Monday, July 28, 2014

2014 Sunflower League Preseason Power Rankings

Olathe North head coach Gene Wier (left) will rely heavily
on the experience of quarterback Cole Murphy in the hopes
of claiming the program's ninth state title. KC Star.
1. Olathe North 
Head Coach: Gene Wier (24 years at Olathe North, 199-47; and 241-98 overall)
Last season: 8-4, Sub-State

Outlook: The Eagles return 17 starters from a team that lost in the Sub-State round to SM East just a year ago. The headliners for Olathe North are running back Venus Triplett (5-8, 190) who rushed for 1,530 yards and 25 touchdowns last fall, and tight end/defensive end Josh Moore (6-5, 255), who recently committed to Ohio State. Quarterback Cole Murphy (6-1, 185) returns for his third year as the starter, coming off a junior campaign in which he combined for over 2,200 yards of total offense and scored 19 touchdowns. On the offensive line, returning starters Tyler Bacon (6-3, 255), Michael Chau (6-0, 255) and junior Tad Davis (6-0, 280) will pave the way. Defensively, the Eagles will be led by linebackers Marcel Spears (6-0, 215), Jesse Kendricks (5-10, 195) and Jadon McGaha (5-8, 215). Spears, an Iowa State commit, will lead the trio which combined for 362 tackles a season ago. The defensive line will be stout, returning starters Marcel Williams (6-1, 255) and junior Chase Miller (5-11, 265) in addition to Moore. The secondary will be anchored by blue-chip junior Isaiah Simmons (6-3, 200) and Chaz Burgess (6-1, 180) who snagged five interceptions apiece in 2013, in addition to talented junior Vinnie Shabazz (5-9, 185), and Jeighlon Cornell (6-0, 195) who could be in for a breakout season.

Concerns: The Eagles will have to contend with the loss of Oregon linebacker Jimmie Swain to graduation, and there's no telling what would happen to the offense should Murphy or Triplett go down with an injury.

Projected record: 9-0

Key game: 9/5 at Rogers (Ark.) Heritage
The reputation of Olathe North, and the Sunflower League, will be on the line when the Eagles travel to the Wal-Mart state in week one.

2. SM East 
Alec Dean had 99 receiving yards and
two touchdowns in last year's 6A state
title game against Derby. LJWorld.

Head Coach: Dustin Delaney (One year at SM East, 11-2; and 34-12 overall)
Last season: 11-2, 6A State Runner-Up

Outlook: The Lancers, like Olathe North, will be bolstered by a wealth of returning talent. SM East returns 16 starters from the team that produced the best season in school history a season ago. Perhaps no player is more important than defensive end Kyle Ball (6-2, 235) who's widely regarded as one of the state's top defenders entering 2014. Returning at quarterback is Gunnar Englund (6-2, 185) who took most of the snaps during the Lancers' 2013 playoff run. Slotbacks Sam Huffman (5-11, 185) and Jackson Gossick (6-0, 170) will bring up the rushing attack after combining for 833 rushing yards last year. Top receiver Alec Dean (6-4, 210) is back after catching 19 passes for 330 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior. The offensive line, which should be one of the best in the state, will be led by returning starters James Wooldridge (6-0, 205), Will Kaiser (5-11, 225) and Devin Price (6-2, 255). Defensively, Sam Williams (6-3, 210) will be playing bookend to Ball, while Sam Pottenger (6-0, 205) and junior Rider Terry (5-7, 165) return as inside linebackers after combining for 166 tackles and nine sacks a season ago. The secondary will be led by Charley White (6-0, 170) who recorded five interceptions in 2013, and returning starter Will Oakley (5-11, 175).

Concerns: Losing dominant defensive tackles Dominique Atkinson and Luis Adame to graduation could make the Lancers vulnerable up the gut if they don't find suitable replacements.

Projected record: 9-0

Key game: 9/5 at Gardner-Edgerton
Quite frankly, the Lancers might have the easiest schedule of any team in the league. Gardner-Edgerton is one of just two teams the Lancers will play who had a winning record last fall.

