More than 200 of the state's best football players from the classes of 2020-2022 performed in front of coaches and media Friday, June 28th
SALINA – Kansas high school football's Class of 2020 has featured a high number of well-known, Power 5 linemen commits including Lawrence Free State’s Turner Corcoran, Derby’s Alex Conn, Lakin’s Hadley Panzer and Emporia’s Hayden Pauls.
However, Colby senior Aaron Kurth has burst onto the scene. Built similar to Corcoran and Conn, Kurth has recently picked up three offers: University of Kansas, along with FCS Western Illinois and South Dakota. As well, Kurth has earned offers from Butler County and Garden City Community Colleges.
“It’s been crazy, didn’t really expect it,” Kurth said.
Kurth was one of more than 200 athletes at the annual Top Prospect Camp hosted by Jake Sharp and Sharp Performance on Friday at Kansas Wesleyan University.
Kurth was part of a group of under-the-radar recruits that included Cimarron’s Hunter Renick, Hoisington’s Riley Philbern, Andover’s Peyton Henry, Jefferson West’s Pene Saili and Norton’s Judson Wiltfong to name a few. They’ve put together a strong summer, including recent offers for multiple players.
Additionally, Wamego running back Isiah Childs, who has recently committed to Akron, and Maize running back Caden Cox competed in the event. Cox, with extremely high academic scores, is a fast, physical running back who has earned an offer from KU and has had significant contact with multiple Ivy League schools and colleges on the east coast. McPherson end Cody Stufflebean, who recently verbally committed to K-State over offers from Wisconsin, Colorado and Virginia Tech, was in attendance but did not compete.
Kurth listed at 6-foot-6/6-7 and 280-285 pounds, started at center for Colby, an 8-2 team in Class 3A last fall. He sometimes played defensive tackle on a talented squad that included backs Jordan Schippers, Calvin Stapp and Hagan Booi, and lineman Xavier Slaven.
The Eagles, led by second-year coach Rees McKinney, a Scott City graduate and former Moscow coach, enjoyed a 6-0 start, its best record since the early ‘90s. Kurth gave significant credit to McKinney – “an amazing job” – with getting more players out and building camaraderie. Kurth said McKinney set the team up with “little brothers” to increase the brotherhood.
“That helped quite a bit, so we all came together, and it was just an amazing year with everything,” Kurth said.
Schippers signed with Western Illinois last winter, while Slaven was part of Fort Hays football’s recruiting class. Kurth, Stapp and Booi, a state wrestling runner-up, will be key cogs for the Eagles for ’19. Kurth expects to move to left tackle and defensive end this fall. He also participates in basketball and track and took third at state shot put this spring.
On June 15, Kurth attended the Nebraska Pipeline camp, talked with new Kansas coach Les Miles and received an offer to the Jayhawks. South Dakota offered the same day, and Western Illinois followed up on June 24. Kurth was surprised when Miles offered.
“I just wanted to hug my family,” Kurth said.
Childs commits to Akron; Cox in good position
Isiah Childs has flashed his great speed and athleticism at multiple showcases around the country. Childs was unable to compete in track this spring after transferring from Manhattan to Wamego at mid-year. However, Childs posted a strong showing at the Sharp Performance Combine in the spring in Salina and quickly earned the Akron offer.
“Us Kansas guys, we are slept on as athletes, especially football players down here, and Sharp is doing a great thing for us Kansas football players and getting us exposed,” Childs said.
The Zips have strong Kansas ties, notably with Oscar Rodriguez, in his first season as Zips’ secondary coach. He and new Akron head coach Tom Arth both came from the University of Tenneesee-Chattanooga.
Rodriguez is from Liberal and played at several Kansas colleges, including Emporia State and Fort Hays, and has coached at multiple Kansas schools, including Emporia State, Hutchinson Community College and Garden City CC. Zips running backs coach Jayden Everett is from Newton.
Akron has offered multiple Kansas players in recent months, including Stufflebean and Panzer.
“I felt like that was going to be home for me, home away from home, and you have got some Kansas coaches that are on the staff,” Childs said. “So having those Kansas ties hit home to me, and education-wise, it was really great, and I just felt like this was the best opportunity for me to get to the next level.”
Akron wanted Childs to play running back, his natural position. Childs has played running back since second grade.
“They are a very good school on the rise,” Childs said. “Me as a Kansas guy, I am going to try and promote Akron as much as I can here in the Midwest, and get some guys on board.”
Childs was helping with a track meet when he received a call from Akron about the offer. Akron was the first Division I school to offer Childs.
