2021 Sports in Kansas 8M-I Football Preview: Balance with 8-Man, Division I – Sports in Kansas – @cnichollHays takes a look at the classification
By CONOR NICHOLL
Sports In Kansas will have in-depth previews on all nine classes, six-man to 6A, in the next three weeks. All per-game football statistics and per-game rankings from Conor Nicholl research and KPreps database.
First up, Eight-Man, Division I, possibly Kansas’ deepest class in 2021.
Eight-Man, Division I: Deep classLast year, Eight-Man, Division I’s top-five preseason teams were: Canton-Galva, Leoti-Wichita County, Little River, Madison and Clifton-Clyde. Those five squads eventually finished as the classification’s best.Madison defeated Canton-Galva in the state quarterfinals. Little River beat Clifton-Clyde in the playoffs, and bested Madison in the semifinals. Leoti-Wichita County, the West favorite all season, rolled through from District 7.
That was an historically great district that combined for one non-district regular season loss. In the final, LR defeated Leoti, 70-58, in a game that set multiple state records, including most combined points.The playoff games between those five teams were decided by cumulative 66 points. The quintet won each of its other postseason contests by the 45-point margin. All but one of the team’s losses came versus each other.
The final KPreps poll went: LR, Leoti, Madison, C-G, and Clifton-Clyde.
Little River coach Kevin Ayers became the first coach in 8-man Kansas history to win titles at three different schools. Leoti, C-C and Little River each graduated its first team all-state quarterbacks, notably LR’s Jayden Garrison, a Shrine Bowler and first team all-state in three sports in ’20-21. Leoti and Madison graduated SIK defensive player of the years in Manny Chavez and Hunter Engle, respectively.
This year, Division I is far deeper with at least seven teams, and likely more than 10, in strong consideration for a top-five preseason placing. SIK has communicated with multiple coaches that consider the West particularly very wide-open with Hoxie, Hill City, Ness City, Meade, La Crosse, Argonia-Attica, Goessel and Pratt-Skyline in the preseason mix.
Hoxie finished 9-2 with both losses to Wichita County. The Indians have a bevy of key returners, including senior quarterback Ashton Dowell.A-A (9-2) and Pratt Skyline (8-2) were district titlists, and La Crosse was a runner-up at 5-4. Goessel (5-4) was a surprise state quarterfinalist. All four have an outstanding veteran back with A-A’s Xander Newberry, Skyline’s Jesus Casas, La Crosse’s Colby Stull and Goessel’s Jake Wiens/Grant Bryant.
HC (4-4), Meade (4-3) and Ness City (3-5) return a high number of key players back after its 2020 seasons was marred by significant injuries and/or COVID situations.
The East is paced by Canton-Galva, Madison and Burlingame at the top and a strong second tier that includes Little River, Sedan, Oswego and Chase County. C-G had its 22-game win streak end in the playoffs and posted a 10-1 mark. Burlingame was 7-3.
Struber on pace for state marks; Canton-Galva looks for second state title in three years
C-G returns well-known senior Tyson Struber, the state’s No. 10 overall recruit per 24/7 Sports and a Kansas State commit. Struber has strong chances to break career eight-man records for receiving touchdowns and interceptions. The Eagles have posted state semifinalist, state champion and state quarterfinalist the last three seasons.
Last year, C-G delivered a regular season win versus Little River, and sizably led the classification in scoring defense with 8.4 points allowed a game. C-G ranked second in scoring offense at 54.4 points a contest, behind Wichita County’s 58 a game. One veteran coach told SIK that he considers Canton-Galva the East favorite.
Last season, Struber caught 45 passes for 901 yards and 17 TDs and picked off five passes. Struber has collected 45 career receiving scores, according to Digital Scout game-by-game logs. The record is 63 set by Axtell’s Hunter Koch from 2016-18, per Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.Struber has 21 career interceptions.
The eight-man record is 31 set by Bennington’s Gunner Boss from ’85-88. Struber was SIK’s co-Defensive Player of the Year in the classification for ’19.
