As I see it: Kyle Palmer 10/9

Kyle Palmer

By Kyle Palmer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: October 10, 2016 - 3:20 PM

To crib a worn out phrase about brides and bridesmaids, let’s just say over the past quarter century or so, Overland Park’s St. Thomas Aquinas has accumulated a lot of bridesmaid dresses.

Still, there are few programs in the metro that can boast as consistently winning a team as the Saints’ over that stretch. Since the program’s founding in 1988, St. Thomas Aquinas varsity football has gone to the Kansas state playoffs 18 times and advanced to the state semifinals a dozen different years. In the past 20 seasons, the Saints have finished with a winning record 16 times. 

And yet…

The Saints have never hoisted the championship trophy on Thanksgiving weekend. The closest they came was in 2008, when that year’s squad lost in the title game to Hutchinson 38-0.

Of course, that Hutch team was coached by Randy Dreiling, who was in the midst of leading the Salthawks to six consecutive titles, a historic streak. But Dreiling now prowls the Saints’ sideline. He’s compiled a 23-8 record since coming to Overland Park in 2014.

He brought his vaunted run-heavy scheme—known as the “flexbone”—with him, and his Saints teams have set new program records for rushing yards and total offense. Last year's squad, propelled by seniors James Cosentino and Karter Oderman, once again ran all the way to the state semis, only to get stymied by eventual champ Mill Valley.  

And it was with a recent rematch with the Jaguars that Saints fans began asking once again, “Is THIS the year?” On Homecoming night nearly two weeks ago, the Saints tipped Mill Valley 40-33 in a classic back-and-forth duel. Junior quarterback Will Swanson established a name for himself in that contest, tossing two touchdowns (including the game-winner to tight end Joseph Clune) and rushing for another.

The Saints followed that up this Friday with a workmanlike 24-7 victory over St. James Academy on the road, a contest that saw the return of leading rusher Drew Hicks from a two-week absence. At 5-1 now, the Saints have a firm grasp on a high seed in this year’s reworked Kansas Class 5A state playoffs.

What makes the run more impressive? First, the Saints lost top defensive talent and Iowa State recruit Angel Dominguez before the season to a knee injury. Second, this year’s offense features 11 first-time starters. Such is Dreiling’s habit of success in the flexbone.  

Many insiders now give the Saints an edge over their 5A competition in projected playoff brackets. But a good litmus test will be two weeks from now, when Aquinas wraps up the regular season against Eastern Kansas League foe Blue Valley. That team, many think, could be the class 6A champ.

In a sense, that game could be two potential brides trying on dresses, preparing for the big event to come.