Sunday, August 17, 2014

2014 Player Spotlights: Jalen Branson

Olathe East's Jalen Branson. Plank Photo.
Jalen Branson
Olathe East

Position: Running Back
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 180 lbs.
Year: Senior
Film: Hudl

Player Comparisons:
Brandon Willingham, Olathe East (2008-2010), Kendall Kelly, SM North/Olathe East (2009-2011),

The Skinny
While Olathe North's Venus Triplett will get most of the hype as the league's best running back, keep an eye on Branson as he matures into his senior season. He had a solid junior campaign, rushing for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns on 132 carries (6.45 ypc), while splitting backfield duties with Jordan Brown, who had 187 carries of his own.

Branson has the skill set and the offense to really go off this fall. He's timed in the 4.45 neighborhood in the forty, and he's now had two entire seasons of varsity experience to get the hang of things. What's more, he'll finally be the featured back in an offense that has produced some phenom running backs like Andre Jones, Dee Bell and Brandon Willingham. Even some of their average running backs have played above their ceilings because of the fullback eccentric offense the team runs.

Maybe the biggest take home point about Branson's prospects entering his senior season is that if Olathe East is going to do really well, Branson can't be just another Olathe East running back that has a solid season only to see the team fall short of a state title game. Branson has the ability to be a big-time running back on the league and state scene, and if he can find a way to be just a bit more dynamic, and help his team in more ways than some of their previous backs, the Hawks may just find a way to bring home that elusive state championship.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Q&A with Missouri Assistant Coach Mack Brown

Mack Brown, left, serves as an offensive GA and tight
ends coach at Missouri. Photo
The Sunflower League Football Blog recently sat down with Mack Brown, an Assistant Coach at Missouri, for a Q&A session. In the riveting interview, Brown, a SM North alum, shared insights into coaching in the SEC, tips on being recruited by FBS programs, and his experiences playing quarterback in the Sunflower League.  

Could you tell us about your current role at Missouri and your long-term aspirations?

My current role at the University of Missouri is Tight Ends Coach/Offensive Graduate Assistant. I am in an unbelievable position as a young coach to have our offensive coordinator (Josh Henson) and head football coach (Gary Pinkel) believe in my abilities as a person and as a football coach and allow me to have my own position group at this level.

As far as long term goes, I am obviously having an incredible time coaching at one of the premier college football programs in the country, but also have to be conscious about the next job and where that will be. I don’t have a great answer for you for the immediate future, but I do know my long-term aspirations is to continue to coach football and develop my group of players as overall people.

What's the perception of the Sunflower League among the Missouri coaching staff, and among SEC coaching staffs in general (if there is one at all)?

I don’t know if there is a perception of the Sunflower League specifically, but we do hold very high regards for football in the Kansas City area. The Sunflower League is obviously a league that you have to recruit if you are going to recruit Kansas City, and Coach Andy Hill does a fantastic job recruiting Kansas City for us as a program. We place a great emphasis on keeping the local talent that we feel can play in our league “at home," and the Sunflower League fits into that category. I also believe there is a good perception of Kansas City football nationwide as you see multiple BCS programs, from all five of the major conferences, offering and recruiting athletes out of the area on a yearly basis.

How does Missouri evaluate its recruiting targets? List the qualities you guys look for during the evaluation process.

We take great pride in our evaluation process at the University of Missouri, which includes being as thorough on each recruit as we possibly can. We have different measurable criteria for each position, but are not locked into those numbers if a coach has a great feel for a player's size development or athleticism. Obviously one of the most important characteristics any recruit can showcase is exceptional functional movement for their position. If you aren't an explosive, athletic athlete you are going to have a very difficult time playing at this level. Another characteristic that we take very seriously at Mizzou is the character of the individual. There are a couple of different ways we evaluate this including asking the player's head coach, position coach, teachers and guidance counselors, as well as monitoring their social media.

What's the best thing a recruit can do to get their name out to FBS coaching staffs? Dos and Donts?

The best thing a player can do to get recruited by any school FBS-DIII is to have productive game film. This sounds very cliché, but it really is the truth. With the way recruiting has evolved, recruits are more and more worried about getting an early offer and committing before their senior season. While this is an option for the elite prospects in the country, if you do not have an early offer (before your senior season), don’t worry about it, go play the best football of your career your senior year and everything will take care of itself.

