Monday, December 9, 2013

Eli Underwood's Sunflower League Elite Teams & New Andre Maloney Award

Andre Maloney playing against Free State on September 27, 2013. Photo LJWorld.

On November 24th, 2012, with his team trailing 14-13 in the fourth quarter of the 6A state championship game against Hutchinson, Andre Maloney scored a touchdown on a 19-yard Wildcat keeper to give SM West the lead -- a lead they would ride to the school's first state title in 27 years. 

Maloney, the catalyst of SM West's playoff run, earned All-State and All-Simone honors following his stellar junior campaign. He'd scored 13 touchdowns, snagged four interceptions, and recorded over 1,000 yards of total offense  that year, and his future was as bright as any player we've seen in the Sunflower League.

This past summer he committed to play football at the University of Kansas over a handful of other FBS offer. Four weeks into his senior season, Maloney was leading the Sunflower League in all-purpose yards and was on track to nearly double his statistical production from his junior season.  

On October 3rd, 2013, with his team trailing 10-7 in the first quarter of a week five matchup with Leavenworth, Maloney ran a deep post route -- his signature play. He caught a deep pass in stride and went untouched 63 yards for a touchdown. It was the last play of his life. When he reached the sidelines he became disorientated and medical personnel rushed to his aid. Within minutes he was on an ambulance to Overland Park Regional Hospital. 

Maloney had suffered a stroke, stemming from a blood clot in his head.  He was transferred to Research Medical Center in Kansas City, where he underwent hours of surgery through the night. Attempts to remove the blood clot were unsuccessful, and Maloney passed away the following evening, on October 4th.

Maloney was an outstanding football player -- one of the best to ever grace the Sunflower League -- and an even more impressive individual off the field. His death rocked the league and region, and made national news. On October 4, 2013, we all lost.

On Twitter, Maloney's handle was Andre_D1MiB. The MiB stood for "Make it Big," an acronym that's gone on to inspire thousands. To honor Maloney, the Sunflower League Football Blog has named its annual Most Valuable Player Award the "Andre Maloney Award."  

Maloney's life was cut short, but based on the legacy he left behind, he had already made it big.

* * * * *

The Andre Maloney Award
Sunflower League Most Valuable Player
Joe Dineen (6-2, 205) - 2X Elite Eleven
Senior, Lawrence Free State
Passing stats: 118-of-222 passing, 1,702 yards, 20 TDs
Rushing stats: 136 carries, 798 yards, 12 TDs
Defensive stats: 72 tackles (5 for loss), 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception

Dineen was the obvious choice as the Sunflower League's most valuable player for the fall of 2013. A three-year starter, he capped off his career as the league's most dangerous quarterback, and arguably its best defensive back. In a brilliant senior year, he joined the 30-touchdown club while helping his team to a 9-2 record and second Sectional appearance in as many years. Watching Dineen play, it was easy to marvel at how active he was across the field. He was the league's best defensive back in run support, and while on offense he was known as a dual-threat quarterback, most of his big plays came through the air. It's been a long time since we've seen a quarterback put into the starting position as a senior, then go on to dominate as if he'd been playing it for years on varsity. With Dineen, that was exactly what we witnessed in 2013.

The Mike Rivera Award
Defensive Player of the Year
Kyle Ball (6-2, 225)
Junior, SM East
Defensive End

Defensive stats: 107 tackles (28 for loss), 8 sacks, 1 blocked punt

The first time I saw Ball play live was last fall against Olathe South when the Lancers upset the defending state champion Falcons. Ball must have had 15 tackles in the game. He was all over the field, and I noted he was just a sophomore. Well, as a junior he basically got bigger and stronger and became even more dominant. Described as being nearly "unblockable" by many of his opponents, the positive commentary on the talented junior rang in from all corners of the league -- this kid's going to be star, they're saying (if he wasn't already). SM East had an active and ferocious defense this fall, and it was Ball who most coaches pointed to as the focal point of that unit. Freakishly strong and quick, with great size, he was the league's most outstanding defensive player in 2013. The scary part is he'll be back for more as a senior in 2014.

