Bringing the Thunder
By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
There is something about being the new kid on the block. People will always test that new kid and try to find out what they are made of.
For St. James being the new kid is now in its seventh year. The school opened in 2005 and the football program has been an independent for all six years previous. For the first four years the Thunder played a truly independent schedule against teams from around the Metro on both sides of the state line.
The last two seasons St. James has been an unofficial football member of the Frontier conference. Think of that new kid, he’s found some friends and he is part of a group, kind of. His new friends like him but they have made him prove himself at every turn.
Last year Tom Radke moved over from Piper to become St. James second head coach. The Thunder responded early with three impressive wins to start the season. St. James beat Ottawa to open the season and then topped Eudora and Louisburg to start 3-0.
The win over Eudora was the Cardinals only loss of the regular season on their way to the Class 4A state title game and Louisburg was coming off of a state championship in 4A the year before.
After those three wins the wheels fell off and St. James would only win one more game.
That 3-0 start is something that wasn’t lost on Radke as he and his staff started work this year.
“We found out last year that the line is very, very important,” Radke said. “You look at all of the state champions and Paola has made some runs, Eudora has made some runs and Louisburg just won the title. This year we feel like we can go toe-to-toe with them. I’m not going to talk smack on anyone because this league is so good, but we feel like we can hold our own and hopefully get some wins.”
The Thunder are now in that group for the third year and after taking their lumps for the first two this could be the year St. James starts to deliver some blows of its own. The Thunder have one of the biggest offensive lines in the Frontier League. In a conference known for running the ball and physical line play it could be St. James that does some pushing around this year.
Anchoring a deep group of offensive linemen are five guys who have worked hard to bring their team to the next level. The four seniors Jake Wittman, Chris Gomez, Zach McGuff and Patrick Muder and junior David Feist are all over 6-feet tall and average 260 pounds. The group has been pointing to this season and focusing on what it takes for them to become a dominant unit the whole team can count on. Part of that strength comes from knowing they can count on each other
“It’s almost reassuring to know that if you do screw up there is someone next to you who can help,” Gomez said. “(Having the team count on them) makes you get ready for the season it gets you pumped.”
Radke said his team has really bonded and sometimes practices become more like fun than work.
“When I came they said this senior class was the best class they’ve had for football players and it shows now,” Radke said. “I’d never thought they would come this far. They’ve bought in in the weight room and kicked its butt. I have to tell them easy on the scout team because it is hard to get a look if they are beating on the scout team.”
For the group the goal is very simple. They need to be ready to compete every week in what is a tough Frontier conference and then be ready to continue that focus when districts start. That district features Frontier foes Spring Hill and DeSoto along with Bonner Springs that moved down from Class 5A this season.
The linemen definitely feel they are in a position to lead the team this team going forward.
“We’ve been working with us five guys all four years so it’s fun because we know that we have some great comeraderie,” Whittman said. “We’ve been working a lot together and we have great chemistry. As a team we try to have a brotherhood. As a lineman that brotherhood is even smaller so we try to be the backbone of the team.”
Blue Valley West Jaguars
Father Tolton Catholic
St. James Academy Thunder
Knob Noster Panthers
Anderson County Bulldogs
Van Horn Falcons
Shawnee Mission West Vikings