Obviously going to different football camps in the summer can do a great deal for athletes as they are not only exposing their athleticism to different coaching staffs, but they are also getting the chance to work with those coaching staffs and put themselves in the shoes of a player at that school for the day and get a feel for the staff's personality. This obviously works the other way around as well, as coaching staffs are trying to feel out what it would be like to coach you as one of their players.

With that being said, keep in mind that it will be extremely difficult to get recruited if you aren't playing ball on Friday nights. Don’t attend so many football camps that you are missing a lot of your high school football team activities (weights, camp, etc.).

How much do stats play a role in a player recruitment, if any? 

I wouldn't say that stats specifically play a role in the recruitment of our athletes, but production does. If you are making a lot of plays and constantly around the ball you are acquiring stats within your highlights. We very rarely look at the raw stats of an individual such as tackles, catches, completions, etc. With that being said, having great stats will never hurt a player.

Brown was a highly recruited pro-style quarterback
during his time with the Indians. He graduated from
SM North in 2005.
You were heavily recruited by Colorado and Ole Miss (among others) out of high school. Any interesting stories from your recruitment? And how has FBS recruiting changed from 10 years ago?

Although I did have multiple BCS offers, my recruitment was not that hectic. I attended multiple summer camps prior to my senior season to gain more exposure to the schools that I had mutual interest with. As I mentioned previously I was able to work 1-on-1 with each coaching staff (position coach/coordinator) and get a great feel for the right fits. Once I camped at the University of Colorado, I knew exactly where I wanted to play my college ball. Recruiting has definitely changed in the past 5-10 years though as social media, and the overall exposure of high school student athletes has amplified to the point each BCS school has their own Rivals site and ESPN is broadcasting high school football all-star competitions in the summer.

What's one thing the public in general doesn't know about being a Graduate Assistant at an FBS program?

Being a graduate assistant at an FBS program is very demanding as you work anywhere from 12 to 20 hours a day, and have to be ready to roll the next day as if you had a day off the day before. It’s obviously something you have to be totally committed to in order to experience any kind of enjoyment or success. The easiest way to explain this is this profession is a production based business. If you are not producing on the tasks assigned to you, or your players are not producing at the level they are expected to be at, they will find someone else to do your job. Therefore you end up spending multiple hours making sure every task is done correctly, and you are doing everything possible to give yourself and your players every chance to succeed.

Who's the best player you ever faced in the Sunflower League and why?

Playing quarterback you never truly have the opportunity to go 1-on-1 with an individual play after play and get a great feel for overall strength or quickness. The thing you do get is a feel for a lot of different players athletic abilities as it relates to what area you are going to attack. Obviously, anyone who has played in the Sunflower League takes great pride in the quality of football that is played each year so I could name probably a couple of different individuals from each team I faced. With that being said, I’ll give you a name from the back two levels of the defense. Mike Rivera (SM Northwest) was a guy at linebacker who you always had to have a great idea where he was on each play, and Randy Shephard and Dustin Moomau (both Olathe North) were those same types of players in the secondary.

Who was the best team you ever faced in the Sunflower League and why?

I had the opportunity to play a lot of great teams in the Sunflower League. Olathe North was the class of the league when I was playing, but Olathe East was always extremely talented. Also, the Shawnee Mission Northwest team that featured Rivera and Ryan Torain (2003) was obviously one of the most talented teams we played against and a great environment due to the rivalry.

Favorite/best game you ever played in high school?

We took great pride in trying to be the best team in the Shawnee Mission School District, and we accomplished it a couple of years, but fell short a couple of years. Any time we played a Shawnee Mission school there was typically a great environment and a lot of pride on the line. Two games do stick in my mind though. In 2003, ending Olathe North’s 38-game winning streak the first game of the year, and the following week beating a very good Lawrence team on the last play of the game.

I also had the honor of coaching at Lawrence High School in the fall of 2011 and was able to experience the cross town rivalry between LHS and Free State. This is also one of my greatest game experiences from the Sunflower League as the environment was second to none, and we were able to find a way to overcome a couple of key injuries and win to get into the playoffs.

Wildest SEC experience?

