Sideline Pass: Jim Bradford 8/26
By Jim Bradford
That didn’t take long. Just three years after winning the first state playoff game in school history, the Gardner-Edgerton Blazers have been tabbed as the team to beat in Kansas.
High praise for a school going up against the likes of Blue Valley, Olathe North and Hutchinson — winners of six straight state titles (four in Class 6A and the last two in Class 5A) and the team that knocked off the Blazers in the Class 5A state title game last fall.
While it may be up for debate and although it’s just preseason, Gardner-Edgerton has been getting some serious love from the pollsters and find themselves slotted at No. 1 in one all-class poll — and head coach Marvin Diener wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s great,” said Diener, who is entering his fifth season at Gardner-Edgerton. “It keeps us focused. I really look at it as a huge advantage heading into the season.”
Diener came to Gardner-Edgerton after 19 years at Salina Central that included 17 wining seasons and six state titles.
The motivation of starting the season as the state’s top team is just what the 2009 Class 5A runner-ups need sot take the next step. And for the first time in a long, long, long time, the Blazers are the … Ah, who are we kidding, for the first time ever, the Blazers are no longer the hunters. They are the hunted. Before the 2007 season started, they hadn’t even won a playoff game and two years later they were in the state title game.
“Our expectations are high,” Diener said. “They are always high, but it’s just that we are getting more attention than we have ever gotten before.”
Led by Bubba Starling — a University of Nebraska commit — the Blazers return a handful of their top skill position players and an equal amount of standouts on defense.
Starling is coming off of back-to-back seasons in which he rushed for and passed for at least 1,000 yards. A year ago, he rushed for more than 1,300 and scored 19 touchdowns and passed for more than 1,400 yards and threw 18 touchdowns. That’s more than 211 yards of total offense and nearly three touchdowns a game.
The task at hand may be a bit more daunting for the Blazers, though. After years of battling in the Frontier League — which includes some of the smaller Class 4A schools n the state — they are opening this season in the East Kansas League — which includes some of the larger Class 6A schools in the state.
“It’s going to be tough (moving to the EKL),” Diener said. “We are going to get tested every week and we are ready for that.”
Jim Bradford is a staff writer for PrepsKC.
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