Senior Max McClellen will have to play a key
leadership role for the Hawks. KC Star.
3. Olathe East 
Head Coach: Jeff Meyers (22 years, 160-68)
Last season: 7-4, Sectionals

Outlook: A good rule of thumb is to never doubt Olathe East when it comes to success on the gridiron. Time and again the Hawks have returned depleted rosters, only to claim a winning record and playoff berth. This season shouldn't be any different, although the Hawks probably return as little this fall as they ever have. Olathe East's top player will be running back Jalen Branson (5-11, 185) who rushed for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns a season ago. He's got afterburners, shows excellent vision, and is practically a shoo-in for a 1,000+ yard rushing season. The Hawks top returning lineman is Brycen Hinson (6-5, 300), a prototypical force to be reckoned with in the program's smash-mouth attack, who will play both offense and defense. Max McClellen (5-11, 170) will be a leader on defense from his cornerback position, a season after he recorded 39 tackles and an interception. He should also have a substantial impact as a receiver offensively. In the special teams game, junior kicker Chris Diddle (6-0, 165) might be the league's best.

Concerns: The Hawks' returning experience is razor thin, and the program's recent good but not great records suggest it may be in a bit of a stalemate period.

Projected record: 7-2

Key game: 10/17 at Olathe North
The Hawks first six games are all very winnable. If they can make it to week seven with a 6-0 or 5-1 record, a win in this game would be a huge step toward gaining momentum and an excellent seed for the playoffs.

Lawrence's Alan Clothier. LJWorld.
4. Lawrence
Head Coach: Dirk Wedd (14 years, 78-69)
Last season: 3-6

Outlook: The Chesties went through a youth movement in 2013, and while it was painful at times, I'm sure looking back they're glad they did it. LHS will be led by a talented junior class, which is not something you see very often. Starting at quarterback will be junior Alan Clothier (6-0, 190), an outstanding athlete who went 30-1 on the wrestling mat this past winter and holds claim as the 6A state champion in the 182-pound class. Nyle Anderson (6-1, 185), who started at quarterback last year, will back up Clothier this fall, but should play a major role as a wide receiver. Junior running back JD Woods (5-8, 175) is a dynamo back who rushed for 309 yards and four touchdowns last year. He also splits duties as a cornberback.  Juniors Ivan Hollins (5-8, 150) and J'Moni Bryant (5-11, 185) will reinforce LHS' depth at the skill positions. Junior Price Morgan (6-2, 200) plays tight end and linebacker, and might be the most versatile of their juniors. Alongside Morgan, junior linebacker Tanner Green (5-11, 200) will help ensure the defense is up to snuff. Up front, junior Amani Bledsoe (6-4, 275) is a menacing offensive and defensive tackle with multiple FBS offers. He'll be joined in the trenches by returning starters Cole Greenwood (6-0, 235) and junior Nathan Koehn (6-3, 320).

Concerns: The Chesty Lions will be relying on the youngest group of starters in the Sunflower League to rebound from a poor 3-6 season. Their schedule also won't do them any favors.

Projected record: 6-3

Key game: 9/19 Free State
It's hard to say how the Chesty Lions' first two games will go, but by week three they should be close to midseason form. Breaking a two-year losing streak in this rivalry game would go a long ways.

Free State's Bryce Torneden. LJWorld.
5. Lawrence Free State
Head coach: Bob Lisher (17 years at Free State, 103-72; and 115-72 overall)
Last season: 9-2, Sectionals

Outlook: The last time the Firebirds trotted out a Torneden as the first-time starting quarterback, they went 9-4 and made their only state title appearance in school history. That was 2008 and the Torneden was Camren. This fall, the younger Torneden, junior Bryce (5-11, 180) will take over at the quarterback position. He might not be a clone of his older brother, but he's bigger, just as fast, and having spent the 2013 season as a starting cornerback, he has plenty of varsity experience. Up front the Firebirds top lineman will be offensive tackle Scott Frantz (6-6, 290), a road-grader who's committed to K-State. Joining him on the offensive line will be returning starters Shane Hofer (6-3, 265) and Coleman Hauk (6-2, 265). Leading the defense will be linebacker Carson Bowen (6-1, 175) and defensive back Joel Spain (5-10, 170). Bowen has shown a knack for creating turnovers, and Spain will be one of the league's better secondary players a season after snagging four interceptions. Hofer will also play a key role along the Firebirds' defensive line.

