Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sunflower League Fall Camp News & Notes

SM West's Austin Chambers making a tackle
against Hutchinson in last year's 6A state title
game. Photo Kansas City Star.
The tepid days of fall camp have arrived as each team gears up for the brutal and demanding season ahead.  Most of the teams will hold 17 days of practice (including one or two scrimmages) during this stretch leading up to the first games of the season on September 6th (or the 5th in the case of Olathe South and Lawrence). Here are some nuggets to chew on as we await the start of the season.

Bandwagon Watch

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.

Recruiting Watch
Ra'Keim Abdul.
The Sunflower League has six players who have either committed to FBS programs or have outstanding offers. In addition to those six, there are a couple other fringe FBS-level seniors who may come away with offer(s) contingent on their performances this fall.

Ra'Keim Abdul, Safety, SM South
Offers: None
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

Joe Dineen, Safety, Free State
Offers: Kansas, Rice
Status: Committed to Kansas

Chase Gitlin, Tight End, Olathe Northwest
Offers: None
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
Offers: None
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
Status: Uncommitted

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.

Top Storylines

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.

League parity
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.


Move the Chains said...

I would add Leavenworth RB Jason Randall to the recruiting watch list. He clearly has D1 abilities and should get consideration. Besides elite running back ability, he is a great returner and has solid hands. At a minimum, D1-AA and D2 schools will be calling.

TheImpaler said...

You know who else has a shot I think is AJ. He's got that unteachable quality of size. A 6'5" QB with a cannon for an arm and a state title under his belt. His decision making improved remarkably last year as the season went along. The two things I'd like to see him work on are 1) working through his progressions and finding the open man and 2) his refusal to tuck and run no matter how much open field is in front of him. Now I understand a 6'5" QB has to watch out for his knees, but he's pretty nimble on his feet in the pocket keeping the play alive but when you get outside and no one's open and you've got 12 yards of empty field in front of you, you've got to be able to pull it down and scamper out of bounds for the free 6 or 8 yards. Anyway, if he continues to improve it's hard to imagine someone not giving him a good look. Good mentions of him and Maloney in the Star HS football preview today.

TheImpaler said...

Metro sport pre-season top 25

3. SMW

5. LFS

14. OS

19. OE

21. ON

smwpops said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Govannon Grey said...

That's interesting that this blog and it's followers all have kind of a different opinion of where the Olathe schools rank vs. Metro Sports. Especially North. Then again, I'm guessing Metro is getting a lot its intel by asking each team's head coach about their teams, and Gene Weir is notorious for talking down his teams to the media.

TheImpaler said...

Well, Metro is definitely biased for Missouri teams and especially for Rockhurst (0-1). I was shocked they had SMW ahead of the "Rock"...we usually have to have at least two less losses than Rockhurst to be ranked ahead of them. You'll never see a KS team #1 if there's an unbeaten MO team left. I did find it interesting that they have OS ahead of OE...I think I'm the only other one I've seen with those two in that order. Seven days.

The also are very politically correct....if a team wins they cannot move down even if a lower team has a much more impressive win.

Govannon Grey said...

I don't know if anyone as seen the official full results of the SFL coaches poll:

1. SM West (11), 121 points

2. Lawrence Free State (1), 109 points

3 (TIE) Olathe East, 93 points and Olathe North, 93 points

5. Olathe South, 76 points

6. SM East, 67 points

7. Olathe Northwest, 58 points

8. SM South, 51 points

9. Lawrence, 47 points

10. Leavenworth, 39 points

11. SM Northwest, 27 points

12. SM North, 11 points

Coaches do not vote for their team. Points are awarded on an 11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis

Mr.Gridiron said...

Lets get it all straight these are some good players mentioned here. The main player that has not been mentioned is Randal Byers Jr. A 6'5"300lb all muscle DT. Olathe Northwest high school class of 2014.I have watched film after film and Randal is unstoppable, and not to take away anything from these other players mentioned, but Randal (RBJ)is on another level. I can't believe he isn't at the top of any list. A nightmare to any offense. Come out and watch him and the Ravens this season it's a totally different ball game. ONW will be a great team under Chip Sherman with Randal on the interior line.