Friday, August 19, 2011

Most Surprising Sunflower League Teams

Free State's Camren Torneden, left, and Chucky
Hunter, right.
There have been some surprisingly good and bad Sunflower League teams since 2000, based on their preseason hype and rankings.  I examined both and ranked the teams below.  The "Good" were teams that far exceeded their preseason expectations.  The "Bad" did just the opposite.

The Good

1. Lawrence Free State, 2008, 9-4

Early quarterback injuries turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Firebirds, as Camren Torneden was converted to the starting quarterback.  Free State's one-two combo of Torneden and running back Chucky Hunter was too much to handle for most teams in the league, and the Firebirds made it all the way to the 6A title game.

2. Olathe South, 2004, 10-3

The Olathe South football program looked dead in the water after back-to-back 2-7 seasons.  The emergence of stars Bryce Morris, Brady Croucher, Devin Cummings and Tony Bryant helped this team come out of nowhere and eventually land a spot in the state championship game.

3. SM West, 2004, 9-3

SM West hadn't had a winning season since 1999, and head coach Tim Callaghan's previous season had been disastrous at 2-7.  The Vikings relied on a stout defense and the running ability of DJ Barnett to battle to a nine win season and Sub-State appearance.

4. Olathe North, 2007, 10-2

Coming off the program's first losing season in what seemed like decades, Olathe North was in desperate need of a resurgence.  A sophomore tailback by the name of James Franklin powered the team to a 10-2 record and Sub-State berth.

5. SM North, 2000, 9-2

The quarterback to receiver combination of John Martin and Nathan Winslow proved to be one of the best ever featured in the Sunflower League, as the Indians battled all the way to the Sub-State game, where they lost to eventual champ Olathe North.  The team was coming off a 3-6 season in 1999.

6. Lawrence, 2005, 10-2

Lawrence High's Nolan Kellerman.
This team could be described as the "last hurrah" of the smashmouth, in-your-face LHS squads that thoroughly dominated their opponents with a barrage of run plays out of their famed unbalanced line formation.  Led by Nolan Kellerman, Nathan Hickey, Scott Penny and Brandon Lassiter, the Chesty Lions roared to a berth in the Sub-State round, before they narrowly lost to Olathe East.  This was after the team had gone 5-6 in 2004.

7. SM East, 2001, 6-5

Todd Dain's greatest season still remains during his time as the Lancer's head coach.  After starting the season 0-4, the Lancers somehow reeled off six straight wins by a combined total of 24 points.  That included a 13-10 win over a 9-0 Blue Valley North team in the Sectional round of the playoffs.  The Lancers lost to Olathe North in the Sub-State round, but their late season heroics are still remembered.

8. SM Northwest, 2003, 9-2

The 5-5 record the in 2002 was quite misleading.  It didn't include much of Ryan Torain, and linebacker Mike Rivera was well-respected, but not quite the legend he was yet to become.  Relying heavily on those two future NFL players, the Cougars put together a nice 9-2 season that ended with a loss to Olathe North in Sectionals. 

9. Lawrence Free State, 2006, 11-1

This is the only team since 2000 to have made it all the way to Sub State, undefeated, before losing.  The Firebirds had a potent offensive attack and a 3-5-3 defense that confused the heck out of most offenses.  The team was led by the Murphy brothers, Ryan and Brian, current Minnesota Viking Chritian Ballard, and defensive linemen Kyle Weinmaster and Mike Ruder.  The team lost at Sub-State to SM West in one of the most hyped games in Sunflower League history.

10. SM Northwest, 2007, 9-2

The Cougars had won a combined seven games in the three seasons prior to 2007.  Second year head coach Aaron Barnett had a pretty good team led by Alex Carder, Bryce Atagi and Bryce Murray, but it wasn't until later in the season that the unit gained much attention.  They lost to Olathe North in Sectionals.

The Bad

1. Lawrence, 2009, 1-8

This team comes in as the most surprisingly bad Sunflower League team since 2000 because of how much of a contrast this team was from previous LHS units. Keep in mind, LHS had won a combined nine state titles in the 80s and 90s, and the only way the Chesty Lions avoided a goose egg in the win column for 2009 was because they played Leavenworth in the last game of the season.