Plus, junior Garrett Maltbie threw for 1,313 yards with 24 scores against four interceptions, all against Madison.
“He’s actually very humble,” C-G coach Shelby Hoppes said of Struber. “….With somebody with that kind of talent, that’s something that you don’t see a lot of these days. You get a lot of kids that know they are good, and they go out, and they want to show people and tell people how good they are. Tyson is not one of those kids.”
“He just shows up and goes to work, and he actually says very little,” Hoppes added. “We have been really trying to work on him on a leadership role to talk a lot more – and even to his own teammates because he is so good, you know they will listen to him, but we have got to get Tyson to start talking and be that leader for us.”
C-G has a brand-new offensive line and all eight defensive positions will be manned by new players this fall.“Kind of loaded at the skill positions, but are kind of thin up front,” Hoppes said.
Struber moves from defensive back to linebacker. Maltbie will start at safety. At state track, Struber won the 200-meter dash and broke the school record that had stood since 1981.
“There’s a lot of potential up front for us,” Hoppes said. “They are just young, and basically no game experience, so that’s the worst part, but that will come. And they have been working hard.”
Shelby Hoppes hired his brother, Zac, as the Eagles’ offensive line coach. Zac is seven years older than Shelby. Zac served as Salina Central’s freshman coach during the Jake Sharp era and was the head coach for C-G from ’04-09.His sons were top players at nearby McPherson before recent graduation.
Shelby said Zac has “put in a lot of work” this summer with the line, including film study and practice once a week. C-G’s success likely hinges on the improvement of its brand-new line.
“To me, it’s the most important positions on the field,” Shelby Hoppes said. “Your skill guys get all the credit. They are the ones scoring touchdowns and all that, but that can’t be done unless you’ve got five guys up front that are willing to block somebody for you, so I have taken a lot of pride in my line. I’ve felt like we have had a really good line.”
Along with Maltbie and Struber, T.J. Koehn has plenty of experience. Koehn played offensive guard in 2020 and will move to tight end this fall. Koehn is 6-4, 250 with speed.
“He is a weapon for us out there, so we are going to try to get him outside a little bit,” Hoppes said.
Senior Xavier Westbrook has played skill positions virtually his entire career. Westbrook broke his back last year. This fall, Hoppes asked Westbrook to move to line. Junior Preston Minson, senior Brayden Doughman and sophomore Wyatt Collins are expected to be key linemen.
“He had no problem with that,” Hoppes said of Westbrook. “He is a great kid and high character kid, so he has been working this whole summer at one of our guard spots.”
Doughman, a program guy who has been at practice every day, has hit another growth spurt to 6-3, 300. Defensively, Westbrook is working at defensive line, and Doughman is expected to play nose guard. Junior Braison Alcala will be at cornerback, and junior Ryder Nordstrom will play linebacker. Veteran Tyler O’Connor returns as Canton-Galva’s defensive coordinator.
Hoppes has had excellent weight room attendance in his Eagle tenure. That continued this summer.
“He’s really worked hard to turn that 300 pounds into a more athletic 300 pounds than what it has been in the past,” Hoppes said of Doughman. “He’s really worked hard in the weight room this summer. I have been very impressed with him.”
Lyon County League duo expected to make impact
Under coach Alex McMillian, Madison (11-1) has made back-to-back semifinal trips and lost to Canton-Galva and Little River. The Bulldogs finished second in scoring defense with 11.8 points allowed a contest.
Madison has not lost a regular season game since the 2017 season finale. Burlingame has seven straight winning seasons with veteran coach Jeff Slater. The experienced Bearcats were 5-4 and 7-3 the last two seasons.
“One to look for, I think is Burlingame,” Hoppes said. “I think they are going to really pop this year and surprise a lot of people.”
From the Flint Hills League, Chase County finished 8-3, its best finish in 30 years and returns dual junior standout Mitch Budke at quarterback/linebacker. CC lost, 60-12, in districts to Madison in 2020.
