Football is fast approaching and I am ready to start getting some chatter going about the upcoming season. SHUKC is heading into its 6th season of following the local schools. Six years of case studies have put into perspective the challenges the KCAL faces trying to compete at the highest levels in the state.
There is little question that the KCAL produces some quality athletes but numbers and facilities has prohibited teams from finding much playoff success. A new format in the 5A playoff system enabled Schlagle to earn the first KCK high school playoff win in years and the question for the league is if they can take it a step further.
I won’t say impossible but would say that it is incredibly unlikely we would see a state championship in football out of the KCAL but the league has a lot of heart and I still enjoy watching these teams compete. I am dedicated to the KCAL for as long as SHUKC exists so I have just tempered my expectations for what is possible.
Welcome to the new age of sports as each year now we have to look at movement between teams. The most notable switch is All SHUKC performer Larmon Witt landing at Schlagle. The Stallions will have senior Braylon Soza returning at QB and Witt may help provide a weapon on the outside to give this offense some balance.
Schlagle for years has had a simple offense and benefited from over 2,000 yards on the ground from Neil Ruff last year. I am extremely high on Ivan Webb being able to take on that work load. I am not going to put the pressure of getting 2,000 yards but expect that he will easily eclipse 1,100 yards on the ground. The Stallions also sport 2016 SHUKC Defensive POY nominee Tylen Wallace who looks to dominate both sides of the line.
Atchison is the three-time KCAL champion and it would be slightly disrespectful to just write them off. I however choose to look at this a bit differently. Atchison had one of “those” special classes that came up and dominated the league as a unit.
Gone are all SHUKC performers Dai Coye Haley, Adam Smith and Bryce Enzbrenner. Smith and Haley were out at the end of last year and the Redmen looked lost at QB. Coach Smith however has to be one of the most tenured coaches in the state and no doubt will have the Redmen ready to compete at a high level. Cole Batemon took the snaps at the end of the year at QB and is heading into his senior year. I mention Batemon as well because his 55 yards rushing last year is the highest among returning players. We will have to see if Atchison had a bunch of studs waiting in the wings or not.
I really believe that Schlagle is the favorite this year clearly in this league. If anyone is going to challenge them then it would be Atchison. I am intrigued by a year of progression of the not now so young Wyandotte Bulldogs but honestly the rest of the teams will battle numbers to compete at a high level. There will be some individuals for sure that we will point out on each of the remaining teams but I don’t expect them to compete for a league title this year.
Sumner Academy is always a personal favorite of mine. I am a fan of Andrew Wright as a head coach and my good friend Austin Bennett has a year under their belt with QB Nahshon Houston. I really think the junior year is vital for any aspiring QB. If you got playing time as a sophomore and the coaching is good then no doubt you have a chance to break out in your junior season. Keep an eye out as well for senior RB Tavaughn Sappington who was putting in some serious work in the weight room this summer. If this can be a solid one two punch running the ball then the Sabres have a strong base at skill positions that could surprise this year. The biggest hurdle at Sumner for years has been finding solid lineman. This will tell the story for them.
Before I dive into talk about the Washington Wildcats I have to pause and let the whole Washington school know that I am in prayer over the tragic news early in August. Adarius Barber was shot and killed, crushing the community. The sad reality we are in now, is that things in KCK from a violence stand point has reached a critical point.
Sadly, I can relate to this situation. In high school we had a classmate killed and honestly good friends of mine were gunned down as a kid growing up. I won’t begin to speak on this situation as I do not know details but it is my hope that this situation can help offer perspective to everyone else at the school and the city. Tomorrow is not promised and we can only hope to make the right choices to avoid terrible situations like this. What is sad is that sometimes even the best intentioned decisions can lead to tragedy.
A SHUKC welcome to Scott Strenk who is taking over as head coach for the Washington Wildcats. The miracle Wildcats from last year took some hits with Witt and the coaching staff leaving. I was optimistic about the Wildcats heading into this year up until that bit of news. Junior QB Alex Howard showed flashes last year that he could throw the rock around. I still expect to see good things from him and he will be a player to watch. The instability at head coach over the 6 years I have been around is honestly sad. I don’t blame any of the coaches that have had this job but it is an impossible task to build a winner without consistency up top.
I am looking to stay positive this year. I got a bit distracted with other schools last year and I plan to keep my focus in the city. Harmon always shows a lot of heart with the numbers that come out to play football. I will be keeping an eye out for standouts as the season gets kicked off. I don’t see a need to deep dive into the challenges at the school from a football perspective. I think Coach Jackson does a good job focusing on developing young men and that should be the focus.
Good luck to all the schools heading into the 2017 season.
David Brox covers the KCAL and Kaw Valley League and runs Sports Highlights Unlimited Kansas City. You can see all of his work at www.shukc.com.