Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eli Underwood's Sunflower League Elite Teams

The Elite Eleven (the top 11), Dirty Dozen (the next best 12) and Mean Thirteen (the next best 13) teams comprise my list of the top 36 most outstanding players in the Sunflower League, plus the coach of the year.

This list is extremely difficult to compile because every year I have 10 to 15 guys who are left on the outside looking in who were tremendous talents.  This list is my totally subjective opinion on who the best players were this past season, and by only naming 36 there are obviously going to be very good athletes who don't make the list.  

Congratulations to the players who made the lists.  The Elite Eleven players are listed in no particular order after the award winners, while the Dirty Dozen and Mean Thirteen lists are sorted alphabetically. 

The Elite Eleven 
Sunflower League Most Valuable Player
Brett Sterbach (5-7, 150)
Senior, Shawnee Mission West 
Running Back

Rushing Stats: 322 carries, 2,228 yards, 22 TDs
Receiving Stats: 6 catches, 79 yards

The "Sterbanator," as his legend became known, wasn't the biggest running back but he sure packed the biggest punch.  In leading his Vikings to the 2012 6A state title, Sterbach became the first non-Olathe North running back, and just the fifth player in Sunflower League history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.  The best part was that he saved his biggest game for last.  On SM West's first offensive play of the state championship game against Hutchinson Sterbach took a toss play 75 yards for a touchdown.  The carry put him over the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the season, but he wasn't done.  All told he pounded the Salthawk's defense for 273 yards on 34 carries (not to mention catching a 27-yard pass and completing a pass for 11 yards).  He might not have been the biggest guy, or the fastest--but he made up for that with brute toughness.  They say the great players make the biggest plays in big games.  Sterbach cemented his legacy against Hutchinson doing just that.

The Darren Sproles Award
Offensive Player of the Year
Brad Strauss (6-1, 185) - 2X Elite Eleven
Senior, Lawrence

Passing Stats: 164-of-264, 2,278 yards, 24 TDs
Rushing Stats: 145 carries, 743 yards, 14 TDs
Defensive Stats: 55 tackles, 2 interceptions

If I had a Lifetime Achievement Award it would go to Strauss.  Simply put, he was the face of Lawrence High football over the past three years--and his impact on the Sunflower League will be remembered for years to come.  A phenomenal athlete, Strauss was a three-year starter at quarterback, while also starting at safety in his junior and senior year seasons, handling punting duties and occasionally returning kicks.  When he took over at quarterback in his sophomore season LHS was coming off a 1-8 campaign.  Things looked grim around Lawrence High.  But Strauss was the spark the program needed.  He led the Chesty Lions to a 3-6 record in 2010, a 6-4 finish in 2011 and then finally an 8-3 Sectional berth in 2012.  In his career at LHS he passed for over 5,000 yards, rushed for over 2,000 and combined for 78 touchdowns.

Austin St. John Photo
The Mike Rivera Award
Defensive Player of the Year
Max Bullard (6-1, 225)
Senior, Shawnee Mission West
Linebacker/Offensive Guard

Defensive Stats: 118 tackles (16 for loss), 10 sacks
Offense: Team had 5,000+ total offense

A little known fact: Bullard played with walking pneumonia in the state title game against Hutchinson.  The same game where he led SM West in tackles with eight, including a sack that resulted in an 18-yard loss for the Salthawks when they were at the SM West two-yard line.  And the same game where he ran down one of the Salthawks' fastest players, Tanner Higgins, diving and batting out Higgins' legs in open field to prevent what would have been a big score before the half.  Bullard was the leader of the Vikings' Bully Bros.--the middle linebacking core that also included Marquan Osbey and Rashaun Owens--which dominated opponents week in and week out with a stifling run defense and pass rush.  Tough, physical and freakishly athletic for a guy his size, Bullard was the epitome of what teams look for in a middle linebacker.  He also started as an offensive guard for the Vikings, making his efforts on defense that much more impressive considering he rarely left the field.  His performance throughout the season was essential in the Vikings' claiming their third state title in school history.