Concerns: The Firebirds lost to graduation what might have been the league's most talented senior class. What's more, their schedule features quite a few unknowns and new opponents in districts.

Projected record: 6-3

Key game: 9/4 SM West
With league favorite Olathe North looming in week two, it's very important the Firebirds have a good showing in week one against SM West. An 0-2 start to the season could really damage the young team's psyche.

6. SM West
Isaiah Macklin has the potential to be one
of the league's best playmakers this fall.
Head Coach Tim Callaghan (11 years, 84-33)
Last season: 4-5

Outlook: The 2013 season was a rough one for the Vikings, but a fresh start  is probably just what the doctor ordered. SM West will lean heavily on three returning seniors who have the most experience. Up front, Carter Pembridge (6-4, 265) should be one of the league's better offensive and defensive lineman. Cornerback Isaiah Macklin (5-10, 170) has been impressive on the summer circuit, and could be one of  the league's top defensive backs (he has five career interceptions) and receivers. Finally, in the offensive backfield, tailback Tarik Watson (5-11, 180) could also be in for an impressive showing. He took over the tailback spot in the latter portion of 2013 and managed to gain 618 yards and three touchdowns on 113 carries. Aside from those three, the real wildcard for SM West is their heralded, yet unproven farm system. Their junior and sophomore classes have garnered quite a bit of chatter, and if they live up the hype, the Vikings could have a fun season and really sneak up on the league. If not, it could be a year of growing pains.

Concerns: If SM West only managed to go 4-5 a season ago with one of their most talented returning rosters ever, what makes us believe they'll do any better trotting out 15+ new starters?

Projected record: 6-3

Key game: 9/26 at SM East
With the team (and schedule) SM East has this upcoming fall, if SM West doesn't win this game, then the Lancers will probably roll to an undefeated regular season finish. That should be motivation for the Vikes.

Olathe South's Coleman Clanton. KC Star.
7. Olathe South
Head coach: Jeff Gourley (Six years at Olathe South, 36-24; and 83-64 overall)
Last season: 5-4

Outlook: Outside of their own camp, the Falcons are flying under the radar. Quarterback/safety Jake Seurer (6-1, 185) is the one guy who will really control the tide of Olathe South's season. Coming off a year where he notched 136 tackles and two interceptions, and recorded over 1,000 yards of total offense as quarterback, he has the makings of a league MVP as a senior. Aside from Seurer, the Falcons strength will be up front. Coleman Clanton (6-5, 250) is an excellent blocking and catching tight end (he'll push Josh Moore for top honors), and he's also a stud at defensive end. At tackle, Chase Latscha (6-4, 280) has a chance to make a name for himself with the departure of Braden Smith. Guard Nate Howard (6-1, 210) is a perfect fit as a pulling guard in the Falcon's offense, and he also splits as an outside linebacker. Middle linebacker Stephen Miller (6-1, 215) is a versatile athlete who recorded 90 tackles as a junior and will help Seurer lead the defense.

Concerns: The Falcons' interior looks solid, as always, but the past four years have shown us they will live and die by the abilities of their skill position players.

Projected record: 4-5

Key game: 9/5 at Hutchinson
With perhaps the league's toughest schedule, Olathe South has their work cut out. They could get off to a great start if they can manage a win against Hutchinson and new coach Ryan Cornelson.

8. SM South
SM South is expecting a big season from
senior Ned Bingaman
Head Coach: Ryan Lonergan (Three years, 10-17)
Last season: 4-5

Outlook: The Raiders lost a pretty solid senior class, but it wouldn't be a shocker if this year's team is able to break through into the playoffs, given the district pairings. One of the Raiders' more exciting players to keep an eye on is running back Marshall Bland (5-6, 160) who rushed for 335 yards and three touchdowns a season ago. He's a jitterbug whose style conjures up memories of Olathe South's Devin Cummings and Free State's Bryan Murphy. The Raiders' top offensive lineman who Bland will be running behind are Ned Bingaman (6-4, 230) and Trent Flagler (6-1, 240). On the defensive side of the ball, SM South will lean on their secondary, at least early on. Namely Brendan Brooks (6-3, 185) and Tyler Perdue (5-10, 175) who combined for four interceptions a season ago. At linebacker, Zach Gerber (6-2, 235) should make a big splash as a senior after an injury plagued junior season.

