|SM West's Austin Chambers making a tackle|
against Hutchinson in last year's 6A state title
game. Photo Kansas City Star.
ON: The hog mollies. The road graders. The interior lineman. The Sunflower League boasts the nation's fourth and 58th ranked offensive tackles in Braden Smith and Austin Chambers. In addition, players like Kyle Wittman, Dominique Atkinson, Ariska Savior, Dametrious Berry, Josh Moore and many others will ensure this could be the best season of interior play the league has had in decades.
OFF: Hutchinson's invincibility. Are the Salthawks the best football program in the state of Kansas? State titles in seven of the past nine seasons (including title game appearances in nine of the last 10 seasons) would suggest they are. But playing Hutchinson in a state title game should no longer be viewed as putting one's head into the proverbial Salthawk guillotine, the way it was from 2004 to 2009. For the record, Olathe South and SM West have as many state titles as Hutchinson since 2010.
OFF: Transfers. Olathe North's Jimmie Swain will probably buck the trend this fall, but headline transfers into the Sunflower League over the last decade have failed to live up to the hype. SM West's Brett Ginn tore his ACL in week three of 2006, Olathe North's Orange Mooney proved to have a far cooler name than talent in 2010, and SM East's Jordan Darling was good but not great the way many of us (myself included) expected last fall, fair or not.
ON: Coaching experience around the league. Nine of the 12 head coaches have coached in or won a state title as a head coach. All 12 coaches have been an assistant or head coach on a team that appeared in a state title game. Need more proof? Check out the career coaching records of the 12 active league head coaches.
*Gene Wier: 233-94 (.713)
*Chip Sherman: 227-56 (.802)
*Don Simmons: 194-95 (.671)
Jeff Meyers: 144-63 (.696)
*Linn Hibbs: 118-62 (.656)
*Bob Lisher: 106-70 (.602)
Tim Callaghan: 80-28 (.741)
*Jeff Gourley: 78-60 (.565)
Dirk Wedd: 75-66 (.532)
Mark Littrell: 71-33 (.683)
*Dustin Delaney: 23-10 (.697)
Ryan Lonergan: 6-12 (.333)
*Coached for program(s) outside of the Sunflower League.
|Ra'Keim Abdul. SMSraiderfootball.com|
Ra'Keim Abdul, Safety, SM South
Status: While he hasn't received any official offers, Abdul is firmly on the radar of several programs including Northern Illinois and Tulsa. An excellent senior season and either could pull the trigger on an offer.
Austin Chambers, Guard, SM West
Offers: BYU, Kansas
Status: Committed to BYU
Offers: Kansas, Rice
Status: Committed to Kansas
Chase Gitlin, Tight End, Olathe Northwest
Status: Gitlin has the size and skill set to play at the FBS level, and he's garnered attention from programs like Illinois, Missouri and Oklahoma. Like Abdul, a solid senior season could warrant offers.
Khadre Lane, Wide Receiver, Free State
Status: Lane is blessed with incredible bounce, coordination and athletic ability, which you don't always see on a kid who stands 6-5 and weighs 190. If he plays exceptionally well he could pull in a late offer.
Andre Maloney, Cornerback, SM West
Offers: Kansas, Kansas State, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Tulsa
Status: Committed to Kansas
Braden Smith, Offensive Tackle, Olathe South
Offers: Alabama, Arkansas, Clemson, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, South Carolina, Stanford, Texas, Virginia
Jimmie Swain, Linebacker, Olathe North
Offers: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford
Status: Committed to TCU
*Fred Wyatt, Defensive Tackle, Free State
Offers: Arizona State, Kansas, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Rice
Status: Committed to Northwestern
*Wyatt tore his ACL earlier this summer and will be out for the 2013 season.
SM West's bid at a repeat state title
This is kind of a shocking statistic for anyone who's followed the league for a long time, but no Sunflower League school has won back-to-back state titles since Olathe North won the 2003 6A state title after winning it in 2002. The Lawrence dynasty of the 1980s and 1990s, coupled with the Olathe North dynasty left us with countless back-to-back titles. But it's now been nine seasons since we've had one.
SM West has as good of a shot at the title as anyone, but the road certainly won't be paved in golden bricks. In addition to a budding list of league contenders such as Free State and Olathe North, Derby looks to be loaded out west, and you know Hutchinson will have something to say about it.
In my six years of covering the league I've never seen a season where we have over 10 teams that seem capable of finishing above .500, but that's what we're looking at this fall. After SM West, Free State and Olathe North (teams that on paper appear to be returning the most talent and experience) you could take the rest of the league teams, jumble their names in a hat, and rank them as you draw them out and you would probably be as accurate as any preseason prognostication anybody's put out.
|Olathe North's Gene Wier appears|
to have his program back on track.
Is the Olathe North machine back?
I'm not sure the proverbial "machine" we saw from Olathe North towards the end of Gene Wier's first tenure at the school will ever be matched by the Eagles, or any team in the league. Simone Award winners in three consecutive seasons, state titles in seven of eight years, rosters that looked capable of competing at the Division II level, etc. But I do think that Olathe North will legitimately be competing for state titles so long as Wier stays at the helm this time around. And that starts this fall, as the Eagles will put out their most talented team since 2010.
Oldies vs. Newbies
Now, more than ever, there's a major division line between the length of time each coach has spent as a head coach of a Sunflower League team. On the veteran side, you have Wier (23 seasons), Meyers (21), Lisher (16), Wedd (13), Callaghan (10) and Littrell (10). On the newer side, you have Gourley (5), Sherman (4), Lonergan (2), Hibbs (1), Delaney (0) and Simmons (0).
The most interesting takeaway, in my opinion: in a league of 12 teams, only four (Meyers, Lisher, Wedd and Callaghan) have spent all of the last decade as head coaches in the league. Aside from those four, Lonergan is the only other coach who's been in the league for at least the last decade, although he's only been a head coach for the past two years.