Andre Maloney (6-3, 180)
Junior, Shawnee Mission West
Wide Receiver/Defensive Back 

Receiving Stats: 24 catches, 518 yards, 10 TDs
Rushing Stats: 35 carries, 310 yards, 2 TDs
Special Teams: 1 Kick Return TD
Defensive Stats: 42 tackles, 4 interceptions

We haven't seen as dynamic and multi-faceted of an athlete in the Sunflower League since Andre Jones patrolled the field for Olathe East in the mid-2000s.  In fact, this Andre may be better than that one.  It's fair to say SM West's use of Maloney in the Wildcat formation fueled their run to the state title.  Maloney basically made defenses look stupid throughout the season.  His highlight moments out of the Wildcat included a 25-yard zig-zagging touchdown run to give SM West a touchdown lead in Sectionals against Lawrence, and a 19-yard touchdown run against Hutchinson where he juked out several defenders and gave SM West the go-ahead score.  When he wasn't running out of the Wildcat he caught 10 touchdown passes, mostly on deep balls where he simply used his speed to burn defenders.  He was also one of the league's premier cornerbacks, becoming a no-passing zone for opposing quarterbacks.

Braden Smith (6-6, 285)
Junior, Olathe South
Offensive Line/Defensive Tackle

Offensive Stats: Team had 2,000+ rushing yards.
Defensive Stats: 34 tackles (3 for loss), 3 sacks

Smith's offer list includes Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Stanford, South Carolina, and Texas, among others.  Basically, all the who's whos of major college football have Smith on their radar and his tremendous offer list should only increase in the offseason.  There were a couple times this season--especially on the defensive side of the football--where I saw Smith nearly decapitate runners and quarterbacks.  He was always double-teamed, and sometimes triple teamed, but it didn't really matter as he could basically withstand any force opposing teams threw at him.  It's almost unheard of to see a player with the combination of size (6-6, 285) and strength (470 bench press and 600+ pound squat) that Smith possesses.  Offensively, where he projects at the next level, Smith was as dominant as any lineman in the league, consistently clearing gaps for his running backs.  While his team didn't do as well as they had the previous season (Olathe South went from 12-1 state champion in 2011 to 5-4 without a playoff berth in 2012), Smith certainly wasn't the problem.  His domination should continue in 2013 in his senior campaign as he looks to lead Olathe South back to the playoffs.

Erick Mayo (5-10, 175)
Senior, Lawrence
Wide Receiver/Cornerback

Receiving Stats: 37 catches, 643 yards, 10 TDs
Rushing Stats: 29 carries, 164 yards, 1 TD
Defensive Stats: 51 tackles, 4 interceptions

In open field Mayo was one of the fastest players in the Sunflower League.  With Brad Strauss distributing the ball, Mayo had plenty of opportunities to show off his skill set and he did so quite often.  I specifically remember a catch he had against SM West where he took what looked a like a short gain type of screen pass, juked a defender, ran to the sidelines then turned on his afterburners and went 40+ yards with the ball.  Mayo was sound on both offense and defense and a constant threat to take the ball the distance anytime he touched it.  He was a key member of LHS' strong football class of 2013 which really helped to rejuvenate the program.

Austin Chambers (6-5, 295)
Junior, Shawnee Mission West
Offensive Tackle/Defensive Tackle

Offensive Stats: Team had 5,000+ total offense
Defensive Stats: 68 tackles (8.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks

During this past summer Chambers received a scholarship offer from Kansas.  Once college coaches see his junior film I'm sure there will be plenty more offers to follow.  Chambers was an absolute force inside for SM West, playing offensive tackle and defensive tackle.  His efforts on the offensive side of the ball against Blue Valley Northwest in Regionals could be used as an instructional video on how to pancake block.  He regularly faced double teams on defense, but it made little difference, as he anchored what proved to be a very dominant front eight for the Vikings.  What makes Chambers so impressive is his athletic ability which is so rare for a guy who stands 6-5 and weighs just under 300 pounds.  He's been a varsity starter on the basketball team and he's going to be back next year to help the Vikings defend their state title.