Concerns: The Raiders have done a solid job patching up the program the last few years, but they won't contend for league titles until they can find a dynamic quarterback, and drastically cut down on their mistakes and miscues.

Projected record: 5-4

Key game: 10/31 SM Northwest
The Raiders' playoff hopes the past three years have come down to the last game of each season, and they've gone 0-3 in those games. A win in the finale this fall would likely be enough to make the playoffs.

Mitch Holsinger will be one of the league's
top lineman in 2014. 
9. Olathe Northwest
Head Coach: Chip Sherman (One year at Olathe Northwest, 3-6; and 230-62 overall)
Last season: 3-6

Outlook: Despite what seemed like a pretty average 2013 campaign on the surface, the Ravens were a Hail Mary loss against SM East from going 4-5 in Sherman's first year at the helm. The 2014 season should be another step in the right direction, although a challenging district will make playoff qualification very difficult. At quarterback the Ravens return junior Jack Hatzfeld (6-0, 170) who threw for 414 yards as the on-again-off-again starter in 2013. He should turn the corner as a junior. Receiver Manny Psihountas (6-0, 180) will hope to bounce back from a disappointing junior season after showing great potential as a sophomore. Throwback athlete Adam Harter (6-3, 215) will be the Ravens most important player, and likely won't leave the field even for special teams. Up front, Mitch Holsinger (6-1, 265) will be one of the league's best offensive lineman. He'll also pair up with Harter on defense to create one of the more formidable front seven duos in the league. In the secondary, Ethan Wall (6-1, 175) returns a season after creating more turnovers (nine) than any player in the league. Zee Pinkerton (6-0, 170) will team up with Wall in the secondary to create a solid pass defense.

Concerns: The Ravens should be better than last year, but until they overcome the stigma of being the Olathe ragdoll, it's hard to see them accomplishing much past the regular season.

Projected record: 3-6

Key game: 9/26 Olathe South
The Ravens unsightly 2-32 record against Olathe opponents is a major point of emphasis for the program. An early Olathe win in year two under Sherman could really get the things moving the right direction.

Leavenworth's Landry Hodges.
10. Leavenworth
Head Coach: Mark Littrell (One year at Leavenworth, 3-7; and 74-40 overall)
Last season: 3-7, Regionals

Outlook: This upcoming fall has a great chance to be the best season in Leavenworth football history. By dropping to Class 5A, the Pioneers also dropped out of the East 6A gauntlet, and were awarded what should be a very easy district for playoff qualification. On top of that, they return a solid core of players from a season ago. Third-year starting quarterback Landry Hodges (6-1, 190) passed for 847 yards and six touchdowns in 2013, and looks primed for a a big senior year. His top returning target, Isaiah Ross (5-11, 180), will be arguably the league's top receiver, and certainly one of its most dynamic playmakers. The Pioneers return starters Kris Messer (5-11, 250) and Alex Mendoza (6-3, 225) along the offensive line which will help with continuity. On defense, middle linebacker Anthony Hunt (5-10, 220) returns along with Juwann Potts (5-10, 165) and Ross, to create a formidable trio. Also, in the special teams game, Jake Boyce (6-2, 190) is going to compete for top honors among the league's kickers.

Concerns: It won't be easy replacing elite running back Jason Randall, a four-year starter who graduated this spring, or the Donnelson Twins who were major contributors on offense and defense.

Projected record: 4-5

Key game: 9/19 Olathe Northwest
The Pioneers should win all three of their district games, but the Sunflower League portion of their schedule is tough. A win here would probably lock in at least a four-win regular season.