I get this question a lot, as people want to know if the SEC conference is truly what it is built up to be. My answer to the questions is always, yes, it is everything you expect (or expected) and more. The football in this conference is truly a lifestyle for a lot of people, not just a social event you show up to on Saturday afternoons. If you have never had the chance to experience SEC football, make sure you find the time to attend a game in your lifetime.

I have a ton of great stories, but the wildest experiences probably came this year as we were making our run at the SEC Championship game. Going to Sanford Stadium undefeated (5-0) and playing a No. 6 ranked Georgia Bulldog team in front of 93,000 people, and ultimately winning, was an incredible experience. Our offensive coordinator calls the game from the press box so our communication is obviously over the headsets. On our first third down of the game, the noise level in that stadium was so loud there was absolutely no chance of hearing anything on the headsets, let alone the person next to you. Thankfully our quarterback coach started signaling in a play call and we all just replicated what he did.

Another great experience was our win at Ole Miss late last season. We had a great crowd on the road and finished the game very strong. The way their stadium is set up the visiting team walks underneath the stadium and is exposed to all of the fans as the exit, only separated by a fence. By the time we started walking back to our locker room it was a sea of Mizzou fans who were going nuts as we walked into the locker room. It was a really cool experience and one that helped.

My favorite SEC experience happened in Columbia, on the last regular season game last fall when we played Texas A&M with the SEC East Championship title on the line. Our fans were unbelievable and there wasn't a seat to be found as we came out for pregame. After we secured the fourth quarter victory the fans rushed the field to “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles as that victory sent us to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship game against Auburn.

You share a name with the former University of Texas head coach -- was that by design?

I wasn’t specifically named after Mack Brown, but my father's pre-existing relationship gave my parents the idea of the name. My father had a lot of talented players at Grandview (MO) High School when Coach Brown was an assistant coach and recruiting the Kansas City area. They developed a friendship throughout a couple of different players recruitment processes, but I don’t personally have a relationship with Coach Brown.

What has allowed Missouri to have success, so quickly, in the SEC?

What a lot of people don’t realize is since 2007, the University of Missouri football program is the eighth winningest BCS football program in the country, and has the fifth most First Round NFL Draft picks in that same time frame.

I do believe our recruiting evaluation process works, and we have a player development program that is second to none. Finally, Coach Pinkel and our staff have a plan that is obviously proven over time, and works. Our players compete with each other daily on a level that I had not seen before joining this staff, and have also created a family environment and culture that pulls the team together every Saturday afternoon and we play as one.

Any parting thoughts, shout outs, or words of wisdom you would like to share with the readers?

One of the biggest things I can tell players in high school football is to thoroughly enjoy the experience and put everything you have into your season. There is truly not much that even comes close to playing under the lights on Friday night for your school.

Would also love to give a shout out to anyone who coached me at Shawnee Mission North, obviously you all had an impact on my life, and career choice as I am trying to give back what so many others gave to me. Also, a quick shout out to Coach Wedd at LHS as he provided me with an unbelievable opportunity, as well as the rest of the LHS staff I was able to work with in the fall of 2011. Although my career is young, that was one of my favorite falls yet. Obviously I haven’t mentioned my parents but they have truly allowed me to be in the position I am and chase this dream.

Feel free to follow me on twitter @mgbrown211 or Coach Andy Hill @Coach_Hill_Miz who recruits the Kansas City area. As I mentioned previously, we take great pride in our recruitment of in-state athletes and keeping them at home (we consider all of Kansas City to be in-state), and that doesn't change with the Sunflower League.

Brown, alongside Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, during Missouri's 28-21
home victory against Texas A&M last November.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sunflower League Player Rankings by Position

Olathe North's Venus Triplett. 810 Varsity.
The following is a completely subjective look at some of the top returning players in the Sunflower League. As is the usual disclaimer, top talents emerge every fall who were relative unknowns heading into the season. There are also plenty of talented players who aren't listed below simply because I only included a top five at each position.

1. Cole Murphy, Olathe North
Combined for 2,209 yards of total offense and 19 touchdowns in '13.
2. Jake Seurer, Olathe South
Increased emphasis on accuracy could produce big senior season.
3. Bryce Torneden, Free State
Versatile athlete gained comfort on the varsity as a starting cornerback in '13.
4. Will Schneider, SM North
Impressive freshman production (1,478 passing yards, 12 touchdowns) should improve.
5. Landry Hodges, Leavenworth
Third-year starter has the necessary experience to rally the Pioneers into the playoffs.

