Axtell team in the title game, finishing with an 11-2 record and the program’s third title appearance since the consolidation of West Smith County (Kensington) and Eastern Heights in 2008.
“Dylan did a great job of being a positive leader and helping out the younger players in practice and helping them develop,” Struckhoff said. “He really embraced the role of doing ‘what's best for the team’ and always trying to get better at the game of football which helped make that a staple for Thunder Ridge football. He led with positive energy and others followed that.”
Bice is undecided on where he will take his talents next season. He has interest from multiple schools and holds a scholarship offer from Bethel College and recently took an official visit to Peru State.
“His energy and his overall love for the game,” Struckhoff said, “I think that's what makes Dylan a great football player because he loves the game and gives it everything he has when he's playing. The program will miss that level of intensity.”