Saturday, July 3, 2010

2010 Sunflower League Preseason Power Rankings

1. Olathe North
Head Coach:
Pete Flood (Four years, 35-10)
Last season: 13-0

Only at Olathe North could the football program lose four all-state players, not to mention the Simone Award winner, and still be favored to capture yet another league championship—and that’s exactly what is expected of Olathe North in 2010. The Eagles appear to have their next group of big time players ready for another state title run this upcoming season.
Last year’s Simone winner James Franklin won’t be easy to replace, but the Eagles will make their best attempt using Adonis Saunders (right) and Dominick Wilson as running backs. Both players run the forty in the sub 4.5 range and look to factor in big time on offense, as well as in the defensive secondary. Following a stellar junior season in which he rushed for over 1,000 yards, Victor Simmons will once again man the quarterback position for the Eagles, adding yet another player with speed in the 4.5 range. Simmons will also be a starting safety.

Aside from the skill positions Olathe North will look to senior Kyle Swartz to head up the interior of their offensive and defensive fronts. Swartz, on paper, might be the top returning linebacker in the Sunflower League and he should also be making his presence felt as a tight end.

It appears that Olathe North once again has a phenomenal core of athletes to lead their football team. The true question is whether or not they can replace the senior leadership lost to graduation. It will also be interesting to see how head coach Pete Flood handles the success from last season and the increased pressure the team will be receiving as defending state champs. The first big test for Olathe North comes week one, when they host SM West.

2. Shawnee Mission West

Head Coach: Tim Callaghan (Seven years, 54-20)
Last season: 8-2

It’s fair to say that SM West has become a power in the Sunflower League and 2010 should be another successful year for program. The Vikings return more proven talent than any team in the league, including the running back tandem of Will Livingston and Cordi Pascal, who combined to rush for 1,384 yards last season. Fullback Danny Dowling also returns, and by going 3 for 3 at those positions it looks like SM West will be able employ their power running game to the fullest extent. Replacing 20 game winner DJ Balazs at quarterback will be senior Drew Humphreys. Humphreys will also return in the secondary for the Vikings where he has started since his sophomore season.

The offensive line—the other key element to the Vikings run game—will be led by proven seniors Dillon Shupe and Connor Askren. They will be the key to just how well the SM West offense functions in 2010.

It’s clear the Vikings have the talent to compete with anybody in 2010, but perhaps the biggest mystery surrounding the program is the school’s lack of playoff success in recent years. The school hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2006 season, and that lack of post-season success has cast a shadow on the school’s otherwise domination.

Put it this way: since 2007 SM West has gone 16-2 in Sunflower League play (the first six games of the season against SL opponents in odd years, the last six in even years) and 22-7 overall—not too shabby. But failing to make the playoffs in 2007, and losses to Blue Valley schools in the first rounds of the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 have taken away from the program’s perceived success. SM West is hungry for another dominant season, and dying for a big playoff run. Year eight under Tim Callaghan may provide that.

3. Olathe East
Jeff Meyers
(18 years, 128-54)
Last season: 6-4

There are two certainties in the Sunflower League. As previously stated, Olathe North will also have the talent to win a state championship. The other is that Olathe East will always have a winning record. The Hawks have been above .500 every season since 2000. But Olathe East doesn’t plan on settling for a winning record. The school has much higher goals after a “down” season in 2009.

The big time name for Olathe East is Brandon Willingham (right). Expect to be seeing quite a few highlights from the gifted senior on KC Metro Sport’s High School Roundup every Friday night. Willingham will start again at the running back and cornerback positions. He will also be returning kicks and punts for the Hawks.

Joining Willingham on the defensive side of the ball is senior Austin Fulson. Last season Fulson led the Sunflower League in tackles with 125 in 10 games. It’s fair to say Fulson is probably licking his chops for the arrival of the season, when he can once again return to his habit of feasting on opposing running backs.

Olathe East won’t be returning a great amount of experience in 2010, but that shouldn’t handicap the team. The Hawks lost four all-state players to graduation after 2008, and still found a way to fill in the voids to the tune of a 6-4 record last year. Jeff Meyers is one of the best coaches in the league at utilizing all of his team’s talent and the Hawks should have a solid season in store.

4. Olathe South
Head Coach:
Jeff Gourley (Two years, 7-11)
Last season: 4-5

Olathe South may be the surprise team of the league in 2010 and could very easily finish above fourth overall. For the Falcons it’s the amount of players with great experience they will be returning that should make them a pretty solid team

It looked as if Olathe South was one of the league’s better teams in 2009, but they just didn’t seem capable of putting everything together for an entire game. If the offense was clicking the defense was playing terrible, and vice-versa. Heading into week eight of the season the Falcons were 4-3, with their three losses coming by a combined 10 points. It looked like the team lost any mojo it had after the one point loss to Blue Valley in week seven, as they were beat in the final two weeks of the season by a combined score of 21-90.