Casey Helm, Madison’s 6-foot-4, 225-pound quarterback, has recently picked up an Emporia State football offer. This spring, he threw 191-10 in the discus and 57-7.5 in the shot put. In early August, Helm posted 290 on clean, 345 squat and 235 bench with a 4.96 in the 40-yard dash. Helm captured the state title in both events.
Last year, Helm completed 71 of 106 passes for 1,208 yards with 22 touchdowns against three interceptions. Two came in the season-opening 48-24 win versus Burlingame. The LCL rivals will match up in Week 1 this year.
“What this does for us in our offseason is unbelievable to have this big game right out of the gate,” Burlingame coach Jeff Slater said.
Drew Stutesman, a starter since his freshman year on defense and an all-state player, will move to fullback. Trace Dannels and Lane Darbro will play tight end. Senior center/nose guard Kevin Heineken had a strong summer.
In late July, 157-pound Bryson Turner posted a 360 squat, 260 clean and 185 bench. Turner is expected to have a breakout season. He posted 11.44 seconds and won the 100 and 22.83 for a third place finish in the 200.
Turner averaged an astronomical 13.1 yards per carry with 27 rushes for 355 yards and four scores.For Burlingame, Slater loves the team’s leadership.
“Our most reliable kids are in those most crucial positions, and that’s what I think I am most excited about,” Slater said.
As a junior last season, Trever Quaney had a big year with 71 stops and a team-high 15.5 tackles for loss. He is expected to be one of eight-man’s best players. Senior Bobby Quaney is 6-2, 210 and a multi-year starter on Burlingame’s offensive line. Junior Colby Middleton takes over at quarterback.
“Throws a great deep ball, throws a tight spiral,” Slater said. “But his legs, he is able to create plays when there is nothing there with his legs. Could be a pass play that he turns into a scramble, and I really think our offense is dangerous when you can get the run game through the quarterback. And then the running back compliments the quarterback.”
Senior Kris Hovestadt picked off 10 passes and has 12 INTs the last two years. He already holds Burlingame’s school record for career interceptions. Hovestadt will play running back, too. Senior Andrew Zeller has cleaned 260 and weighs 150.
A utility player, Zeller will be a three-year defensive starter.Senior Lance Noonan has delivered excellent work ethic and motor.
Noonan and Trever Quaney will play defensive end. Trever is 6-8, 225 and carries a 3.8 GPA.
“Our entire team really is going to revolve around those two guys,” Slater said of the ends. They have had a strong summer. Just dominated Southwestern camp.”
Hill City, Ness City look to stay healthy; have big years
Hill City coach Travis Desbien and his staff looked back on last year.
“About four minutes of our season where we were actually healthy,” he said.
In Week 1, Hill City lost standout freshman Aiden Amrein, expected to be the starting quarterback, with a broken arm. Amrein mainly served as the kicker the rest of the season. Hill City continued to have injury struggles throughout the fall.
Senior Jayce Hamel played in just three games because of injury and still led the team with 428 rushing yards and eight TDs. Ayden Nickelson played in just five contests. At times, Hill City had just one senior on the field. Amrein and Hamel both returned in wrestling and finished in the top-three at 3-2-1A state. HC was second as a team at wrestling.
“A really, really rough year for us as far as injuries go,” Desbien said.
This season, Amrein will start at quarterback and linebacker. Senior Derek Keith will move from quarterback to wide receiver. Sophomore Jaden Nuss will play a key role at running back, along with junior Kaleb Atkins. Junior Conner Dinkel had a big 2020 with 103 tackles and six tackles for loss, both Ringneck-bests.
Dinkel is 5-11, 190. A starting guard, Dinkel has started on the offensive line since his freshman year. He will again start at middle linebacker in the 2-4 defense. Under first-year defensive coordinator Craig Amrein, Hill City allowed 27.5 points a game, No. 14 in the classification. In 2019, HC permitted 31.2 points a game. Cody Presley is back after a state powerlifting title. He picked up an Ottawa University football offer in mid-August.
“He’s smart as all get out, and he knows protections and who to block and he helps get guys lined up,” Desbien said of Dinkel. “He’s going to be our guy on the line.”