11. SM Northwest
Junior running back Duron Lowe will be essential
to SM Northwest's efforts in 2014. LJWorld.
Head Coach: Linn Hibbs (Two years at SM Northwest, 5-14; and 121-69 overall)
Last season: 3-7, Regionals

Outlook: Without sugar-coating anything, SM Northwest isn't exactly returning the quality depth you need to do well in the league. It's also hard to project them winning more than two or three games with such inexperience, and a moderately challenging schedule. The lone returning player who received honorable mention accolades last fall is offensive and defensive lineman TJ Hutton (6-3, 295), who will anchor the Cougars up front. Junior Duron Lowe (5-11, 185) had a nice junior campaign, rushing for 543 yards and three touchdowns on just 66 carries (8.27 ypg). He will be the focal point of the Cougar's offensive attack. Beyond the solid foundation of those two, SM Northwest is faced with plenty of unknowns. Expected to start at quarterback is Clay Drouillard (6-0, 185), a player who's had minimal repetitions as a signal-caller at the varsity level. His top target might actually be a tight end, junior CJ Perez (6-3, 220), who had a solid sophomore season and could really be a threat this fall. At the end of the day, Drouillard's performance will probably be the best gauge for the quality of team SM Northwest is able to field. That's not to say a new crop of players can't keep the tide moving in the right direction after last year's playoff berth, but it's going to be an uphill battle for the orange and black.

Concerns: The Cougars lost most of their marquee talents to graduation and it's going to take one helluva coaching effort to piece together a team that can go out and be competitive in the Sunflower League.

Projected record: 2-7

Key game: 9/12 at SM North
For the Cougars' sake, they need to establish early on that they're still the better team in Shawnee. Especially against a rival that went 0-9 last fall.

Sophomore quarterback Will Schneider will
be the crux of what the SM North hopes is a
revival of the football program this year.
12. SM North
Head Coach: Ben Barlett (First season)
Last season: 0-9

Outlook: SM North looked improved in their first year under Simmons a season ago, but his late departure has left the program with more questions than answers. On the bright side, they did establish quite the foundation last fall, starting 17 non-seniors -- a move which will undoubtedly pay off. The Indians' most important player will be sophomore quarterback Will Schneider (6-4, 195), who became one of the first freshman in Sunflower League history to start as a quarterback. He should improve on the 1,478 passing yards and 12 touchdowns he put up last season. His top receivers will be Mason Perez (6-2, 170), Isaiah Shields (5-9, 150) and junior Tyler Burnett (6-1, 175). Perez hauled in 45 catches for 843 yards and eight touchdowns a season ago and should be more lethal as a senior. On defense, junior Greg Sloan (6-2, 200) tallied 67 tackles as a sophomore and has a very high ceiling as a linebacker. Perez will also be one of the league's better defensive backs.

Concerns: The Indians return as many starters as Olathe North and SM East, but until SM North can curb the culture of losing, the program will continue to struggle.

Projected record: 2-7

Key game: 9/12 SM Northwest
The Indians will buck their current 19-game losing streak at some point this fall. If they can't get it done in week one, there wouldn't be a better gift for their rival than the unloading of a 500-pound gorilla.

Disclaimer: All players names are accompanied by their heights and weights. Current players whose classification's are not listed, are seniors, while classification is provided for all those players who are not going to be seniors (i.e., junior Duron Lowe). Many times players quit, move or transfer during the offseason, and for this reason it's extremely difficult to to be 100% accurate when noting returning players. Poorly documented rosters can sometimes result in misdocumentation of a player's classification, heights, and weights. Preseason Power Rankings are based on a combination of returning talent, strength of schedule, potential, coaching, program history, and program momentum.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

2014 Player Spotlights: Jake Seurer

Olathe South's Jake Seurer. KC Star.
Jake Seurer
Olathe South

Position: Quarterback/Safety
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 185 lbs.
Year: Senior

Player Comparisons
Brady Croucher, Olathe South (2003-2005); Frankie Seurer, Olathe South (2010-2012)

The Skinny
Seurer's tackle production last fall from his safety position was borderline ludicrous. In just nine games, he notched 136 tackles, which equated to 15 tackles per game. That kind of production is basically unheard of from a safety at any level. The fact it kind of came out of left field also added to the wow factor. Nobody was expecting a junior safety who didn't even have the benefit of playing in more than nine games to produce those kind of numbers.

Now entering his senior season, with two years of varsity experience, including a year at the helm playing quarterback, Seurer might be more valuable to Olathe South than any other player in the league is to their respective team. Seurer's going to be expected to build on his defensive numbers from 2013 while also cleaning up his offensive body of work. As a junior he threw for 761 yards and eight touchdowns, but his 46% completion percentage was pretty poor and will need improvement.