Running Backs
1. Venus Triplett, Olathe North
Powerful and compact senior seeks to become Olathe North's seventh Simone winner.
2. Jalen Branson, Olathe East
League's fastest running back will be heavily leaned on to produce big numbers this fall.
3. Duron Lowe, SM Northwest
Strong and athletic running back will get the lion's share of the carries for Cougs.
4. JD Woods, Lawrence
Agile tailback who should excel in Lawrence's zone-read schemes.
5. Tarik Watson, SM West
Rushed for 618 yards and three touchdowns after becoming starter midway through '13.

Wide Receivers
1. Nick Perez, SM North
Led the Sunflower League in receiving yards (843) and receiving touchdowns (8) in '13.
2. Isaiah Ross, Leavenworth
Fourth-year starter can stretch a defense as well as any receiver in the league.
3. Alec Dean, SM East
Big target at 6-4, 210 pounds, who saves his best moments for the brightest spotlights.
4. Isaiah Macklin, SM West
Speedy athlete may become the league's best slot receiver this fall.
5. Mauricio Chio, Olathe North
Steady receiver has been a staple on the Sunflower League scene last two seasons.

Tight Ends
1. Josh Moore, Olathe North
Physical specimen who should be able to dominate as a blocker and pass-catcher.
2. Coleman Clanton, Olathe South
Prototypical tight end will be the Falcons top target in the passing game.
3. Price Morgan, Lawrence
Heralded junior should see offensive touches increase substantially.

Offensive Lineman
1. Scott Frantz,  Free State
Sunflower League's best offensive lineman has no problem blocking to the whistle.
2. James Wooldridge, SM East
Mobile tackle who plays and moves more like a tight end than an offensive lineman.
3. Devin Price, SM East
Athletic guard who plays low and is excellent at putting his hat on a defender.
4. Mitch Holsinger, Olathe Northwest
Third-year starter who could be the best offensive lineman among the Olathes.
5. Tyler Bacon, Olathe North
Strong left tackle who can drive defensive lineman into the secondary.

Defensive Lineman
1. Kyle Ball, SM East
Sunflower League Defensive Player of the Year returns after 28 tackles for loss.
2. Amani Bledsoe, Lawrence
Just scratching his potential, big-time junior holds four FBS offers.
3. Marcel Williams, Olathe North
Mobile and strong, will be key in anchoring D-line in front of outstanding linebackers.
4. Josh Moore, Olathe North
Size and speed will make him one of the league's elite pass rushers.
5. Carter Pembridge, SM West
Tough-nosed defensive end will look to bounce back from an ACL tear last fall.

Lawrence's Price Morgan. LJWorld.
1. Marcel Spears, Olathe North
Tenacious defender is a tackling machine, with a 37-inch vertical and 4.6 forty.
2. Adam Harter, Olathe Northwest
League's best outside linebacker is athletic enough to cover the entire field.
3. Price Morgan, Lawrence
Savvy junior showed a nose for the football in '13 and brings toughness to young team.
3. Jesse Kendricks, Olathe North
Solid tackler (118 tackles in '13) excels at moving laterally to chase down ballcarriers.
5. Stephen Miller, Olathe South
Dependable linebacker who will be at the core of the Falcons' defensive efforts.

Defensive Backs
1. Isaiah Simmons, Olathe North
Eagles' best defensive back since Dustin Moomau already holds multiple FBS offers.
2. Jake Seurer, Olathe South
Hard-hitting safety who plays like a linebacker in run support.
3. Chaz Burgess, Olathe North
Wiry senior might play the ball out of the air better than anyone in the league.
4. Joel Spain, Lawrence Free State
Could be the league's best defensive back in one-on-one coverage situations.
5. Charley White, SM East
Savvy secondary athlete who plays excellent coverage over the top.

1. Chris Diddle, Olathe East
Took home First Team All-Sunflower League honors as just a sophomore in '13.
2. Jake Boyce, Leavenworth
Connected on four of six field goal attempts last season.
3. Ellis Springe, Lawrence
LHS can attest to the benefits of having a (good) kicker, perhaps more than anyone.

