|Gene Wier has won six titles titles with ON.
There's a few things to keep in mind with regard to Wier's return to the school that he established as one of the nation's top dynasties in the late 1990s and early 2000s. First off, despite the rough 5-4 record this past season, Olathe North had all but returned to dominant form in the latter years of former head coach Pete Flood's tenure.
The Eagles went 10-2 in 2007, claimed a state title in 2009 going 13-0, and lost in the state title game in 2010 going 11-2. For all intents and purposes, 2011 might have just been an enigma and you have to wonder about the kind of impact Flood's departure had on the Eagles' late-season collapse. Were the players distracted by the rumors of Flood's possible exit? Were there behind the scenes events taking place that detracted from success on the gridiron? Ultimately, nobody knows the potential impact those events had.
While Olathe North doesn't return a ton of talent in 2012, the coaches could literally grab 11 kids from a gym class and find a way to go .500. There's just too much talent at that school to not win big. Really the only unknown is how long Wier plans on staying with the program before presumably retiring from coaching. Remember, it took Wier 16 seasons before he finally captured his first state title with Olathe North in 1996.
Even with an inexperienced offensive line, is Lawrence capable of winning a state title?
It's becoming cliche, but LHS will go as far as quarterback Brad Strauss is capable of taking them. If he gets injured again the way he did late in 2011 then you can all but cash in LHS' title hopes. And that's not a dig on their talent but rather a testament to the type of value Strauss adds to the team as a runner, passer and even defender. LHS has plenty of talent at the skill positions surrounding Strauss and the offensive line will develop in time, but it's imperative that Strauss is consistently putting up 150-250 yards of total offense a game if the Chesty Lions plan on making it far into the playoffs.
Will teams like SM South and Leavenworth actually be in contention for the league title?
I'm not sure either of these teams will be in position to compete for a league title, strictly speaking, but both should be vastly improved from 2011. Leavenworth returns a ton of experience at seemingly every group on offense and defense. SM South took some lumps last year by playing a ton of juniors and underclassman, but the move could pay tremendous dividends for the Raiders this season and into the future. At the very least both teams each possess one of the league's top running backs. Leavenworth's Jason Randall can basically be penciled in for 1,500 all-purpose yards and SM South's Gabe Guild will be aiming for that elusive 2,000-yard rushing mark. At the high school level, especially in the Sunflower League having a big-time running back is going to win you a couple games. But a couple isn't the number these teams are aiming for.
Who really is the best quarterback in the Sunflower League?
It's all about what you're looking for. For dual-threat quarterbacks, you've got to go with Strauss or Free State's Kyle McFarland, both of whom have the potential for 1,000-yard passing and rushing seasons (in fact, barring injury, I'll be surprised if they don't both reach those marks). The best pro-style quarterback in the league is SM East's Jordan Darling, hands down. He displayed tremendous decision making and accuracy all summer in 7-on-7 events and those type of efforts generally translate well into the passing game. For an all-around winner look no further than Olathe South's Frank Seurer. He's won just under 80% of the games he's started during his time with the Falcons and he has an uncanny ability to make big plays and throw precision passes when the game is in its most crucial stages.
Other thoughts as August 31st is now less than a week away?
I'm sensing a boom or bust type of season for Olathe East. Either they win six or more games like they always do, or they really struggle to stay above .500. Their lack of returning talent is a concern but I would still slot them as the #3 team in the preseason rankings. You can't bet against Jeff Meyers when it comes to harvesting new talent during the offseason... SM West is flying under the radar but the Vikes have a chance to do some damage this year. After a brutal four-game stretch to begin the season (at Lawrence, Free State, at Olathe North and at Olathe East) the Vikes should be favored to win their final five games and district. Break even in the first four games and they're very likely looking at a solid 6-3 or 7-2 record heading into the playoffs... Olathe Northwest, SM North and SM Northwest all remain unknowns at this point in time.