Talent runs deep

By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
Posted: September 3, 2014 - 2:49 PM



The Eastern Kansas League has long been one of the best conferences in the Metro. In the last decade three different programs have won state titles with Blue Valley being the latest winning the Class 5A title last season.

This year the league looks to be very tough again. Bishop Miege returns a standout quarterback along with a good line while Blue Valley, Blue Valley Southwest and Blue Valley West all have a good group of returning starters.

There are some new faces in the EKL led by the arrival of Randy Dreiling to St. Thomas Aquinas. The veteran coach brings seven state championships on his resume as he turned Hutchinson into one of the powerhouses of the Midwest.

It is going to be an exciting year in the EKL so let’s take a look at the teams:

Blue Valley

2013 Record: 10-3/4-3

Blue Valley comes into this season with plenty of new faces on its offense but a good group of seniors that are taking over for a state championship squad in 2013.

The Tigers players may not have had a lot of starting time last season but it is a senior dominated group. Blue Valley has long had a history of reloading not rebuilding and this could be another one of those years.

While the last four seasons the Tigers have been the top dog in Class 5A they now make their home in 6A. The schedule doesn’t change much with only Olathe South in districts and Shawnee Mission Northwest in week No. 1 different from last year. Blue Valley is back in a district with Gardner-Edgerton along with South and Blue Valley Northwest.

Tigers’ coach Eric Driskell said this group has done a great job of stepping up and being leaders.

“We’ve got a great group of young men and they might be some of the best leaders we’ve ever have,” Driskell said. “They are just a joy to be around. They are of high character and they just make it fun to go to practice every day. Their leadership qualities are above and beyond what you’ve come to expect and so we are very pleased with them.”

Eric Driskell podcast

Blue Valley North

2013 Record: 0-9/0-7

There is a new leader at Blue Valley North as the Mustangs head into the 2014 season. Andy Sims comes over after spending last season as the defensive coordinator at Leavenworth and before that as the head coach at Excelsior Springs.

The Mustangs enter the season looking for a victory after going winless in 2013. The streak is 14-games dating back to the middle of the 2012 season so it’s been a while since North has tasted victory.

The senior class is small with just six players but the numbers of the underclassmen is up over recent seasons so there is renew enthusiasm around the program.

Even with just six seniors there are five returning starters back on both sides of the ball so there is a good foundation for the younger players to build on.

Sims said his team is young but working hard as it heads into the year.

“I think the kids have done fantastic,” Sims said. “They’ve really bought in. We’ve kind of had an overhaul of our offense, defense and kicking game so all three phases. They are learning how I want to practice and how I want things done. They’ve welcomed me and staff with open arms and they have been awesome to work with so far.”

Andy Sims Podcast

Blue Valley Northwest

2013 Record: 7-3/5-2

The Huskies enter the season with not many returning starters but if you had to have just a few back, having a Miles Alexander is sure the way to go.

Northwest is coming off another good season that saw them make it to the playoffs and knock off Olathe East in the first round. This year’s team may not have a lot of the starters back from that team but does have Alexander and his 1,000-plus yards rushing.

Only two starters are back on both sides of the ball but Huskies coach Mike Zegunis likes the players who have stepped in. He said this is a good group and Alexander and the other seniors are doing a good job of getting the team ready.

“We don’t return a lot of starters but we do return some experience,” Zegunis said. “And yeah Miles Alexander is one of the top backs around it is great to have him back. I just have some really high character kids that are fun to coach and fun to be around. They’ve worked real hard in the offseason and I know they are wanting to prove themselves.”

Mike Zegunis podcast

Blue Valley Southwest

2013 Record: 5-4/2-5

The Timberwolves enter 2014 looking to take the next step in their program. Southwest has been around the .500 mark the last two seasons but haven’t been able to make the playoffs in its first two seasons in Class 5A.

This year the Timberwolves return an experienced group with as many as six starters on both sides of the ball. Some of these players have been starting since they were sophomores so the rigors of the EKL and Class 5A shouldn’t be anything new to them.

Southwest will face a tough battle in a deep league before going into a district with Pittsburg, Blue Valley West and St. Thomas Aquinas. The Timberwolves have beaten Pittsburg the last two seasons but haven’t found a way to get past West in district play. This is the first time Aquinas and Southwest have been in a district together but the Timberwolves did win the game last season.