The Darren Sproles Award
Offensive Player of the Year 
Venus Triplett (5-8, 185)
Junior, Olathe North
Running Back

Rushing stats: 257 carries, 1,530 yards, 25 TDs
Receiving stats: 19 receptions, 147 yards, 1 TD
Return stats: 1 punt return TD

Is it too much to project 2,000 rushing yards for Triplett in 2014? I don't think so. Not with the way he's developed and performed under enormous pressure, even by Olathe North's running back standards. Listen, we knew Triplett had a chance to be special when he was in junior high. What he's done on the varsity level has backed up everything we expected. A compact, powerful and agile running back, Triplett had a phenomenal junior year helping to lead Olathe North to the Sub-State round. He led the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and nearly joined the 30-touchdown club. If he can avoid injuries next year, all of those numbers should go up. And you might as well just pencil him in as a Simone finalist right now.
Ra'Keim Abdul (6-0, 205)
Senior, SM South
Running Back/Safety

Rushing stats: 168 carries, 1,025 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving stats: 9 receptions, 58 yards
Passing stats: 2-of-4 passing, 42 yards, 1 TD
Defensive stats: 33 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 defensive touchdown

One of the down sides to covering the league so closely is that eventually, all players' high school careers come to and end. It was a sad day when Abdul took his final carry as a Raider. Maybe it was his final game that struck a chord with me. With his team basically trailing all game, Abdul lined up and play after play after play, took snaps out of the Wildcat formation and directed the Raider offense down the field, keeping his team in the game. He was winded, beaten down. His visor was fogged up and dirty. He looked tired from nine weeks of physical play in the state's toughest league, but he never gave up. The Raiders lost the game, but Abdul kept them close in a game that looked like an early blowout. It was that fighting spirit that made him one of the league's best the past few years, and one of the reasons's he'll probably be playing at the FBS or FCS level next fall.

Austin Chambers (6-5, 305) - 2X Elite Elev.
Senior, SM West
Offensive Tackle/Defensive Tackle

Offensive stats: Team rushed for over 1,600 yards, passed for over 1,500 yards.
Defensive stats: 51 tackles (2 for loss)

The BYU commit performed as well as as senior as he did as a junior, but SM West's disappointing season was kind of a wet towel on his final fall in black and gold. Injuries across the Vikings' offensive and defensive fronts weakened SM West's best strength and allowed opponents to avoid Chambers more often on both sides of the ball. Despite all of this he was still among the league's top 11 players and he pretty much played as well as he could have given the circumstances. If he can develop his speed and footwork he has the potential to be a very good interior offensive lineman as he continues his career in college and possibly thereafter.

Drew Green (5-10, 210)
Senior, Lawrence
Running Back/Linebacker

Rushing stats: 167 carries, 812 yards, 4 TDs
Defensive stats: 103 tackles (7 for loss), 4 fumble recoveries, 2 forced fumbles

Green, in the spirit of Lawrence High tradition, was your standard issue "throwback" football player in the Sunflower League. And he was absolutely phenomenal in that role for the Chesty Lions. He was one of just five returning starters for LHS this past fall, and had it not been for his experience and leadership, 2013 could have been a really rough season for the program. Not only did Green have an exceptional nose for the football as an inside linebacker, but he was also one of the league's top power running backs. And while the Chesties won't look back on their 3-6 campaign as anything to write home about, they won't forget the way Green led the team and helped to groom the underclassmen for the seasons to come.