Joe Dineen (6-2, 205)
Junior, Lawrence Free State
Safety/Running Back

Defensive Stats: 62 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 TD
Offensive Stats: 74 carries, 495 yards, 9 TDs

Sunflower League newbies in 2013, beware: Dineen hits like a freight train and he'll be back again next year.  You've been warned.  As a safety Dineen was tremendous in run support, but he also has top-flight speed which allowed him to make up a ton of ground in the passing game.  He took excellent angles to the football and team's rarely broke long runs on Free State because Dineen was so good at running people down in open field.  As a football player he just has an excellent feel for the ball and can make big plays on passes and fumbles in the secondary.  One of the league's most versatile players, Dineen is projected to move to the quarterback position to take over with the soon-to-be graduation of Kyle McFarland.  Dineen split carries at running back this season and did a tremendous job averaging nearly 6.7 yards per carry, including several long touchdown runs.

Hayden Frazier (6-0, 180) 
Senior, Olathe East
Running Back

Rushing Stats: 256 carries, 1,555 yards, 15 TDs

It's funny--you'd see Frazier out on the field running like a grown man, a monster, then you see his picture and realize he has the baby face to pass as a middle schooler.  Regardless, he was one of the Sunflower League's top running backs in 2012 and much of Olathe East's late-season success can be attributed to Frazier.  His strongest attribute as a running back was his ability to hit a perfectly timed crease and make his way into the secondary.  Countless times he would slip through a tiny opening in the defense and break into open field for a long touchdown run.  Frazier had to handle quite a few carries too (he averaged 23 per game) but he seemed to grow stronger as the season went along.  Unlike many backs who wear down, Frazier kept putting up bigger and better numbers, and it correlated with Olathe East's steady improvement in the latter portion of the season.  He joins countless Olathe East backs including Andre Jones, Dee Bell, Brandon Willingham, Hayden Groves, JaVon Williams, Austin Fulson, John Kelsh and Kendall Fuller who've stepped up big to fulfill Olathe East's heavy running needs.

Gabe Guild (5-11, 190) - 2X Elite Eleven
Senior, Shawnee Mission South
Running Back

Rushing Stats: 211 carries, 1,470 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving Stats: 4 catches, 51 yards, 1 TD

The most impressive thing about Guild's season totals was that he hardly played in the Raiders' final two games to due an ankle injury.  Through seven games, the returning Elite Eleven member was averaging 200 rushing yards per game, an outstanding number at any level of football competition.  Guild had incredible burst--he accumulated over 3,000 career rushing yards--and it's what made him such a pain for opposing defenses.  A simple gap in a defense was often times all Guild needed to bust loose on a big run, which he did quite often.  Guild was a gamer and it's too bad we didn't get to see him complete the season in healthy form.  For what it's worth, he was critical in SM South's movement over the last few seasons from cellar dweller to a respectable middle of the pack type of team.

Kyle McFarland (6-3, 185) - 2X Elite Eleven
Senior, Lawrence Free State

Passing Stats: 93-of-168, 1,563 yards, 18 TDs
Rushing Stats: 136 carries, 718 yards, 7 TDs
Defensive Stats: 18 tackles, 4 interceptions

McFarland had a great junior season in 2011 making the Elite Eleven team, and if anything he just picked up where he left off.  The Free State senior was one of the league's most dynamic quarterbacks for two seasons, passing for over 2,800 yards and 30 passing touchdowns, and rushing for just over 1,400 yards to go along with 14 rushing touchdowns.  A true testament to his ability was that he could pass the ball just as well as he could run, and he made sure to play a balance between the two to keep defenses honest.  He was also a very intelligent quarterback, one of the league's few who had the wherewithal to throw the ball away whenever a play was broken or he was under too much pressure.  His impact on defense as a senior was also tremendous.  At 6-foot-3, he was one of the longer and rangier defensive backs in the league which made it hard for opposing quarterbacks to throw against him.  He also had the speed to blanket most any receiver he faced. 