Hill City will face Ness City and Hoxie in Weeks 2 and 6. Last season, the Ringnecks beat Ness, 7-6, a highly unusual eight-man score. In Week 6, HC fell, 24-0, to Hoxie in a contest that was 2-0 at halftime.
“Coach (Marc) Cowles was doing a really good job of managing the team through all of his difficulties last year,” Desbien said. “But they are going to be a great team (in ’21) that’s for sure, because we got a look up close of them and man that was a crazy game, that 6-7 game.”
Ness City lost two of its better players for two of its biggest games with injury and COVID issues. Edwin Rodriguez was hurt in a 22-12 loss against Atwood. Quarterback Jose Guzman suffered a freak accident in the weight room when he fractured the end of his finger and was out two weeks.
Senior defensive end Taylor Cable was hurt in the Wichita County game in Week 5, a contest that effectively decided the district title. Cable, also a standout basketball player, was not 100 percent from Week 6 on with a shoulder injury. He played through all of basketball, and then got his shoulder fixed in May. Cowles is uncertain when Cable, a two-time first team all-league DE, will return.Guzman is back at quarterback for a third fall, and his cousin, Danny, will be at running back.
Known for his football IQ, Jose completed 38 of 78 passes for 640 yards with 10 touchdowns against four interceptions. He rushed 84 times for 396 yards and four TDs.Danny, a junior in ’21, was the team’s leading receiver with 12 catches for 218 yards. Cable finished with 10 of the team’s 25 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Gavin Schreiber was second with 60 tackles, and senior defensive back Jackson Seib is a strong cover corner.
Senior Casen Marshall is expected to anchor the line. Cowles noted Marshall has cut down to 215, which will allow him to play defense. NC has no player bigger than 215.
“We are excited,” Cowles said. “A new season always brings new optimism and renewed optimism.”
Senior lineman JC Payne (5-7, 190) missed last season with an ACL injury. Cowles said Payne has a “great motor” and can “get under people’s skin.” Senior Alex Pavlu has broken a collarbone in each of the last two seasons.
He collected 11 tackles in three games last year.
Dowell, experience pace loaded Hoxie in possible final 8-man year
Hoxie completed a stellar 2020-21 in boys’ sports with a final four showing in football, a third place finish and one-loss season in 2A basketball and a dominant run to the 3-2-1A wrestling championship. Many of those key players return, though 6-foot-11 Harlan Obioha, a Shrine Bowler in football and 2A SIK basketball player of the year graduated.
Hoxie’s numbers might lead a jump to 11-man football when new enrollment figures are announced in October. Hoxie won District 8 over a group that included Atwood, Hill City and Oberlin.Senior quarterback Ashton Dowell headlines in his third year as a starter.
Dowell enjoyed a mammoth junior year with 97 of 181 passing for 1,632 yards with 22 scores against four interceptions. Hoxie had quality wins versus La Crosse, Hill City, South Gray and Goessel. Senior Cade Gourley will likely be the feature back after 110 carries for 739 yards and 10 TDs. Dowell was second with 116 carries for 638 yards and 10 TDs.
All but 10 of Hoxie’s rushing yards came from non-seniors.
“Dowell, he makes them multi-dimensional, because he has such an accurate arm that he is hard to defend,” Desbien said.
Long known for defense under coach Lance Baar, Hoxie was seventh in the classification at 16.6 points allowed a contest. Four of the top-five tacklers return: junior Derek Johnson, Gourley, senior Donovan Balluch and junior Miles Baalman. Johson was second with 104 stops and is a two-time wrestling champion. Balluch and senior Kaden Sekavec are back on the line.
Stull returns for La Crosse; Casas back for Pratt Skyline in District 6
La Crosse finished 5-4 in its first-year of eight-man football. The Leopards again have a gauntlet to start with Victoria, Hoxie and rival Ness City. Victoria is likely a top-3 team in Division II. However, the Leopards and Pratt Skyline are the likely contenders again in District 6.Senior Colby Stull returns after an exceptional first three years, including back-to-back seasons of at least 1,300 yards.