Mitchell Tyler (5-10, 175)
Senior, SM East
Wingback/Defensive Back

Rushing stats: 55 carries, 359 yards, 2 touchdowns
Receiving stats: 23 receptions, 530 yards, 4 touchdowns
Defensive stats: 84 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception

Tyler had a pretty solid junior campaign as a defensive back, but I had not idea he was capable of such an explosive senior season. It didn't matter where or how he the got the football -- he had a chance to take it the distance anytime it was in his hands. He was one of the league's fastest players in pads, and his agility was as good as you'll see on the high school level. Basically, if he was in on a play, good things were bound to happen. In the Sub-State game he even casually trotted out and kicked a 33-yard field goal (which would have been good from 50) like it was nothing. It's not often a player with his skill set quietly hangs around the varsity ranks until his senior year, then just goes off. But that was the case with Tyler -- and the rest of league felt his impact this fall.

Jason Randall (5-10, 190)
Senior, Leavenworth
Running Back

Rushing stats: 188 carries, 1,285 yards, 13 TDs
Receiving stats: 12 receptions, 152 yards, 2 TDs
Return stats: 1 kick return touchdown

If I could choose one player, and one player only, from this list to build a program around, nine times out of ten I would choose Randle. Why? Well, frankly he was the only player on the list that a program was built around. Leavenworth was coming off a horrific 2009 season, the worst in its history, around the time Randall was beginning in the Pioneers' strength and conditioning program the season before his freshman year. Four years of varsity action later, he proved to be worth his weight in gold. For his career he totaled 3,560 rushing yards on 597 carries, 1,165 kick return yards on 51 returns, 733 receiving yards on 74 receptions, and a combined 42 touchdowns. And in doing so he helped the program to 10 wins and two playoff berths in four years (unprecedented numbers for Leavenworth). Randall committed to FCS Missouri State this past week, a place he'll probably have just as big of an impact on as Leavenworth.

Jake Seurer (5-10, 175)
Junior, Olathe South

Rushing stats: 55 carries, 220 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving stats: 47-of-102 passing, 761 yards, 8 TDs
Defensive stats: 136 tackles (1 for loss), 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries

I think we all expected a pretty solid season offensively from Seurer, given his family's pedigree at the quarterback position. But I would be lying if I said I expected him to be such a force on the defensive side of the football. He led the Sunflower League in tackles during the regular season, and nearly held the lead throughout the playoffs despite his team not qualifying. And he nearly combined for 1,000 yards of total offense while managing 10 touchdowns. Going forward, keep an eye on those tackles numbers. The most I've seen on record was Olathe South's Justin Dyer who recorded 173 tackles in 1999. Similar production and a playoff appearance next year and Seurer could be in that territory.

Braden Smith (6-7, 295) - 2X Elite Eleven
Senior, Olathe South
Offensive Guard/Defensive Tackle

Offensive stats: 82 pancake blocks
Defensive stats: 59 tackles (2 for loss), 1 sack

Let's just state the obvious -- if Smith isn't on an NFL roster in four to five years we'll all be disappointed. Perhaps the league's most highly sought after recruit, ever, he basically spent the past three years pancaking defenders on offense and taking on triple-teams on defense. A state title ring and 22 wins wasn't too shabby of a haul either. The vast majority of the players I cover disappear into the real world once their senior season ends. For Smith, with suitors like Alabama, Notre Dame, TCU and Texas A&M banging on his front door, I suspect there's a good chance we'll be hearing his name for a long time.

Jimmie Swain (6-3, 225)
Senior, Olathe North
Outside Linebacker

Defensive stats: 105 tackles (11 for loss), 9 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble

So this past summer I was reading my Twitter one morning and I started seeing Tweets about Jimmie Swain transferring back to Olathe North for his senior year. I vaguely recalled Swain from his sophomore year at Olathe North. As I researched I realized he wasn't just some ordinary transfer -- no, he was a coup for the Eagles. He lived up the hype (which has become a sort of lost art for transfers into the Sunflower League) leading a talented Olathe North defense from his outside linebacker spot. He recently decommitted from TCU, and it looks like he'll probably end up at Arkansas or Oregon. Like the aforementioned Smith, Swain's a kid we'll probably be seeing quite a bit on Saturdays in the coming years, and maybe even on Sundays.