The Dick Purdy Award
Sunflower League Coach of the Year
Tim Callaghan, Shawnee Mission West
12-1, Sunflower League Champs, 6A State Champs

Another year, another easy choice for this award. In his tenth season as the head coach of the SM West Vikings, Callaghan led his team to a 12-1 record and 6A state championship, the third in the program's history.  What's more, Callaghan took down Hutchinson, a team that had only lost once in eight state title game appearances since 2003.  Before the game people were saying Hutchinson was an animal that couldn't be stopped, especially come championship time.  Callaghan and his assistant coaches had something to say about that.

In 2006 Callaghan and Co. gave Hutchinson all they could ask for but the Salthawks walked away with a 21-14 win.  This time around Callaghan formulated a tremendous game plan with defensive coordinator Tommy Davis which capitalized on Hutchinson's inability to keep up with SM West's top-end speed.  It was the sixth state title team Callaghan has been a coaching member of (he was an assistant coach on Olathe North's 1997, '98, 2000, '01 and '02 teams) and the seventh time he's been in the 6A state title game as a head or assistant coach.  The victory also tied SM West with Olathe East for the most wins since 2004 with 78.  Lastly, I give props to Callaghan for opening up the offense, adding the Wildcat formation to better utilize his team's speed, and allowing Davis to be extremely aggressive with blitz packages on defense.  In the end those adjustments proved to be the difference. 

The Dirty Dozen

Kharon Brown (5-10, 230)
Senior, Lawrence
Defensive Tackle/Offensive Guard

The Tazmanian Devil was a tyrant along LHS' defensive front, constantly making big plays in the backfield and slowing opposing rushing attacks.  He finished the season with 75 tackles and four sacks.  He was easily the vocal leader in LHS' 8-3 campaign.

Kez Demby (5-10, 180)
Senior, Shawnee Mission West

Demby started out at cornerback, then in week seven a season-ending injury to safety Rob Rice necessitated that Demby move to safety.  He performed very well totaling 52 tackles, four interceptions and a fumble recovery for the year.  Against Hutchinson he had a key interception in the endzone and a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter.

Matt Elliott (6-1, 185)*

Senior, Olathe South
Defensive Back/Running Back

Elliott, who was the Sunflower League's Most Valuable Player in baseball as a junior, was as talented on the gridiron.  On defense he made 53 tackles and intercepted four passes.  Offensively he caught 19 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns and he ran the ball 55 times for 279 yards and two touchdowns.

Tye Hughes (6-2, 175)
Senior, Lawrence Free State
Wide Receiver/Linebacker

The electric Hughes recorded 32 catches for 588 yards and nine touchdowns on offense to go along with 29 tackles and an interception on defense.  He also took one punt back for a touchdown.
Josh Moore (6-5, 250)
Sophomore, Olathe North
Defensive Tackle/Tight End

The coaches didn't show any love for Moore--he didn't even earn honorable mention honors--but he talked trash on the field and it may have rubbed some teams the wrong way.  On the season he caught 13 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns.  Defensively he was even more of a force from his defensive tackle spot.

Jason Randall (5-10, 185)*
Junior, Leavenworth
Running Back 

Randall will probably be the Sunflower League's top returning running back in 2013.  As a junior he ran the ball 163 times for 1,030 yards and nine touchdowns.  In addition, he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. 

Connor Rellihan (6-2, 175)*
Senior, Shawnee Mission East
Wide Receiver/Defensive Back

Rellihan was the definition of a playmaker.  His 70-yard catch and run against Olathe North in week three was one of the best plays I saw all season in terms of pure athleticism.  For the season he caught 55 passes for 797 yards and five touchdowns.  Defensively he made 17 tackles and hauled in two interceptions.

