Kansas Pregame publisher John Baetz tells us a few things he's watching for on this first football Friday of 2019
I love football, and the first Friday of high school football season in Kansas is a special one. Every team starts the year the same, 0-0, and the entire season lies ahead with every player dreaming of league championships and deep playoff runs.
Yes, I'm watching big games like Blue Valley North/Bishop Miege, Shawnee Mission East/Gardner-Edgerton and Bishop Carroll/Wichita Northwest to name a few, but here are a few other storylines I'm intrigued by for September 6, 2019.
Can Norton rebound?
Norton had a rare losing season last year and will face a stiff test from league rival Plainville on this opening night. The Blue Jays return 12 total players with starting experience and will have one of the most impressive defensive lines in 2A with Judson Wiltfong (6-5, 215), Dante Smith (6-1, 280) and Christen Hawks (6-5, 255). Expect Hawks, just a junior, to emerge as an FBS prospect with his impressive frame and wingspan. His father, Jeremy, a 1993 Norton graduate was a Hall of Fame defensive lineman and track athlete at Fort Hays State in the mid-90s. Returning quarterback Kade Melvin is a dual-threat and was part of our #KSQBS feature in this year's Kansas Pregame.
Plainville should be one of the best teams in 1A behind coverboy Jared Casey and #KSQBS feature QB Jordan Finnesy, but low numbers means a lack of depth and could pave the way for a deep and experienced Norton team to start the 2019 turnaround.
Could Pegram provide an immediate impact for Anderson County?
The Bulldogs have struggled for the better part of the last decade with only one season of more than three wins in the last seven including just five total wins in the last three seasons. This year the Bulldogs welcome Silver Lake native Logan Pegram as head coach and could begin a turnaround as the former Eagle standout offensive lineman was a three-year starter at Division I Northern Illinois. The Bulldogs return plenty of experience with eight players back with starting experience and 23 returning lettermen. Junior twins Josh and Justin Stifter are two players to keep an eye on. Pegram said the twins didn't miss a lifting session this summer and have some natural ability to go along with their 6-4, 200 pound frames. Josh will play on the line while Justin will play fullback and middle linebacker.
The Bulldogs open with perennial winner Wellsville which is coming off a rare 4-5 season and welcomes first year coach Mike Berg, previously the head coach at Baldwin. While the Eagles will be no pushover, they may not be the opponent they once were after much of their offensive production graduated.
Can Larned rebound?
Larned lost a number of key players to injury in coach Tad Remy's first season last year, most notably QB Mason Perez and OL Taylor Martin. Perez could be one of the state's top safeties this season and has 4.6-4.7 40 speed at 6-2, 180 pounds while Martin is earning FBS interest and stands 6-4, 285 and is just a junior. The Indians open with a Smoky Valley team that was decimated by graduation, but the Vikings are always a tough out and games with Hesston, Hoisington, Pratt and Holcomb present a murderer's row in weeks two through five.
AB Stokes built the Indians into a competitive program after years as a doormat. Remy will likely lead Larned to improvement if his leaders stay healthy, but a difficult schedule may not show it in the win column.
Will Parker Gooden thrive at running back?
After spending two seasons as Scott City's starting quarterback and throwing for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, Parker Gooden will make the move to running back in the Beavers' run-heavy Wing T offense. Or at least that's what coach Jim Turner told us this offseason. Gooden has a smooth throwing motion and runs this offense well from the QB spot, but Scott City is known for their commitment to the run game and Gooden was expected to provide talent and leadership in a key position. With loads of returning experience their should be plenty of running room for Gooden and his backfield teammates. We'll find out if Scott City's offense is as prolific when the Beavers host Hugoton tonight.
Players you haven't heard of
The cool part about producing the state's only comprehensive football preview is diving into the rosters of every team in Kansas. Along the way we discover a number of players - like the Stifter twins and Martin mentioned above - that could emerge as standouts, but may not currently be on the statewide radar. Here's a few that we're watching:
Caype Johnston, OL, 6-3, 300, Sr., Erie
Derick Wallace, OL/DL, 6-5, 270, Sr., Erie
Trystin Myers, RB/LB, 6-2, 180, Sr., Atchison County Community
Tyler Walford, OL/DL, 6-4, 265, Sr., Ellsworth
Cameron Wise, RB/LB, 6-5, 220, Jr., West Franklin
Sam Culp, OL/DE, 6-2, 190, So., Sedgwick
Austin Miller, TE/OT/DL, 6-5, 260, Sr., Wabaunsee
This is just a few of the athletes we found on rosters this season that, after watching film and talking to coaches, appear they could emerge as some of the state's best. Certainly there are dozens more.
Hopefully you enjoyed this quick read on a few off the radar things we're looking forward to in week one.