Dick Purdy Coaching Award
Sunflower League Coach of the Year
Dustin Delaney, Shawnee Mission East
11-2, Sunflower League Co-Champs, 6A Runner-Up

In just his fourth season as a head coach -- and his first at SM East -- Delaney took a program noted for its passing attack and converted it into a title-contending flexbone based program in a mere three and a half months. That's not an easy task by any means, and his late start (he was hired in mid-May) made that feat even more impressive. The best part was how the Lancers advanced all the way the title game and proceeded to give the state of Kansas' best team a run for their money. Delaney has been an offensive coordinator for four seasons and a head coach for five. In that time he's been a part of 84 wins, and five state title appearances, and just 14 losses. He's quietly developing a reputation as one of the best coaches in the state of Kansas. With SM East returning 16 starters in 2014, there's no telling what Delaney will be able to accomplish with the Lancers.

Dirty Dozen

Dominique Atkinson (5-10, 300)
Senior, SM East
Defensive Tackle

There wasn't a better nose-guard in the league than Atkinson. He was nearly impossible to move given his strength and stature, and he sealed off inside running lanes as well as any defensive lineman in the state. He notched 76 tackles (20 for loss) three sacks and forced two fumbles on the year. SM East's linebackers performed very well the past two years with Atkinson playing in front of them, and I suggest that was not a coincidence.

Jake Horner (5-11, 175)
Senior, SM Northwest
Quarterback/Defensive Back

Horner was the glue that held SM Northwest together. It his first year ever playing quarterback he completed 27-of-64 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 470 yards and six touchdowns on 110 carries on the ground. Defensively he had 53 tackles, one fumble recovery and a defensive score. He also returned two kicks for touchdowns, and one punt for a touchdown. His ability to do everything, and do everything well, was essential in the Cougars taking a step forward and making the playoffs this past fall.

Nathan Guthrie (6-2, 215)
Senior, Olathe East

It seems like Olathe East always has a stalwart linebacker who embodies the Hawks' phsyical style of play and leads the defense. This year that was Guthrie. He led the league in tackles, recording 138 (11 for loss) in just 11 games. He also forced two fumbles and recovered one. His real shining moment came in Regionals when he recorded double digit tackles and did an absolutely phenomenal job of limiting Simone finalist Traevohn Wrench's running lanes up the middle of the field.

Khadre Lane (6-5, 180)
Senior, Lawrence Free State
Wide Receiver

Lane really developed as a football player the past few seasons, after transferring to Free State from tiny Seabury Academy as a sophomore. His speed and size allowed him to outrun coverages and he was also very physical for a receiver. Not to mention he had quite a few bone-jarring hits on special teams. In total he caught 32 passes for 581 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 16 tackles, two forced fumbles and had one fumble recovery. He's the type of kid you could see going the JUCO route and potentially ending up with some FBS offers with two more years of football. But, he's a Division One basketball prospect and he'll be one of the metro's elite hoops talents this winter.

Keith Loneker (6-1, 210)
Senior, Lawrence Free State
Linebacker/Wide Receiver

Loneker was lauded for his defensive efforts, but he was arguably just as dangerous on the offensive side of the football where he caught 29 passes for 455 yards and six touchdowns. Defensively, he recorded 89 tackles (10 for loss), four sacks, recovered four fumbles and scored two defensive touchdowns. A sort of throwback player, Loneker didn't always grab the headlines, but I would argue his contributions to Free State the past few seasons were as vital to the Firebirds as any one player on their roster.

Josh Moore (6-5, 255)
Junior, Olathe North
Tight End/Defensive End

Moore burst onto the radar of every Big 12 program after an outstanding junior campaign in which he caught 17 passes for 370 yards and two touchdowns. As a defensive end he recorded 51 tackles (13 for loss) and blocked a kick. His size and mobility made him a matchup nightmare for most linebackers who couldn't keep up with his speed, and defensive backs who were too small to defend him. He currently holds offers from Kansas, TCU and Texas Tech and that list should continue to grow this offseason as college coaches around the country watch his junior reels.