Lee Spight (6-2, 215)
Junior, Shawnee Mission West
Defensive End/Offensive Guard

Spight was the league's premier rush end.  On the season he recorded 51 tackles (14 for loss) and nine sacks.  His biggest game came against Free State in Sub-State when he recorded three game changing sacks against Kyle McFarland and the Firebirds.

Joel Spiller (5-6, 170)
Senior, Shawnee Mission West
Wide Receiver/Linebacker

He was small in stature, but big in heart.  Defensively Spiller recorded 69 tackles, two interceptions, and also stripped a fumble loose and took it back for a touchdown.  On offense he caught 21 passes for 358 yards.  He also converted a fourth down try on a run play in the fourth quarter against Hutchinson that basically iced the game.

Cody Stanclift (6-2, 230)
Senior, Lawrence Free State
Defensive Tackle/Offensive Tackle 

I'll always remember Stanclift intercepting Brad Strauss' deflected pass and returning it for a touchdown to seal the biggest game ever between Lawrence and Free State in week nine.  In the meantime, he registered 46 tackles and four sacks.

Venus Triplett (5-8, 170)
Sophomore, Olathe North
Running Back

I was tipped off before the season by an Olathe North alumni that Triplett was "the kind of player you would create on NCAA Football 2013." He was right.  Triplett carried the ball 181 times for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns as just a sophomore.

Remington Whitley (6-0, 210)**
Senior, Olathe South

His team didn't play as well as last year so he wasn't able to put up as good of numbers, but last season's Defensive Player of the Year in the Sunflower League still put up very respectable totals.  He recorded 98 tackles, two sacks and recovered one fumble.  He also had two games in which he recorded 20 or more tackles.

 *Two-Time Elite Selection

The Mean Thirteen

Ra'Keim Abdul (6-1, 190)
Junior, Shawnee Mission South
Defensive Back/Wide Receiver 

Abdul was a weapon on offense, defense and special teams.  He recorded 78 tackles and two interceptions, returned a kick for a touchdown and ran the ball out 29 times for 162 yards and a touchdown.

Dominique Atkinson (5-10, 280)
Junior, Shawnee Mission East
Defensive Tackle

Atkinson was a load in the middle of the Lancers' defensive line.  He clogged up running lanes as well as any player in the league, accumulating 38 tackles, one sack, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Patrick Blackburn (5-8, 205)
Senior, Shawnee Mission East
Running Back/Linebacker

Red was the hardest running back to bring down in the Sunflower League.  Offensively he produced 572 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 80 carries, and on defense he added 48 tackles and one interception.

Demarko Bobo (5-11, 180)
Senior, Lawrence Free State
Cornerback/Running Back

Bobo, along with Joe Dineen and Kyle McFarland, compiled arguably the league's top secondary.  In 12 games he recorded 34 tackles and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.  Offensively he carried the ball 42 times for 261 yards and four touchdowns.

Jeramie Fischer (5-10, 220)
Senior, Shawnee Mission South
Linebacker/Offensive Line

Fischer was one of the Sunflower League's top tacklers totaling 103 in just nine games.  He also added three sacks and a forced fumble in addition to opening up holes for Gabe Guild on the offensive line.

Drake Hofer (6-2, 190)
Senior, Lawrence
Wide Receiver 

Hofer was Brad Strauss' primary deep target and he made plenty of big catches through the season.  In total he grabbed 46 catches for 604 yards and seven touchdowns.  He was also a major threat in the return game.

Marquan Osbey (5-10, 200)
Junior, Shawnee Mission West
Linebacker/Offensive Guard 

Osbey's highlight moment of the season was in Sectionals when he intercepted a Brad Strauss pass and housed it, giving SM West a 14-point cushion.  He also accumulated 116 tackles, 2.5 sacks and opened holes as a guard for Brett Sterbach.