He delivered 1,982 all-purpose yards, rushed 148 times for 1,519 yards and 32 scores and set the Leopard record for single game touchdowns. La Crosse was extremely inexperienced at quarterback in 2020, and the Leopards combined for 651 passing yards, 49 percent completion and six TDs against six interceptions.
Improved play under center should result in better production for a unit that still ranked ninth in eight-man with 46 points a game.Sophomore Gage Burk is a breakout candidate at fullback and defensive end after 369 rushing yards, seven rushing TDs and 8.4 yards per carry. Overall, all but three offensive yards came from non-seniors. Senior Cooper Barriger is back after he paced with 86 tackles. Burk recorded 27 stops, six for loss.
Traditionally run-heavy Pratt Skyline averaged 318 yards on the ground. Skyline is 15-4 the last two seasons with two consecutive 4-1 district performances. Casas finished with 1,321 rushing yards and 21 scores, along with 29 catches for 531 yards and eight TDs. Defensively, he recorded 48 tackles and intercepted four passes.
Plus, sophomore Brayden Berens returns after he completed 51 of 108 passes for 826 yards with 16 touchdowns against four interceptions. Skyline was fourth in Division I with 53.8 points a contest.Defending champion Little River among other top contendersLegendary Little River coach Kevin Ayers is 20-4 with the Redskins and 178-43 in his career. LR graduated Jayden Garrison and Graham Stephens, a pair of generational talents.
Among many other achievements, Garrison was the first Kansas player to ever throw, run and catch a touchdown pass in a state title game. Stephens was a sterling back, linebacker and kicker. Together, they helped LR finish 11-2 and finished third in Division I with 54 points a game.While Garrison/Stephens are gone, Little River still returns plenty of talent, especially up front. Ayers is 4-1 all-time in state finals.
Last season, LR started three juniors up front with Kaden Schafer at center, and Carter Holloway and Kyle Bruce at guards. Schafer was much improved as the season progressed and delivered first team all-conference. Last season, Schafer was 227 pounds, Bruce 231 at Holloway at 171.
Additionally, LR had excellent edge blocking and called the ends/receivers “mini-Hogs.” Senior Ty Herzog and juniors Grant Stephens and Braxton Lafferty were on the edge; Lafferty was also first team all-league.Ayers said Little River might again run a two-quarterback system after Garrison/Graham Stephens the last two years.
As of Aug. 9, LR had three players at quarterback, including Lafferty. Herzog will stay at tight end. Lafferty and Grant Stephens will play tight end and some in the backfield depending on the formation.
“Ayers, they lost (Garrison), the best player in the state – one of them – he always coaches his kids up,” Hoppes said. “They are going to be a little different this year, because they are going to have a ton of size. Maybe not as much team speed out there, but they are going to have a ton of size, which if you look back at Coach Ayers’ track record, those are some of the teams that I think he really enjoys coaching. He might go back double tight, veer stuff that got him here along the way, and those teams are always so tough to stop.”
Argonia-Attica, Sedan, Oswego and veteran-laden Meade and Goessel among key players and notes
In its first year of eight-man football, Meade went 4-3 and went through a variety of COVID issues. All but 14 receiving yards came from non-seniors last season. Senior Korben Clawson had 362 passing yards with six passing touchdowns.
He also rushed 161 times for 763 yards and 12 TDs, all easily team-bests. The top-five tacklers were non-seniors, led by 60 stops from junior Brayden Norris.Argonia-Attica finished 9-2 and has standout quarterback Xander Newberry. The senior completed 62 percent of its passes with 85 of 137 for 1,275 yards with 22 scores versus six interceptions.
He easily paced the Titans with 95 carries for 771 yards and 16 scores.Goessel enjoyed its best playoff advancement since 2009 and returns the bulk of its key players. Junior quarterback Grant Bryant cleared 380 passing yards and 500 rushing yards. Junior Jake Wiens rushed for more than 600 yards.