Texas Tech, Kansas State and South Dakota all looked at Childs as a linebacker, and Washington State showed interest in Childs as a receiver.
“That just really stuck to me, and so for them to take that chance on me, I had to take full advantage of it,” Childs said of the first offer.
Wamego running back Taybor Vetter, Childs’ teammate, ran a 4.48 at the Sharp Combine in the spring and has picked up an offer from Bethel College.
“Today I’m trying to show everyone what I got,” Vetter said Friday.
Cox, like Childs, has seen his recruitment significantly increase since the Sharp Combine in the spring. Coach Miles was very complimentary of Cox and offered June 1.
“He just said, ‘Man, we want you out here,’” Cox said. “’And we really like you, and we want you. It was pretty special, especially coming from him, because I have heard he is very picky on his running backs, so it was pretty awesome.”
Cox is part of a growing group of in-state players that KU has offered since Miles took over last November.
“It’s special, because a lot of kids growing up in Kansas dream of going to KU or K-State, and just giving the love back to the state and getting the in-state recruits, I feel like they are really going to turn things around in the next couple seasons,” Cox said.
Cox has a 4.1 GPA and 27 on his ACT and is expected to head east next week to visit several strong academic schools.
“A lot of them told me that once I meet the head coach, I am going to be leaving with some good news,” Cox said.
Renick gets offer
Cimarron fullback Hunter Renick was one of the top incoming juniors at Top Prospect. He stands 6-foot-2.5 inches in cleats and weights 252. Renick has maxes of 350 in bench, 425 in squat and 280 in clean. Butler County offered Renick on the field Friday after seeing him perform.
Renick learned physicality from his cousin and friend, former Cimarron fullback/defensive end Jaylen Pickle, who is on the Kansas State roster. The two grew up playing football in the backyard of a family member’s house.
Cimarron, under coach Greg Koenig, posted 7-3 and 8-2 records the last two years, including 46.6 points a game last fall. Two years ago, Renick started one game in the backfield when Pickle was injured. Last fall, Renick started throughout the year and helped Cimarron average 345 yards a game.
Sophomore Tate Seabolt rushed for 1,531 yards. Renick and Seabolt should be one of the top backfields in 2A this fall. Renick has a goal to lose weight and get lean and muscular for the season.
“We just run people over, and we make sure they are tired,” Renick said. “And we make sure at the end of the day that we are the more physical team, and coach K really instilled that into Cimarron, and I am so thankful for him for doing that.”
Koenig, known for run-heavy, explosive offenses with Beloit and Cimarron, announced earlier this summer he was moving to Colorado Springs because of his wife’s job change. Cimarron has not yet named a head coach.
“It’s an offer that couldn’t have been passed up, so the thing is you can’t say anything about that,” Renick said. “You have got to be really mature about it, and you have to go at it the right way, so I went up to his house, shook his hand, gave him a hug, had a few tears because I love him, so it’s hard. Love him and his wife for what they have done for the community.”
Hoisington’s Philbern, another one of the top lineman for the 2020 class, also picked up a Kansas Wesleyan offer Friday afternoon. Philbern helped running back Wyatt Pedigo rush for more than 2,000 yards last fall.
Andover’s Henry showing speed
Andover senior running back Peyton Henry is part of a talented group of Top Prospect athletes that had all or some of last fall wiped out because of injuries/transfer rules. Henry had 100 carries for 475 yards and three scores, including 27 carries for 207 yards and a TD versus Arkansas City in Week 6, his last game. Henry missed the rest of the year with an ankle injury.
“I felt good throughout the year last year until my injury,” Henry said.
He and junior quarterback Eli Fahnestock, who has started since his freshman year, should be a dynamic combination for Trojans, a team that finished just 3-6.
“I have a lot to prove this year,” Henry said.
Henry has posted 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Southwestern Oklahoma and 4.48 at Pittsburg State. In addition to those two schools, Henry has received interest from Division II power Harding (Ark.). Shortly after the Top Prospect camp ended, Henry announced via Twitter he had received an offer from Southern Nazarene (Okla.) University.
“It’s been a great experience to hit all these college camps and stuff and prove who I am to these college scouts, and it’s been a lot of fun this spring and summer,” Henry said.
Henry’s dad, Jason, and uncle, Steve, both played at Emporia State. Steve was drafted by the St. Louis football Cardinals in 1979 and played in the NFL for three years.
Wiltfong gains Fort Hays offer
Last season, Norton defensive end/tight end Hayden Wiltfong delivered another impressive football and wrestling season with accolades on the gridiron and a state runner-up finish on the mat. Wiltfong signed with Fort Hays football in February.