Timberwolves’ coach Bill Lowe said this is the first team that is really a part of a Southwest tradition since the school has only been open five years.

“It’s finally getting to that point to where we have that Southwest tradition a little bit,” Lowe said. “The first three or four years you are kind of fighting the old schools they came from. Now we really feel like this is Southwest. This is how we do things and the kids are really buying into that.”

Bill Lowe podcast

Blue Valley West

2013 Record: 8-4/4-3

Blue Valley West was a play or two away from playing for the Class 5A state title in 2013. Now a lot of that team is back and this could be a team that takes that next step this season.

Gone is standout quarterback Ryan Ralston but five offensive starters and six defensive starters along with several others who saw a lot of time last season return. The Jaguars suffered through a host of injuries last season and that helped build their depth for 2014.

West should be strong on both sides of the ball and could be a team that makes another deep run in the playoffs.

Jaguars’ coach Scott Wright said this team is ready to move past the levels of the last two seasons.

“I think they are battled tested,” Wright said. “There is a crew of them that have played since they were sophomores. They’ve been battled tested through a quarterfinal game with Miege (in 2012) and a great semifinal game. They’ve been through the war and they kind of know what they want to get done and they are pretty focused on that.”

Scott Wright podcast

Bishop Miege

2013 Record: 9-2/6-1

The Stags were one of the best teams in the Metro last season. They were led by quarterback Ryan Willis and a talented group of receivers led by McKinley Johnson and Michael Murphy. Murphy and Johnson are gone but Willis is back along with most of his offensive line.

Miege only lost one regular season game last season in a shootout to Gardner-Edgerton. Their final loss was a heartbreaker to Blue Valley West in the Class 5A quarterfinals.

This year the Stags will face the same conference opponents as usual but they will doing their postseason work in Class 4A-I. Miege won a state title the last time it wasn’t in 5A and could be the favorites again.

Stags’ coach Jon Holmes knows his schedule will have a little bit of everything this season.

“We’ve got to prepare each week in our league and we obviously see some spread offenses,” Holmes said. “This year Blue Valley Southwest, St. Thomas Aquinas and Gardner they are all going to be run first teams and I think that is going to help us. We know once we get down to week seven it’s going to be a lot of those run first teams that want to try to come down hill out you. There is going to be some different things you have to get ready for.”

Jon Holmes podcast

Gardner-Edgerton

2013 Record:  8-2/5-1

It’s time for the Trailblazers to reload in 2014. Gardner-Edgerton lost three-year starters in quarterback Jared Hobby and tailback Traevohn Wrench and now a new group looks to make its mark.

This year five starters return on both sides of the ball so the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. The Trailblazers have had a good pipeline of talent and this could be another group. This group will have to grow up fast because the EKL is always good and this could be one of the deepest years in a long time.

Gardner-Edgerton coach Marvin Diener said he likes this group he is just trying to get the right players in the right spots before the season begins.

“We’ve really got a really blue collar work kinds of kids,” Diener said. “They’ve done a great job this summer. They’ve gotten strong. I think we’ve got good team speed on the field but we are just really unknowns. There is no question this is a transition year for us and our kids gotta believe they can get the job done.”

Marvin Diener podcast

St. Thomas Aquinas

2013 Record: 3-7/1-5

It was a tough year for St. Thomas Aquinas in 2013. The Saints struggled through most of the season just a year after making it to the Class 5A semifinals.

At the end of the year the administration made a change and brought in former Hutchinson coach Randy Dreiling to lead the program.

The change was a big one. Dreiling brings a completely different style and intensity to the program. The veteran coach led Hutchinson to seven state titles in his 17 years while racking up a 160-38 record.

Dreiling has changed the offense to a run oriented flexbone and along with a totally new defense. While those are big changes Dreiling said he and his staff have been focusing on working hard and toughness heading into the season.

“The number one thing we are trying to impose upon them here is you go to work every day,” Dreiling said. “Nobody is going to give you anything. Nobody cares that you are Aquinas and nobody cares that we won state championships where we came from. It’s a whole new deal and we have to go to work every day, and that’s what we are trying to impress upon these kids. Get better every day. Learn more about your position, learn more about your teammates and their jobs and get better every day. At the same time maintain the high academic standards Aquinas is used to.

“It’s pretty simple. I think if you work hard and work smart and combine those two things you are going to be successful.”

Randy Dreiling podcast