In the spring, Wiens won a state powerlifting championship. Wiens tallied 12 touchdowns in October, including five in a 60-14 playoff win versus Kinsley. Key line contributions came from Logan Sterk, Caiden Duerksen, Dylan Riley and Caleb Burkholder, all non-seniors in 2020.Coach Corey Dunlap has done an impressive turnaround with Kinsley. The Coyotes had a three-win improvement to 5-4, the program’s first winning season since a 5-4 mark in 2010. Before then, Kinsley had not had a winning mark since the ‘90s.
Sophomore Dylan Haselhorst enjoyed a productive year with 574 offensive yards and 11 scores. Haselhorst is expected to be more of a tight end/utility back this fall. Tysen Schmitt returns at center, and Alex Garcia will move all over the backfield. Those three players collected all-conference at some level in 2020.
Sophomore Peyton Schmidt takes over at quarterback. He started the playoff loss to Goessel when Isaac Bowman was injured. Kinsley averaged 42.9 points a game, at least the program’s best scoring offense in 15 years. The Coyotes ranked No. 11 in Division I in scoring offense.
Wichita County is 22-3 in the last two seasons and 28-6 in the three years under coach Brant Douglas for one of Kansas’ most impressive turnarounds. Last year’s state runner-up marked the best season in school annals. WC took heavy graduation and returns two key players with senior Tristen Porter and junior Erhik Hermosillo. They combined for 540 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs.
Both had key moments defensively.
Porter, an excellent wrestler and pole vaulter, was strong on the defensive line in a state semifinal win versus Hoxie. Hermosillo is a talented defensive back.
Sedan posted a 9-1 record with a 56-18 loss to Chase County. The Blue Devils opened the fall with three shutout losses. Sedan had 62 percent of its rushing yards from non-seniors in 2020. Senior Dameion Hatten, an excellent multi-sport athlete, is back after 884 all-purpose yards. Sedan has six straight winning seasons, though has not played past 10 games since ’04. Sedan defeated Oswego for the District 1 title in 2020.
Oswego is 6-3, 6-3 and 8-2 under Matt Fowler, considered one of eight-man’s top coaches. Oswego averaged 39.8 points a game, just behind Chase County and just in front of Burlingame and Hoxie. The Indians were also ninth in Division I with 19.2 points allowed. In Oswego’s single wing, the Indians’ top-two rushers were non-seniors. Jake Hutchinson delivered 103 carries for 913 yards and 11 scores as a sophomore. Senior Jace Landes had 43 rushes for 557 yards (13 yards per carry) and 13 TDs. Senior tight end Jesse Blumer is expected to be the top player up front. Oswego committed 16 turnovers and was plus-four in turnover margin.
Medicine Lodge finished 2-5 with zero offensive yards from non-seniors. Junior Cauy Scripsick completed 59 percent of its passes for 881 yards with 15 scores against six interceptions. Senior Theron Wedel had 30 catches for 506 yards and seven TDs. ML is in District 5 with Argonia-Attica.
Spearville has nine consecutive non-losing seasons, including 5-4 last fall. Longtime defensive coordinator Chris Sohm moved to Russell. Kolten Bennett posted 136 carries for 926 yards and six touchdowns as a junior in 2020.
Lincoln finished 5-4. As a freshman, quarterback Logan Meier completed 71 of 151 passes for 951 yards with 13 scores against 14 interceptions. The Leopards had six total wins in the last four years before ’20. Lincoln enjoyed its first winning season since 2013.
West Elk finished 4-4. Junior Tayden Tindle had 195 rushes for 1,035 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2020.
Eight-Man, Division I – Top 15 Offenses Per Game from 2020 (of 48 teams)
Leoti-Wichita County 58.0
Little River 54.0
Doniphan West 46.7
La Crosse 46.0
Chase County 42.6
Eight-Man, Division I – Top 15 Defenses Per Game from 2020
Leoti-Wichita County 13.2
Montezuma-South Gray 16.0
Chase County 18.9
Little River 20.6
Ness City 22.9
Hodgeman County 23.1
Hill City 27.5