2010 will be head coach Jeff Gourley’s third year at the helm for the Falcons and it looks like they may be on the verge of putting it all together for an entire season. The team returns seven starters on offense, and eight on defense. Replacing 2,000+ yard passer Tanner Dutton at quarterback won’t be easy, but the team’s other returning talent should make up for the loss.

5. Shawnee Mission East
Head Coach:
Chip Sherman (One year, 4-6)
Last season: 4-6

The folks in Prairie Village have quite a bit to be optimistic about this upcoming season. This excitement has a lot to do with the high note the Lancers ended the 2010 season on. Year one under head coach Chip Sherman started out rocky with the team going 0-3 and only scoring 23 points. But from then on SM East looked like a completely different team, finishing the year winning four of seven, including an upset of SM Northwest and a competitive first half against a far superior Olathe North team in the Regional round of the playoffs.

A 4-6 record doesn’t generally forecast a ton of future success, but with this group of Lancers it just may. SM East played a much tougher and aggressive style of football later in the 2009 season (as evidence by their success). This style of football was much the design of Sherman. With three Missouri Class 3A state titles under his belt, it’s safe to say that Sherman has the tools to mold the team into an even more quality product in 2010, and the school should easily produce its first winning record since 2005.

A few other things to note about the Lancers—they added one of the top coaches in the area as an assistant during the offseason, and they have a quarterback battle brewing. Sam Brown, who enjoyed great success as a head coach at SM North and Excelsior Springs, was added by Sherman as an assistant and his veteran knowledge should make a big impact on the Lancers program. The quarterback battle is between seniors Robby Moriarty and John Schrock, who passed for 765 and 545 yards respectively, in 2009. Any position battle is a positive sign, because it raises the level of competitiveness. And who knows, Sherman might just rotate the two players at the position like he did in 2009. The one thing that is for sure: SM East has big expectations in 2010.

6. Shawnee Mission Northwest
Head Coach:
Aaron Barnett (Four years, 25-14)
Last season: 5-4

SM Northwest’s battle with inconsistency got the best of them in 2009, as they went a disappointing 5-4 and missed the playoffs for the first time in three years—and that was with experienced players the likes of Matt Nowak and John Hauk leading the team. The Cougars will be working to erase the doubt from last season and start a new run of playoff appearances and success.

The backbone of the team will undoubtedly be senior defensive end and tight end, Drew Goodger. The 6-foot-5 athlete received First Team All-Sunflower League honors on both sides of the ball last year and has been receiving Division One interest ever since. Goodger will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders but if he thrives on it and leads the team well, the success should take care of itself. SM Northwest has a solid offseason program and new playmakers for the Cougars will inevitably emerge in 2010.

The Cougars also have a very easy district alignment, where they will be facing Wyandotte, Leavenworth, and SM North. Win two of three and they make the playoffs. SM Northwest should be returning to the playoffs and a more successful 2010, even if the team picture is a little blurry right now.

7. Lawrence Free State
Head Coach: Bob Lisher (13 years, 73-60)
Last season: 8-3

There are quite a few unknowns surrounding the Lawrence Free State football team heading towards the 2010 football season. The biggest question in everyone’s mind is pertains to who will be replacing Camren Torneden’s production. The ballyhooed 2010 graduate put up over 4,500 yards of total offense in his junior and senior seasons, and a player with his abilities will not be easy to replace. The Firebirds also lost top players all-state player Michael Lisher, as well as all-league running back Kirk Resseguie.

Despite all the uncertainty, it’s still difficult to imagine the Firebirds taking too big of a tumble in the rankings next season. Most people thought the Firebirds would tail off after the graduation of the Murphy twins in 2007, but the school bounced back with a 7-3 campaign, and a state championship appearance the season after that. The bottom line is that Bob Lisher’s zone-read option offense works, it’s just a matter of finding a suitable athlete to play quarterback in it, which hasn’t been an issue the past five seasons. The player who looks slated to take over at QB is senior-to-be Dylan Perry. While he is unproven at the varsity level at the position, Perry possesses decent track speed which always bodes well for option quarterbacks. Seniors Matt Cole and Justin McCandless will also be key figures in leading the team. The Firebirds don’t appear to have the firepower of the past half-decade, but they should be competitive as always.

8. Olathe Northwest
Head Coach: Todd Dain (6 years, 17-39)
Last season: 4-6

Olathe Northwest, much like Lawrence Free State, was hit hard by graduation. The Raven’s lost a core group of senior including Josh Lemke, Devon Boyce and Brandon Bouvilom who completed arguably the best year in Olathe Northwest’s football history this past fall.

The departure of the strong senior class leaves quite a few positions up for grabs. The one position that seems to be firmly under control however is the top receiver spot, courtesy of senior-to-be Nick Bandy (right). Bandy has good length and tremendous speed, and will be one of the Raven’s top threats to score assuming they get the ball in his hands enough. The Ravens also return a top special team’s threat in Nick Prologo. The senior may be the top kicker in the Sunflower League in 2010.