Corban Schmidt, (5-11, 185)
Senior, Lawrence Free State

Schmidt was a tough kid who always had an eye for the football.  He helped lead Free State to a Sub-State berth and in the process racked up 104 tackles on top of three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

David Stewart (6-2, 205)
Senior, Shawnee Mission East

Stewart was the leader of what I would call the best linebacking unit in the league this past season.  He hit like a truck and totaled 75 tackles, one sack and an interception in helping SM East to a 7-3 record.

Will Thompson (5-10, 170)
Senior, Lawrence
Wide Receiver/Defensive Back

Thompson was likely the top slot receiver in the Sunflower League in 2012.  Short, but extremely quick, Thompson caught 43 passes for 829 yards and six touchdowns in addition to making 43 tackles.

AJ Verdini (6-5, 180)
Junior, Shawnee Mission West

There might not have been a player who improved more through the season than Verdini.  Equipped with the best arm in the league, Verdini threw for 1,223 yards and 11 touchdowns in leading SM West to the 6A state title.

Zach Williams (6-5, 260)
Senior, Olathe East
Offensive Tackle

Olathe East's offense usually has one offensive tackle who they run behind 75% of the time.  This year it was Williams who helped lead the way for the Hawks' 2,500+ rushing yards.

Fred Wyatt (6-4, 250)
Junior, Lawrence Free State
Defensive Tackle/Offensive Tackle

When I was tipped off that Wyatt had been offered by Northwestern early in the season I figured he would have a special year.  The son of KU's defensive line coach, Buddy, Fred totaled 43 tackles and a forced fumbled on defense and also did plenty of damage on the offensive line. 


Bird Hunter said...

How many times did you see Josh Moore play? I saw him three times and I saw none of what you talked about on the defensive side of the ball. potential yes; but not yet! jmo

Eli Underwood said...

I saw him play live once against SM East and I was impressed with his abilities. He was a player teams really had to game plan around as the season went on. Just ask anyone who played him in the latter portion of the season. Here are his highlights from the year:


Bird Hunter said...

I watched him twice early in the season and then again against ONW; by the way the two defensive highlights in the hudl video against ONW were his only two tackles of the night. That performance cemented my thoughts on him; although the guy blocking him for ONW was a 2nd team SFL selection who was moved from guard to center a position he hadn't played in 4 years just for that match up and handled him very well. Josh Moore will be a great player; I'm just not convinced he's top 24 in this league yet. But hey; thanks for making the list I enjoyed the read.

Govannon Grey said...

Simone Award Finalists just posted http://prepskc.com/features.php?id=1871

Sunflower Leaguers Brad Strauss, Conner Rellihan and Braden Smith nominated for Simone, Otis Taylor, and Buch Buchannon Awards respectively.

theRev_Carnahan said...


Nice read! Agree with Brett Sterbach as your league MVP. Probably the quietest 2000 yards ever gained in the metro. Especially considering the over 6.9 yards per tote! His performance in Topeka will always be among the best ever, unreal! The 75 yard run, hurdling linebackers set the tone for the game; you would have expected Hutch to make adjustments to shut him down and I'm sure they tried but take away the first run and he STILL ran for an additional 198!

Congrats Sterbs! for a great season and a State Championship proving great things can come from small packages!

LAW'04 said...

dude, Eli, come on man, West had a good team this year but just because they won state doesn't necessarily make them the best team in the state...as much as i hate to say it being a Lawrence High fan, FS had the best team in the state...i know, i know, West beat FS, FS also didn't play like they had every single game up to that game...what i'm saying is your top 3 of the top 4 players on each squad are from West, i'm sure winning state had a lot to do with that...you are usually unbiased, but this seems a little lopsided...

on a side note, the dude from OS that benches 470, impressive...

Eli Underwood said...

LAW'04--The players aren't arranged in any specific order for the Elite Eleven team. It was really more a matter of getting their varying picture sizes to flow better. So there were 4 from SMW, 2 from FS, 2 from LHS, 1 from OE, 1 from OS and 1 from SMS. I feel the 11 players were--in my opninion--the top 11 players in the league this year.

LAW'04 said...

Eli, how many state titles does each side have, East vs. West?