Honey Badgers (players with a knack for creating turnovers)
1. Ethan Wall, Olathe Northwest
Rangy defensive back found a way to get in on nine turnovers in '13.
2. Marcel Spears, Olathe North
Top returning linebacker was in on seven turnovers and two blocked kicks last fall.
3. Adam Harter, Olathe Northwest
Athletic linebacker created five turnovers and a defensive touchdown as a junior.
4. Isaiah Simmons, Olathe North
Converted five interceptions to 157 yards and one touchdown as a sophomore.
5. Isaiah Ross, Leavenworth
The quickest secondary player in the league has snagged nine career interceptions.

Highlight Reels (the league's most exciting players to watch)
1. Venus Triplett, Olathe North
Eleven of 25 rushing touchdowns scored in '13 came on runs of 30 yards or longer.
2. Bryce Torneden, Free State
Dynamic dual-threat will be league's toughest quarterback to game plan around.
3. Jalen Branson, Olathe East
Tailback can turn the corner on any defense with legitimate speed in the 4.4 range.
4. Isaiah Ross, Leavenworth
Has shown the ability to produce big play after big play the past three seasons.
5. Marshall Bland, SM South
Jitterbug is tiny at 5-6, 155 pounds, but might be the league's most elusive back.

Potential Sleepers (under-the-radar but could have major impact in 2014)
1. Chase Latscha, Olathe South
Offensive tackle has FBS interest; finally out from under Braden Smith's shadow.
2. Shane Hofer, Lawrence Free State
Coming off an impressive junior campaign, could take his game to another level.
3. Alan Clothier, Lawrence
Quarterback friendly offense could mean a big season's in store for the signal-caller.
4. Anthony Hunt, Leavenworth
Should build on excellent junior year to be one of league's outstanding defenders.
5. Brycen Hinson, Olathe East
Hawks' offense will be geared towards running behind Hinson.
6. Ned Bingaman, SM South
Could place himself among the league's best defensive lineman by mid-season.
7. Sam Huffman, SM East
Will tote a big workload with the graduation of backs Luke Taylor and Mitchell Tyler.
8. Jeighlon Cornell, Olathe North
At 6-0, 195 pounds, has the tangibles to be league's most physical cornerback.
9. Zach Gerber, SM South
Has potential for big senior season after injury shortened junior campaign.
10. Michael Queen, Olathe East
Big defensive end prospect has garnered chatter; will be put to the test this fall.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2014 Player Spotlights: Marcel Spears

Olathe North's Marcel Spears. LJWorld.
Marcel Spears
Olathe North

Position: Linebacker
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 220 lbs.
Year: Senior
Film: Hudl

Player Comparisons
Royal Whitaker, Olathe North, (1999-2001); Tre Walker, Olathe North (2007-2009)

The Skinny
If size is the most important criteria for going FBS, then Spears sort of defines the odds, especially for an inside linebacker. He doesn't tower over the opposition, and he doesn't have the physical make-up of a 24-year-old NFL rookie (basically he's not the linebacker version of Braden Smith). He does, however, pack a punch when it comes to athleticism, and all-around playmaking ability.

Spears has been clocked in the 4.6 neighborhood in the forty, and his vertical measures out at 37 inches. Those numbers are very impressive, and not a surprise given how well he's performed on the varsity circuit. As a sophomore he recorded 90 tackles in his first season as a starter. Last fall he ramped up his numbers, recording 119 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and two blocked kicks. Those numbers suggest he was the league's most active defender in 2013.

Colleges took notice, of course. After a pretty steady recruitment throughout the spring and summer, Spears committed to Iowa State over an offer list that included Colorado State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri, among others.

Going forward, keep an eye on how many touches Spears gets offensively in his final high school season. He worked in as wideout for Olathe North quite a bit last year, but his touches didn't always reflect that. Expect Spears to have more opportunities to get the football in open space this fall. He's a good enough athlete to have a major impact on the offensive side of the ball if he's given the opportunity.

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. His top receiver target will be Mauricio Chio (6-2, 185) a three-year starter to be. 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 talented starter 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 Nick 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.