Olathe Northwest showed flashes of the program they want to become last season, but the team is going to have to complete a winning season before anyone in the league treats the Raven’s as a true threat within the Sunflower League.

9. Lawrence
Head Coach:
Dirk Wedd (10 years, 58-50)
Last season: 1-8

Things couldn’t get much worse than the 1-8 season Lawrence High fielded last year. For a school that has won 10 state championships, a one win season is considered rock bottom. Lawrence can really only improve in 2010 (assuming they don’t do the unthinkable and go winless).

Head coach Dirk Wedd is a seasoned veteran in the Sunflower League and he undoubtedly instilled the changes necessary to turning around the program during the offseason. The Chesty Lions also have a solid group of returning talent.

Senior-to-be Darrin Sorem could raise some eyebrows. He earned Second Team All-Sunflower honors as a linebacker as a sophomore, and followed it up with a bit of disappointing 2010 where he only received honorable mention honors. Sorem is a talented athlete on both sides of the ball and should make a big impact for the team. Another player of note is senior Jamal Brown. He stands 6-foot-2, weighs 350lbs. and is the son of former Green Bay Packer Gilbert Brown. Jamal is a nearly immoveable force and if he improves his stamina during the offseason he has quite a bit of potential for the Chesty Lions.

Will Lawrence return to the playoffs in 2010? With a district of Olathe North, Olathe Northwest, and Lawrence Free State it’s hard to say. But it’s almost a given the team shows some steady improvement from 2009.

10. Shawnee Mission South
Head Coach: Brandon Claypool (Four years, 8-29)
Last season: 3-6

In 2009 SM South showed signs of improvement and at the midway point of the season it looked as if the Raiders may produce a winning record. The team ended its season on a three game losing streak, however. Playmakers Johannes Swanepoel and Antonio McFadden are gone with graduation, but the team has a good numbers of seniors returning that should at least keep the program stabilized.

The most notable returning player for the Raiders is senior lineman Devean Jensen. Besides Jensen, the majority of the SM South depth chart will be filled with first time starters.

The Raiders will be playing six of their nine regular season games on the road, but their list of opponents doesn’t include Olathe North or Olathe East, two teams that project among the top position in the league for 2010.

11. Shawnee Mission North
Head Coach: Dennis Grayless (First year)
Last season: 2-7

Former head coach Ryan Majors quietly exited SM North during the offseason, and Dennis Grayless was named his replacement. Wait a minute, Dennis who?

While Grayless doesn’t have any previous head coaching experience, he does have a good familiarity with the team having been an assistant coach for the Indians for the past four seasons. Grayless true accolades come from his NJROTC success. Following a 25 year career as a United State Marine, Grayless took the reigns as the head ROTC instructor at SM North. According the Shawnee Dispatch, SM North’s NJROTC drill team is now widely regarded as the top squad in the country.

While that success in no way translates to football, it does say something about the Grayless hire. First off, Grayless clearly has a history of discipline and that can only help out the SM North program, whose lack of discipline has been the principle reason for the program's demise since the departure of Sam Brown. Secondly, it’s such an unorthodox hire that maybe it will just work. At the very least Grayless’ team should be one of the top conditioned units in the Sunflower League.

Aside from the talk about Grayless is the talent SM North has returning. Quarterback Kyle Goodburn won the starting quarterback position last summer and did a decent job as a junior. He returns with a good deal of experience. Junior-to-be running back Kendall Kelly (right) could also raise some eyebrows. He rushed for 609 yards last season and he has good enough speed and balance to be a very productive player for the Indians again in 2010.

12. Leavenworth
Head Coach: Kevin Kopecky (First year)
Last season: 0-9

The glimmer of optimism within the Leavenworth football program is leaning heavily on the hope that new head coach Kevin Kopecky can come in and turn around the Sunflower League’s worst football team. Many have tried at Leavenworth, and nearly all have failed. Even Kansas coaching legend Tom Young couldn’t get the Pioneers to succeed. He led the team to a 4-5 record in 2004—the best record Leavenworth fielded during the 2000s—before a disastrous 2005 when Young and company failed to win a game. Young left following the season.

Kopecky’s new team certainly presents him with a great challenge. Leavenworth scored a total of 21 points in their nine games last season, and didn’t even score an extra point. Going deeper than just the football team is the culture at Leavenworth High School. The high school is located in the same town as the most notorious federal penitentiary in the United States, much the contrary to the culture that exists at Overland Park’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Kopecky’s last coaching gig. Kopecky is coaching a much different group of teenage athletes.

Kopecky’s greatest chances for success rely on utilizing Leavenworth’s athleticism. The school’s dominant basketball and track programs are not by accident. The school is loaded with athletic talent, but that talent has never been funneled properly into the football program. With Kopecky at the helm maybe a change is in store. In the meantime his presence and experience could be enough to lift the team out of the cellar in year one.

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