A number of former Kansas prep stars are among the returning All-KCAC players this fall
Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference coaches and members of the media gathered at Crestview Country Club in Wichita on Thursday for the annual KCAC Media Day.
Kansas Wesleyan was picked by both the coaches and media to repeat as conference champions. The Coyotes are coming off a 13-1 season in which they hosted a national semi-final game and ran the table in the KCAC.
College football at any level requires athletes from across the country to come together to build a championship team. But one message was abundantly clear from the KCAC coaches who spoke on media day: There are plenty of former Kansas high school stars who will be vital to their team’s success this season.
University of Saint Mary
Saint Mary head coach Jay Osborne has made it a point of emphasis to recruit Kansas kids in his six years as head coach with the Spires.
Saint Mary is led by one of the best defensive backs in the conference in Nicholas Holmes. Holmes is a graduate of Pleasant Ridge High School and is coming off a first team All-KCAC season in which he had 11 interceptions – which led all classifications of college football – and 61 tackles.
“He seemed to catch everything he got his hands on,” Osborne said.
Former Olathe Northwest standout David Burton has also shined for Saint Mary. Burton led the Spires with 76 tackles last season as a linebacker. Osborne said Burton will play middle linebacker for the team this season.
The leading receiver for Saint Mary is also a former Kansas star. Bryan Barnhart, a Bishop Ward graduate, had 46 catches, for 642 yards, and six touchdowns last season. Barnhart, a senior, received honorable mention all-conference status last year.
Defensive back Trey Espy, who was teammates with Burton at Olathe Northwest, is coming off a junior season in which he recorded 66 tackles and had one interception.
The Ottawa defense is led by former El Dorado standout Colby Johnson. Johnson led the team with 90 tackles and had 2.5 sacks at linebacker for Ottawa last season.
“Colby really showed great promise and was kind of a surprise for us,” 16th-year head coach Kent Kessinger said. “We’re excited to have that style of linebacker on our team.”
Kessinger is also high on Dighton graduate Dylan Foos, who he called his "Swiss Army knife". The junior receiver caught 36 passes for 516 yards and six touchdowns last season and also returned 16 punts for 170 yards with a long of 37, earning second team all-conference special teams honors in the process. He even added a rushing touchdown.
Joining Johnson on the defense is Lawrence High alum Cole Greenwood, who had 31 tackles on the defensive line last year.
Former Norton defensive back Kendall Miller had 83 tackles and one interception. Both Greenwood and Miller were honorable mention all-conference selections last season as well.
Joining Greenwood from Lawrence High is junior James Reeder, who had 153 carries, for 601 yards, and three touchdowns last season at running back.
Terry Harrison is in his second season at Bethel College. Harrison is a former head coach at Wichita Heights and has recruited a number of Kansas kids in his short time with the program, including several who participated in the Shrine Bowl.
Running the triple option, quarterback Zach Esau is duplicating the success he had at Hesston at the college level. Esau led the team with 808 rushing yards and eight touchdowns and 1,136 passing yards and 10 more scores.
“Zach is a tough kid and a competitor,” Harrison said. “His growth this spring was awesome, and we think he’ll be even better this year.”
Along with Esau, former Winfield standout Bradeon Starlin-Driver was a big reason why Bethel was third nationally in rushing yards. Starlin-Driver plays fullback for the Threshers where he rushed for 472 yards and seven touchdowns.
“Bradeon is one of the better leaders on our team,” Harrison said. “He loves Bethel, he loves the program, so we’re excited to see how he operates.”
Playing in a triple option has not slowed down wide receiver Tanner Galliart. Galliart, a senior, played at Larned in high school and led Bethel with 27 receptions, 535 yards, and six touchdowns last season.
“There’s a misnomer in a triple option that we don’t throw the ball,” Harrison said. “In reality, we throw our guys touchdowns instead of first downs. Tanner had his best college season in an option offense. It just shows to go if you’re talented, you can shine.”
Leading the defense is former Shrine Bowl selection Joshua Seabolt from Cimarron. Seabolt is a former standout on the football field and on the wrestling mat. He was one of Harrison’s first major recruits. As a freshman last season, Seabolt led Bethel with 93 tackles as a lienbacker and was named second team All-KCAC as a reward.
“He is the model of showing up and doing what you’re supposed to do every day,” Harrison said. “He’s the reason why we’ve signed so many state-champion wrestlers. They’re tough and they know how to work. I couldn't have picked a better kid to be the leader of our defense.”
The Friends defense will be led by two former Wichita-area standouts.
Junior linebacker Sonny Brown comes from Goddard-Eisenhower. Brown had 46 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and two sacks last season.
“Sonny started out as a linebacker; he’s extremely athletic and has grown into a kid that I believe we can really count on,” Friends head coach Dion Meneley said. “I expect Sonny to be one of the main forces on our defense.”
Junior Robert Garcia from Bishop Carroll has a unique blend of speed and size which allows him to wreak havoc on the defensive line. Last season, Garcia had 50 tackles, 14 for loss, and three sacks.
“We expect Rob to have to be a little more versatile this season, playing some defensive end and playing some defensive tackle,” Meneley said. “People don’t realize how strong he is. They see his quickness, they see his height, but the guy is a block and can flat out move. We’re going to move him around to allow him to make some plays.”
From Bullpups to Bulldogs, two former McPherson High standouts made immediate impacts at McPherson College last season. Kollin Georing and Ben Nikkel, both freshmen last season, earned the most votes to be team captain this season, according to first-year head coach Jeremiah Fiscus.
Goering, an honorable mention linebacker, recorded 66 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and one sack last season.
Nikkel is a leader on the offense where he racked up 21 catches, 447 yards, and four touchdowns at wide receiver. Both Goering and Nikkel will be staples for McPherson College for years to come.
“Ben and Kollin are special guys,” Fiscus said. “Jace Pavlovich at the high school and all the McPherson High coaches do such a wonderful job with those kids. They will both be team captains entering their true sophomore seasons. They represent us well in every facet. They’re great in the community, they’re great in the classroom, they are all-around salt-of-the-earth kids.”
Former AVCTL foes are now working together for Sterling College. Layne Becker from Mulvane and Brayden Lock from Buhler are both returning after all-conference seasons.
Becker, an offensive lineman, earned second team all-conference honors last season after helping pave the way for three running backs who rushed for at least 450 yards.
Lock was an honorable mention linebacker who recorded 52 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, and one interception last season.
Kansas Wesleyan University
Defending conference champions Kansas Wesleyan made the semifinals of the national tournament, and former West Elk standout Eli Smith was a big reason why.
Anchoring the offensive line, Smith paved the way for running back Demarco Prewitt to rush for 2,371 yards and helped quarterback Johnny Feauto pass for 3,273 yards. Smith, at 6-8, 275, earned first team All-KCAC honors last season at center.
Former Ark City wide reciever Tanner Spencer enters his senior season with Southwestern and hopes to be one of the top wideouts in the conference.
Spencer caught 37 passes, for 486 yards, and had six touchdowns last season as a junior. For his career, Spencer has 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns.