By CONOR NICHOLL
Class 1A has the fewest teams of any classification, and limited middle class. However, the top-10 squads present plenty of intrigue and little separation. Defending champion Olpe is coming off the best scoring defense by a Kansas 11-man program in 13 years and is the favorite. All per-game statistics from KPreps.com database and Conor Nicholl.
2020 banner year for 1A squads in the final four; Olpe/Oakley with historical years
In a rarity, all four Class 1A teams that reached the 2020 state semifinals either matched the top finish in school history – or had the best season in school annals.
Those four schools were Olpe and Lyndon on the East, and Oakley and Inman in the West. Olpe finished 12-0 and permitted just 35 points.
It marked the lowest by a Kansas 11-man team since Smith Center allowed 20 in its historic 2007 season that broke several state records. The Eagles won their second state crown in Eagle history, though the 2014 squad finished 11-1.
Olpe coach Chris Schmidt led the Eagle to football and boys’ basketball crowns with many of the same players in both sports. It marked Olpe’s first boys’ basketball title in school annals. Schmidt and former Scott City coach Glenn O’Neil are the lone coaches to achieve the double in the same school year in at least the last decade.
Lyndon finished 9-3 and lost by two to Olpe in the state semifinals. The Tigers dropped to 0-3 all-time in state semifinals.
On the West, Oakley went 10-3 and avenged regular season losses to Smith Center and Inman with postseason victories. The Plainsmen achieved a plus-seven win improvement over 2019 and advanced to the first state championship in Oakley annals. Olpe defeated Oakley, 14-0, in the finals. Schmidt, Oakley coach Jeff Hennick and 4A St. James Academy’s Tom Radke delivered three of the best coaching jobs for all classes last season.
Inman has achieved a nice turnaround under Lance Sawyer. The Teutons, winless as recently as 2017, posted a 9-3 mark and reached the first 11-man state semifinal in school annals. Inman had made one other semifinal, an Eight-Man, Division I appearance in 1991.
This fall, Olpe is the clear No. 1 choice in a top-heavy classification. Among others, Olpe returns quarterback Damon Redeker and linebacker Ted Skalsky, SIK’s co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2020.
Skalsky has paced Olpe in tackles the last two falls with 83 and 112, respectively. Olpe scored seven defensive touchdowns in ‘20. Redeker, Skalsky, senior linebacker Derek Hoelting and senior defensive tackle Brayden Wiess are all at least three-year starters. Olpe has led 1A in scoring defense each of the past two years after 7.6 allowed in ’19.
Class 1A, the state’s smallest 11-man conference, has just 28 teams, the fewest in any KSHSAA classification.
The class could become even smaller once football re-classifying occurs in early October, which creates some expected long-term unknowns. In the last KSHSAA enrollment release, just nine 1A teams reported at least 100 students in ninth, tenth and eleventh grades combined. Schools below 100 can elect to play eight-man football.
There is little middle class in 1A. In terms on off-field results, only Uniontown finished above .500 and below .700 in 2020. Class 2A had seven such squads in a 48-team classification.
Still, the top-half of 1A, especially the top-10, are strong teams and should again yield highly compelling matchups.
Last season, the top-five squads in the final KPreps poll went: Olpe, Lyndon, Centralia (8-2), Oakley and Inman. The semifinals and finals were decided by 25 combined points (Class 2A’s semifinals and finals had a combined 45-point margin and 3A was at 82).
After that, just six other squads finished above .500 in on-field results: Uniontown, Jefferson County North (7-3), Valley Heights (7-2), Smith Center (8-2), Conway Springs (8-2) and Sedgwick (8-2).
In the postseason, Conway Springs held off Plainville (14-7). Oakley upset Sedgwick, 27-24, and beat Smith Center, 20-0. It marked the first time Oakley had ever defeated SC in school annals.
While Valley Heights is a major transition period, the top 2020 contenders should remain similar to ’21: Olpe, Smith Center, Inman, Centralia, Sedgwick, Conway Springs and Oakley.
Five squads could rise and be a potential breakout team: Uniontown, Plainville (5-5), Jackson Heights (4-5), Wabaunsee (4-6) and Whitewater-Remington (4-6). Remington is looking for its first winning season since 2010, and Wabaunsee since 1997, per the Kansas Football History database.
“The top of 1A is as competitive as any classification in the state,” Sedgwick coach Jeff Werner said.
Class 1A has four districts.
Olpe, Lyndon and Uniontown are in District 1.
District 2 features Centralia, Wabaunsee, Lyndon, Jackson Heights and Valley Heights. District 3 has Smith Center, Inman, Oakley and Plainville. District 4 features Conway Springs, Sedgwick and Remington.
Inman and Sedgwick return outstanding quarterbacks with seniors Jace Doerksen and Lance Hoffsommer, respectively. Both look to break through to a first state championship game. Werner has 107 career wins with the Cardinals.
From ’11-20, Sedgwick is 83-22 overall, 35-1 in district play and 49-6 in league action. However, the Cardinals are 0-5 all-time in state quarterfinals, including four losses in the last nine falls. Sedgwick fell, 27-24, to Oakley in the Round of 16 last season.
SC has 10 all-time titles, including ’17-18. The Redmen are tied for the most state football championships in Kansas annals. Centralia, which won in ’19, has four crowns. Conway Springs has seven titles, the last in 3A in ’11.
Heart of America’s Inman and Sedgwick look to break through
Last season, Valley Heights paced 1A with 50.8 points per game. Sedgwick was second at 43.9 and Inman third with 41. Conway Springs (40.9), Jefferson County North (40.4), Olpe (40.1) and Lyndon (39.8) were the next four.
Defensively, Inman finished second with 9.7 points allowed a contest, and Sedgwick was tenth with 14.4.
Inman has great leaders in seniors Jace Doerksen (QB/DB), Kyler Konrade (RB/LB), Kendyn Blank (RB/DB) and senior OL/DL’s Dawson Mannebach, Grant Thimmesch and Christian Winsky.
Doerksen will be a four-year starter at quarterback. He holds the school record for single season passing yards. Doerksen completed 92 of 145 passes for 1,546 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Blank had 86 carries for 742 yards and 11 scores. He delivered 20 receptions with 369 yards and seven TDs.
Linebacker Carter Brown graduated after shared 1A Defensive Player of the Year honors with Skalsky. Brown was Inman’s vocal leader. Sawyer believes Konrade will step up into that role. Sawyer was pleased with the team’s summer. Inman competed really well against 4A’s Buhler and Nickerson in a contact camp.
“These guys are great players and can do a tremendous job of leading by example,” Sawyer said. “However, we are hoping that several of them can step up and be the vocal leaders as well.”
Wide receiver/defensive back Harrison Brunk enjoyed a tremendous track season. Brunk finished third in the 100, fifth in the 200, fifth in the 1,600 relay and third in the 400 relay. Brunk is a deep threat with great hands and can make defenders miss on short routes.
“He will be a tough cover for anybody we play,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer said Mannebach will be the most athletic offensive lineman Inman has had in his six-year tenure. Mannebach (6-2, 205) moves extremely well for his size and was on the 400 and 1,600 relays.
“He has made great strides in the weight room and will be a beast on both sides of the ball,” Sawyer said.
Thimmesch has looked strong on the defensive side this summer. Senior tight end Eli Brunk has tremendous hands and will be used more this season on offense.
“He has a great understanding of the game and is able to use his quickness to get in the backfield,” Sawyer said of Thimmesch. “Christian made huge gains in the off season in the weight room. As he develops his footwork, he will be one of the top offensive lineman in 1A.”
Doerksen, Blank, and Eli Brunk were first team all-district offense, a group that included Oakley, Smith Center and Plainville. Brunk was a unanimous selection at tight end.
On defense, Konrade was unanimous selection at linebacker. Doerksen and Blank were first team all-district defensive backs. Sophomore WR/DB Tanner Heckel was a second team all-district selection.
Mannebach, Brunk and Thimmesch were honorable mention at OL, Returner and DL, respectively.
Heckel had 54 carries for 448 yards and nine touchdowns. Konrade had 53 carries for 288 yards and six scores. Doerksen finished with 63 carries for 288 yards and six TDs. Konrade led with 138 tackles, and Mannebach had 61 stops. Thimmesch posted 11 TFLs. Heckel and Blank tied for the team-high with three interceptions.
Heckel ran on both relays. He finished fifth at state in the triple jump and sixth in the long jump.
For Sedgwick, Hoffsommer passed for 2,754 yards and 33 touchdowns as a sophomore. Last year, he threw for 1,915 yards with 21 scores and three interceptions. Hoffsommer helped Sedgwick win 2-1A state baseball this spring, the Cardinals’ first team state title in any sport since 1953.
Hoffsommer loves to throw to the slot.
Sedgwick will have new slot receivers with Ryan Stucky and Blake Huebert. Junior Weston Anderson started at cornerback last season and will play some offense this year. Running back Christian Brown has had a strong summer in the weight room. Senior Sam Culp (6-5, 245) will be a four-year starter and will lead both lines.
Two-time all-state kicker Conner Tillman has averaged seven points a game in his career and has a goal to break Kansas’ all-time career points. Last season, Wichita Northwest’s Carson Arndt set the mark with 275 kicking points. Before then, Phillipsburg’s Jonathan Hunnacutt had the record with 263 points in ’18. Hunnacutt broke a mark that had stood for 22 years.
Mid-Continent League’s Smith Center, Oakley and Plainville again in mix
The MCL is long regarded as one of the state’s best conferences, especially when it comes to linemen and defense. Last year, Smith Center, Oakley and Plainville finished fourth, fifth and sixth in 1A defense at 11.5 points, 12.4 and 12.6 allowed a contest.
This is the fourth year of 1A football after 2-1A changed. Smith Center, under longtime defensive coordinator Brock Hutchinson, led 1A in scoring defense in ’17 at six points allowed. In ’18, SC was also first at 8.4 points allowed a contest. In ’19, SC was third at 9.6.
Smith Center brings back junior Jake Sasse, a first team all-league selection at running back and linebacker. Senior Colton Haresnape was first team all-league center.
SC senior quarterback Nathan Jaeger is back for veteran coach Darren Sasse. Jaeger completed 21 of 44 passes for 342 yards with seven scores against one interception. He delivered 50 carries for 229 yards and four scores. Jake Sasse paced with 158 carries for 821 yards and finished second with eight rushing TDs. Junior Bentley Montgomery was solid in a reserve role with 28 rushes for 167 yards and seven TDs.
The top-3 tacklers are return with Montgomery, Sasse and senior Jacob Kirchhoff. They had 90, 79 and 78, respectively. Montgomery picked off a pair of passes.
Oakley was one of the top 2020 stories with its incredible turnaround and run to the 1A title game. Oakley pulled three mild/big upsets in the postseason.
The Plainsmen took big graduation losses, namely Shrine Bowl running back Ethan Abell, the 1A Offensive Player of the Year. However, Will Schmidt will take over at quarterback and can play multiple positions. Schmidt served as the primary receiver and kicker in 2020. He recorded 15 catches for 276 yards. Schmidt tallied 611 all-purpose yards, including passing, rushing, receiving and returning.
Oakley brings back senior tackle Jonathan Temaat and senior tight end Corbin Bockwinkel as both first team all-leaguers. Temaat and Koch were first team linebackers, too. They finished with 78 and 66 tackles, respectively to pace the Plainsmen.
Coach Hennick is high on two OL/DL: junior Craig Kuhlman and sophomore Ivan Jirak. Kuhlman squatted 465 this summer. Jirak qualified for the Class 3-2-1A state wrestling tournament at 285 pounds and earned a spot in the final eight with a 26-15 mark. He was the lone non-junior/senior to reach the final eight in the weight class.
Plainville coach Grant Stephenson had paced the Cardinals to four straight winning seasons, including a state runner-up and three consecutive state semifinal losses to Smith Center. Plainville finished 2-2 in games decided by seven points or fewer and was competitive in a 19-7 loss to Smith Center.
Plainville senior guard Dakota Yost and senior wide receiver Ben Hansen were first team selections. The Cardinals return a bevy of offensive skill talent, led by 911 rushing yards from junior Kyle Werner. Plainville’s quarterbacks have made big strides the more experience they have with Stephenson. Senior Ethan Hamilton completed 73 of 125 passes for 825 yards with seven touchdowns against nine interceptions in his first year as a starter.
Senior Anders Dewey and Hansen both tied with 22 catches and three receiving scores. Hansen easily paced with 80 tackles and three interceptions. Dewey is among the state’s top special teams returners, including 23 punt returns for 428 yards.
Jackson Heights looking for bounce back year
Jackson Heights has typically delivered strong defenses with coach Caleb Wick, a Smith Center graduate. JH had allowed 12.5, 14.0 and 14.5 points per game from ’17-19. The Cobras dropped to No. 15 last season with 26.7 points permitted a contest. Jackson Heights was 41-13 since the start of 2015 before the drop to 4-5. JH had a serious of unfortunate events in 2020.
The Cobras started the season in quarantine and had to cancel the first two contests. JH had just one game where the offensive line was intact. Defensively, the Cobras had only a contest where players were at the same defensive position. This year, JH returns four of the five offensive line starters. Seniors Ryan Schumann and Brantley Dohl will anchor the front.
“Overall, we as a coaching staff are very optimistic for the upcoming year,” Wick said.
Quarterback Jason Bosley returns, which Wick believes “will help us tremendously.” Bosley fractured his foot during the Troy game and never came back full strength. Jude Williams tore his ACL at the beginning of last year and missed all season. He will play defensive back and the offensive slot. Dakota Abel and Kylen Kilpatrick return, too. Wick called Julian Butto the “darkhorse on the line” after he started as a sophomore last season.
“Made great strides,” Wick said.
Junior running back Alex Browning is a returning starter after 59 carries for 441 yards, and senior Wyatt Bacon missed a full year with a broken leg. Bosley finished 20 of 49 passing for 237 yards with three touchdowns against three interceptions. However, in JH’s run-heavy wishbone-style offense, Bosley helped the Cobras commit just six turnovers. Bosley delivered 64 rushes for 380 yards and seven TDs. Button recorded 43 tackles.
Jackson Heights will travel to Centralia in Week 3. The Cobras are 1-8 against Centralia since ’08.
Other contenders include traditional powers
Lyndon senior Darian Massey has completed 64 of 133 passes for 1,325 yards and 19 scores against nine interceptions. Senior Trey Bazil is back after 98 stops.
Centralia returns first team all-Twin Valley League senior OL Treydon Talley. Senior linebacker Ethan McNally was a first team defensive pick. Presley Bowers was a second team offensive selection. Jefferson County North junior Blake Fowler returns at quarterback for the Chargers after an honorable mention Northeast Kansas League selection in 2020.
Conway Springs graduated all but 15 of its passing yards, along with more than 75 percent of its rushing yards. The Cardinals return four of its top-five tacklers, all seniors this fall: Logan Warren (team-high 75 stops), Derrick Smith (47), Lance Pauly (41), and Ethan Perkins (34).
CS is one of the state’s most consistent programs. In the last 14 years, the Cardinals have captured at least nine games 10 times. In that span, Conway Springs is 136-27. Conway Springs and Sedgwick are both in District 4. CS beat Sedgwick, 41-35, for the district championship. That marked Sedgwick’s first district loss since 2010.
Senior tight end Patrick Friess was a first team all-league pick. Warren and Perkins collected honorable mention honors at linebacker and defensive line, respectively.
Uniontown junior Tredan Buckman delivered 132 carries for 817 yards and eight touchdowns. Wabaunsee has senior quarterback Cade Oliver. He completed 119 of 193 passes for 2,083 yards and 21 scores with nine interceptions. Senior Tyler Lohmeyer had 38 catches for 795 yards and eight touchdowns.
Class 1A Top-15 Offense from 2020
Valley Heights 50.8
Conway Springs 40.9
Jefferson County North 40.4
Smith Center 32.0
Top-15 Class 1A Defense from 2020
Olpe 2.9 (best from an 11-man team since Smith Center in 2007, per Prep Power Index archives)
Valley Heights 11.0
Smith Center 11.5
Conway Springs 14.3
Jefferson County North 19.6
Richmond-Central Heights 22.6
Jackson Heights 26.7