2. Olathe North, 2005, 6-5

We should have seen the writing on the wall.  John McCall had left for Texas and with his departure much of the Gene Wier coaching tree was gone from the program.  The Eagles also lost a star-studded senior class from the previous year.  Despite all this, Olathe North was still being looked at as one of the top returning teams in the league.  The Eagles began the season an atrocious 0-3, before finishing the regular season with a 5-4 record.  They managed to beat Turner (Olathe North was 5A at the time) before ending the season with a 49-0 defeat at the hands of Blue Valley.

SM North's Mack Brown still had a great season in 2004,
earning offers from Colorado and Ole Miss along the way.
 3. SM North, 2004, 5-4

The Indians were coming off a 6-4 campaign in 2003 and they looked like one of the league's best in the preseason.  The team was led by arguably the top quarterback in the state of Kansas in Mack Brown, and he was one of 27 seniors on the roster.  They looked primed for success, but ultimately a loss in their final district game against SM West kept them out of the playoffs.

4. SM West, 2007, 5-4

The Vikings only returned four starters from their 12-1 6A runner-up team from 2006, but they were still voted by the coaches as one of the league favorites.  After a 5-0 start, the wheels fell off for the Vikings, literally.  The team's top two running backs, JD Steffen and Darron Harvey, both suffered season ending injuries and the team lost its final four games.

5. Olathe North, 2006, 4-5

There was hope that year one under new head coach Pete Flood would reawaken the Olathe North program.  Year two was an a jump start, but year one was a little rough.  In Josh Gore's final season as the team's starting tailback, Olathe North eked out a four-win season, highlighted by a loss to Olathe Northwest, which remains the only game Olathe Northwest has ever won versus an Olathe opponent in the the Raven's seven year history.

Photos courtesy the Lawrence Journal World


EagleSenior said...

that one losing season is ON's ONLY losing season since OS was made

Govannon Grey said...

So who is going to be the surprise team this year (either way)? Everyone is saying Lawrence on the plus side, so if everyone expects them to be the surprise team, is it really a surprise?

Govannon Grey said...

Speaking of surprises,The Olathe Daily News released the Pre-Season Sunflower League Coaches Poll, which not only sets the stage of expectation, but in itself contains a few surprises (the number in parentheses is first place votes received, the second number is total points, the third is last years record) :

1. xy-Olathe North (5) 111 11-2

2. xy-Olathe East (2) 100 10-2

3t. x-Olathe South (3) 95 7-4

3t. xy-SM West (1) 95 7-3

5. xy-SM East 85 8-2

6. Lawrence (1) 85 3-6

7. x-Free State 61 5-5

8. x-SM Northwest 57 6-5

9. Olathe Northwest 39 3-6

10. x-SM North 26 2-8

11. SM South 22 2-7

12. Leavenworth 18 1-8

Apparently Olathe South is much more highly thought of by the coaches then anyone I have read on this site (including Eli), receiving the second most first place votes. On the other hand, Lawrence and SM East aren't as highly thought touted.

I am most surprised by the 5th ranking by East, who returns Faeber, a vast majority of their defense, and has that new QB with a rocket arm.

TheImpaler said...

It would certainly be fascinating to see which coaches voted for who as the #1 team. Obviuosly there is major disagreement on O South as they got 3 first place votes but finished behind OE who only got 2 and tied with SMW who only got 1 FP vote. What do the 'x's and 'y's mean?

TheImpaler said...

KC Metrosports preseason top 25

1. Lee’s Summit West
2. Rockhurst
3. Blue Springs
4. Staley
5. Olathe North
6. Blue Valley
7. Blue Springs South
8. Basehor-Linwood
9. Olathe South
10. Harrisonville
11. Olathe East
12. Mill Valley
13. Park Hill South
14. Gardner Edgerton
15. SM West
16. Raytown South
17. Bishop Miege
18. Sumner Academy
19. Park Hill
20. Kearney
21. Hogan Prep
22. Grain Valley
23. St. Thomas Aquinas
24. Platte County
25. Grain Valley

Da Fan said...

x ― 2010 Kansas 6A playoff participant

y ― 2010 Sunflower League co-champions

Eagle Lover said...

Go Eagles