Olathe South is going to have many unknowns in 2014, so the bigger the role Seurer can play for the Falcons the better. He obviously has his work cut out for him, but he'll be one of the league's best defensive players from the get-go so that should help. Also, his offensive work should see a nice jump in production and efficiency. The real question is: will Olathe South?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

2014 Player Spotlights: Isaiah Simmons

Olathe North's Isaiah Simmons making a tackle. Photo
LJWorld.
Isaiah Simmons
Olathe North

Position: Free Safety
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 200 lbs.
Year: Junior
Film: Hudl

Player Comparisons
Jarard Milo, Olathe North/Northwest (2005-2007); Victor Simmons, Olathe North (2008-2010)

The Skinny
We've had some very highly recruited players go through the Sunflower League the past decade. Free State's Christian Ballard, Olathe South's Braden Smith and Olathe North's current tight end, Josh Moore, have all had a list of elite FBS offers to select from. Simmons will likely be the next to join that list. The probable blue-chip junior already holds offers from Kansas and Missouri, and he should be one of the most targeted safety prospects in the country for the Class of 2016.

Simmons is the type of athlete every defensive coach in the country wishes they had, as he's the ultimate ballhawking safety. He's hard for quarterbacks to look off, his speed and size allow him nearly unlimited range over the top, and he shows the instincts of a great defensive back. Last year he recorded five interceptions, which was tied for the most in the Sunflower League. He's also excellent at supporting the run and limiting receiver's yards after catch. He recorded 91 tackles last fall, including multiple bone-crushing hits that put the fear of God into receivers running crossing routes.

It should come as no surprise Simmons is such a talent. His older brother, Victor, now a starting linebacker at Kansas, laid siege to the Sunflower League in the late 2000s. Isaiah (who currently holds the crown as the 6A state Long Jump champion) is basically a bigger, rangier version of Victor, and it helps he (Isaiah) is already playing and developing at his natural position as a safety. Looking ahead, Olathe North is going to have quite the list of notable players on their roster this fall. But perhaps none have the upside and potential of the uber-talented safety who will be roaming in their secondary.

Friday, July 11, 2014

What happened to SM North's football program?

SM North was a well-respected program around the
Sunflower League in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The
above photo is from 2003, when the Indians went 6-4.
Photo LJWorld.
SM North has a 19-game losing streak going.

They haven't won more than three games in any single season since 2004.

Their former head coach, Don Simmons -- the fourth they've had in ten years -- just bolted after one winless fall at the helm.

And as we eye the start of the 2014 football season, and deliberate over which Sunflower League teams should be ranked where, we all have one common conclusion: SM North should be ranked last. No. 12. The basement. The cellar.

SM North has taken the torch as the Sunflower League's worst program. Yes, the school who boasts four state titles (1969, '70, '71 and '74), the third most of any Sunflower League program, has finally sunk to the bottom of the heap.

Leavenworth carried this label for years. Even the league's most hapless teams would chalk up a W against the Pioneers when examining their schedules before the season began.

But then something happened. In 2010 the wandering Leavenworth program found another wanderer, the enigmatic Kevin Kopecky, to coach the program for three years.

The Pioneers didn't break any land records, but Kopecky's willingness to take big risks, like starting freshman and switching to a platooning system, paid off. The Pioneers made the playoffs in 2011, then went 4-5 in 2012 -- the four wins that year were the same amount the program had won from 2005 to 2009.

Kopecky wandered off, but Leavenworth replaced him with a seasoned league veteran in Mark Littrell. The program landed another playoff berth in year one under Littrell. Now, having dropped to Class 5A, the Pioneers have expectations for postseason success for the first time in, well, what seems like forever.

The onus is now on SM North.

The Indians' win totals over the past nine seasons more closely resemble the amount of goals you expect to see scored in the World Cup: 1, 2, 1, 3, 2, 2, 2, 0, 0. And the most dubious element of all -- something which may be difficult for some of you to believe, especially if you're new to the league -- is that SM North had a really solid football program as recently as 2004.

As a matter of fact, 2004 was supposed to be the Indians year. They returned the state's best pro-style quarterback in Colorado commit Mack Brown, in addition to an outstanding supporting cast that included 27 seniors.