Cole Murphy (6-1, 180)
Junior, Olathe North

Murphy, a two-year starter, will have big expectations heading into 2014 as he'll lead what could be one of the best teams in the Midwest. Fortunately for Murphy, he has an excellent foundation with which to work. He was off to a bright start in 2012 as a sophomore starter before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the first third of the season. To his credit, he worked hard to recover from the injury and came back as one of the league's best dual-threat quarterbacks. As a junior he posted 1,401 passing yards and 12 touchdowns on 90-of-148 passing, in addition to rushing for 808 yards and eight touchdowns on 174 carries. Olathe North has had some outstanding quarterbacks in the past ranging from Josh Brewer to Dustin Moomau to Mike McCall. Murphy can go down as one of the best of them with a big senior year.

Devin Shockley (6-1, 205)
Senior, SM Northwest

SM Northwest's top defender was tough, physical, and loved to hit people. In a mere nine games (he missed the Cougars' playoff game with a calf injury) he totaled 109 tackles (9 for loss), 5.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Following a junior year where he made more of an impact running the football, nobody was really expecting him to have a breakout season defensively. Well, nobody outside of the SM Northwest program, that is. He really surprised the league this year in a good way with the way he performed every Friday night.

Marcel Spears (6-0, 220)
Junior, Olathe North

Spears' phenomenal junior season ended with him sitting on a Gator cart, his knee completely wrapped in ice, watching his Eagles lose to SM East in the bitter cold Sub-State game. If that's not motivation for one of the league's most outstanding linebackers to bounce back in 2014, I don't know what is. For the year he recorded 119 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. There was never an official report on the status of Spears' season-ending injury, but the "early" timing means he should be at full-strength by the time the 2014 season begins. And that's huge for Olathe North. Next season will mark Spears' third as a varsity starter and his experience, combined with returning defenders like Jadon McGaha and Jesse Kendricks ensures their defense can be stellar once again.

Luke Taylor (5-11, 190)
Senior, SM East

I don't think I've ever seen a player have as quiet of a 1,000+ rushing yardage season as Taylor -- his no frills running style might have had something to do with it. He managed 1,315 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 275 carries, and he could potentially be the first in a long line of dominant fullbacks we see from SM East going forward. The thing with Taylor was that he had such a hard-nosed running approach that you knew he was going to pick up three or four yards minimum every time he touched the football. And that was a luxury not many teams had.

Blake Winslow (6-0, 215)
Senior, Lawrence Free State
Linebacker/Wide Receiver

Winslow was another member of Free State's outstanding senior class, which combined to win 25 games in three years at the varsity level. Winslow recorded 52 tackles (18 for loss), six sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and one interception which he took back 77 yards for a touchdown. Offensively, he caught 27 passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns. If you're looking for the league's most underrated player the past two years, look no further than Winslow. Perhaps he was overshadowed by the likes of Dineen, McFarland, et al, but the kid was a gamer and had a knack for making big plays.

Kyle Wittman (6-1, 275)
Senior, Lawrence

The Chesty Lions had a sort of mid-year renaissance in which their running game took itself to another level, and they really got their confidence up as a unit. Wittman could be credited as the foundation of that movement. We knew a big season was in store for the talented center after he received all-league honors as a junior -- and he delivered in his senior season. Back in Lawrence's hey day they had four or five Wittmans every year. With a younger roster overall in 2013, the newbie offensive lineman got a good look at the type of player LHS demands on the interior to be successful, which could count for a big payout as those younger lineman develop. 


Bird watcher said...

Great picks Eli! Had to be hard with so many top notch players in the sunflower league this year.

Sunflower football news said...

Great group of athletes Eli, good work by all who earned these SFL season honors!

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