His younger brother, Judson, will be a senior this fall. He recorded 64 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries in ’18, and then was a wrestling state qualifier. On June 22, Wiltfong posted on Twitter that he earned defensive MVP at the Fort Hays camp and also picked up an official offer from the Tigers, the two-time defending MIAA champions.
“It felt really good, especially with my brother going there, so maybe a chance to play with him again, but to earn MVP made it extra special,” Judson said.
Judson and Hayden are very close and part of a large family that includes many relatives from the Norton area. Judson said Hayden and him do “everything together.”
“He knows it’s my choice, so he doesn’t really press me too much about it,” Judson said of colleges. “He is going to let me make the choice.”
Saili brothers enjoy showcase
Jefferson West features brothers Kauli, Pene and Danny Saili. Kauli will be a senior this fall, Pene a junior and Danny a sophomore. All three competed Friday. Two seasons ago, Kauli delivered 72 tackles while earning all-league and all-state honors last season while Pene had 93 tackles primarily as a defensive end. Danny tallied 26 tackles in just his freshman season.
The Sailis are of Samoan descent and moved to Nevada before coming to Kansas. The family has nine children, including six sisters, four of them older. Both parents played volleyball.
“It’s a lot different,” Pene said. “I talk to kids who don’t have siblings or have one or two, and they said it’s quiet all the time. If you know my family, you know that we are loud, and we know that we love to cheer, we love to talk, we are not shy people, so I wouldn’t be the person I was if it weren’t for my siblings. Most other people give credit to their parents, but I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for my siblings.”
Kauli stands 5-11, 285, while Pene is at 6-1, 230. Danny is 6-3, 320. The family heavily stresses academics and has enjoyed Kansas.
“Out here, they can have 1-on-1 conversations with the teachers,” Pene said. “In Nevada, there are so many kids, the teachers can’t really pay attention to you, and do their jobs at the same time. It’s just that the academics are a lot better out here. They are higher.”
Last year, they helped Jeff West to a three-win improvement from 2-7 to 5-4. JCW finished fourth in a challenging district that had Hayden, Perry-Lecompton and Santa Fe Trail, all teams that finished with winning records.
Pene has been to camps in Texas and Kansas State and plans to go to KU. He will move to the backfield this fall.
“They would rather have me in the back protecting the quarterback, and they said that I can be a dual-threat,” Pene said. “I can block, because I am not afraid to hit, and I want to hit, and I can also run the ball and catch.”
Cade Ross, the quarterback for the last two years, has transferred to Eau Gallie (Fla.) High School. Ross is the son of former Lindenwood (Mo.) head coach Patrick Ross. However, senior Quinn Neuenswander is expected to take over under center and provide a dual-threat presence.
Larned’s Perez wants to focus on football
Larned senior Mason Perez is one of the more experienced athletes in all of Kansas. As a freshman, Perez started both of the Indians’ playoff games at safety.
He has started every year since and plans to move to linebacker this fall. In basketball, Perez has started since he was a freshman at point guard. In baseball, Perez was hurt at a freshman but has since been a starter.
Perez wants to play football at the next level and has had some contact with Kansas State, Southwestern Oklahoma and Bethel.
“Looking for football,” he said.
Two years ago, Larned went 6-5.
“That was a great atmosphere, always positive most of the time. Keep up the attitude was a big part,” Perez said.
Both ’16 and ’17 ended in trips to the Round of 16, the best years for the program since ’85. Last year, the Indians had an injury-plagued season, including Perez played in only the first three games, and went 0-9. Perez looks to lead the Indians to a big turnaround after he helped the Indians to its first state basketball appearance since ’94 in the winter.
Larned coach Tad Remy felt Perez had a good day at the showcase with only a couple passes completed against him from his primary role as a defensive back. Perez consistenly runs in the high 4.5s/low 4.6s in the 40, according to Remy.
A number of other prospects performed well at the event including Maize South defensive back Trevion Mitchell, Maize High wide receiver Preven Christon, St. Thomas Aquinas defensive tackle Peyton Reeves, South Central kicker/defensive back Gage Girk, Rock Hills running back Rylee Whelchel and more. Look for more coverage on social media and in the mid-August issue of Kansas Pregame Football Preview.
Find a complete gallery of images from the event by KSportsImages.com's Everett Royer at this link.
Conor Nicholl is a sportswriter from western Kansas with more than 10 years experience covering high school, college and professional teams from Kansas and across the Midwest.