They fell short of expectations going 5-4, but nobody anticipated the program would fall off a cliff the following season the way they did.

The program lost both Browns -- Mack to graduation, and his father, head coach Sam -- following 2004. Mack's departure was expected, but Sam's decision to head north to coach his alma mater Excelsior Springs was a program-killer.

Sam took over a struggling SM North club in the late 1990s and within a few seasons he'd put the program back on the map. They went 9-2 in 2000, making it to Sub-State before losing to eventual state champion Olathe North.

In his final four years at SM North he managed three winning records, including a pair of 6-4 seasons. And who could forget the program's dramatic 7-6 victory over Olathe North in week one of the 2003 season, which ended Olathe North's 38-game winning streak.

The Brown's departures didn't seem like absolute death-knells at the time, but they proved to be.

SM North brought in Pitt State assistant Ryan Majors, a former SM West quarterback, to replace Brown. It looked like a solid hire, but Majors never gained any traction. His best season was a 3-6 campaign in 2009. Soon thereafter he threw in the towel, taking an assistant gig at William Jewell.

Dennis Grayless was next in line. A surprising hire given his lack of experience, the former Marine Drill Instructor and first-time head coach wasn't able to work any miracles with the program. He managed three seasons with the Indians, going 4-24, before pursuing other interests.

SM North went with experience last winter, hiring the veteran Simmons to take over. Simmons had produced some salty Blue Valley North teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and a decade's worth of playoff berths at Chanute High School in Class 4A following his time at Blue Valley North. He seemed like a tremendous hire.

The Indians finished 2013 winless at 0-9, but anyone with an iota of football intelligence could tell the program was on the right track. Simmons' departure is now potentially another crushing blow to a program seeking to gain relevance for the first time in a decade.

However, before we write the Simmons saga off as just another bleak chapter for SM North football, I would advise we take a step back and see how the next couple seasons play out.

Simmons started 17 non-seniors last fall, and because of this the Indians return a wealth of starting experience. Give them another season at the varsity level, and you could be looking at a SM North team capable of hitting the .500 mark in 2015 -- something that's seemed like an impossibility for years within the program.

Of course, that all hinges on who takes over for Simmons. If SM North can make another solid hire, the program should be able to climb out of the cellar given the depth they're developing.

Ben Bartlett, an assistant coach and SM North football alum has taken the interim head coach title for the time being. Given Simmons' late departure, I wouldn't be shocked to see the athletic department leave Bartlett on as the head coach for the upcoming season.

The good and bad news for SM North is that no matter who they finally settle on, be it Barlett or another coach, it can't get much worse.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

2014 Player Spotlights: Scott Frantz

Free State's Scott Frantz. Photo LJWorld.
Scott Frantz
Lawrence Free State

Position: Offensive Tackle
Height: 6-foot-6
Weight: 285 lbs.
Year: Senior

Player Comparisons
Brent Jepson, Olathe East (2003-2005); Austin Chambers, SM West (2011-2013)

The Skinny
During the offseason, Frantz became quite the coveted prospect on the recruiting trail. He received offers from Idaho, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Marshall, Miami (Fl.), Minnesota, Missouri and Purdue, and ultimately selected Kansas State, committing to the Wildcats several weeks ago. If you had a chance to watch Frantz last fall, the recruiting attention should come as no surprise. Frantz dominated along the offensive line and was a unanimous First Team All-Sunflower League selection by the coaches.

Aside from his tremendous size, Frantz is very active and fleet of foot for an offensive lineman. He also maintains the "nasty streak" you love to see from your interior players. Another thing you'll notice is that he's just as good of a run blocker as he is a pass blocker. This is rare for a high school kid, as most tend to develop run blocking abilities first. With Frantz, he appears as comfortable pass protecting as he does blocking on running plays.

These abilities, combined with this tremendous height and weight, help to explain why so many FBS programs spent the past six months knocking on his door. But putting his collegiate future to the side for a moment, Frantz and Free State's other returning players have big shoes to fill, hoping to replicate the successes of the Firebirds' talented class of 2014. It won't be an easy task, but having a guy like Frantz in the trenches certainly gives the program optimism heading into the season.