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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SM North's Simmons resigns

Don Simmons
This past Friday, Don Simmons tendered his resignation as the head football coach at SM North. Simmons is leaving the program to take the head coaching job at Greene County Tech High School, located in Paragould, Ark.

The move comes as a surprise to most in the Sunflower League. Simmons spent just one season with SM North, going 0-9.

However, with 15 returning starters, including up-and-coming sophomore quarterback Will Schneider, it looked like Simmons was primed to bring the program out of the league's basement, and back into relevancy.

According to sources, SM North has given assistant coach Ben Bartlett the interim head coach title. There has been no indication whether the program intends to hire a new head coach prior to the start of the season, or let Bartlett coach the team through the fall and evaluate next winter.

Simmons was SM North's fourth head coach in the past 10 years. The program enjoyed success in the early 2000s under Sam Brown, but hasn't fielded a winning record since Brown's departure following the 2004 season.

In the nine seasons since Brown left, the program has gone 13-69. SM North currently holds a 19-game losing streak, the longest of its kind by any Sunflower League program on record.