By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas
Class 3A Preview. All game-by-game records and scoring offense/defense rankings from KPreps.com and Conor Nicholl research
Editor’s Note: In the last several weeks, SIK reporter Bethany Bowman has done multiple Zoom interviews with 3A key players, including Columbus’ Kody Schalk, Galena’s Tyler Little, Frontenac’s Collin McCartney, Cheney’s Harrison Voth, Holcomb’s Kaden Johnson, and Girard’s Brecken Troike. Those are available at the SIK Facebook page.
Wichita Collegiate expected to be top-5 team – and gets a close-up view of two-time defending champion Andale
In 2019, Nate Voegeli served as quarterback for a 6-4 Wichita Collegiate squad. He passed for 349 yards with five touchdowns against six interceptions. Wesley Fair started at wide receiver as a freshman and found a role he enjoyed. Fair hauled in 14 catches for 271 yards and four touchdowns. They were the Spartans’ returning passing and receiving leaders for 2020.
Then, two WC quarterbacks, including Voegeli, opted out of last season. Coach Troy Black and his staff elected to try Fair at quarterback, a position he had never played. Black and his staff wanted Fair, the team’s best athlete, to have the ball in his hands each play. Secondly, Collegiate had no other solid options to throw. At first, the change was slow.
“We had no clue what he could do,” Black said told SIK via phone Friday. “And to be honest with you, after the first week of practice, none of them were any good. The second week, it was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if he could do it.’ And it just kind of clicked on Week 3. And he did an awesome job.”
Fair became one of Kansas’ top breakout players last season. He paced Collegiate to a four-win improvement, 10-2 record and Class 3A semifinal showing. Both of Collegiate’s losses came to league and district rival Andale, the two-time defending state champions. Andale, on a 25-game winning streak, became the first team in Kansas history to post a shutout in every playoff game, per Kansas historian Brett Marshall. Andale has the state’s longest current winning streak entering ’21.
Fair rushed 253 times for 1,771 yards and 27 touchdowns. He completed 66 of 111 passes for 944 yards and seven touchdowns. Collegiate finished ninth in the 48-team, eight-district classification with 35.2 points a contest, up from 29.3 two years ago. Additionally, Drew Charbonneau enjoyed another big year with 120 tackles. Fair was a SIK 3A Offensive Player of the Year finalist.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Fair is among the top-10 Kansas prospects in the Class of 2023. He has received Iowa State and Kansas State interest. Black said K-State is looking at Fair at defensive back.
Statistically, Fair, Cheney’s Harrison Voth, Rossville’s Torey Horrak, Nemaha Central’s Zac Kramer, Osage City’s Landon Boss and Blue Valley’s Greyson Holbert are Kansas’ top returning dual threat quarterbacks in 11-man football. Black offered multiple superlatives regarding Fair: great athlete, great kid and good leader.
“Kids respect him and look up to him, and so in the end, it made us look like geniuses, but it really it was just kind of out of desperation,” Black said.
This summer, Collegiate has looked to limit Fair’s carries for this year. In 2020, only three players – Basehor-Linwood’s Zack Sisemore, Oakley’s Ethan Abell and Tonganoxie’s Tyler Bowden – logged more carries in 11-man, per MaxPreps statistics.
All three were workhorse running backs. Horak, similar to Fair in several ways, delivered 162 carries last season en route to 2A Offensive Player of the Year honors. Fair looks to become a stronger passer.
“He’s not a refined passer,” Black said. “He’s a great runner who can read his run really well, so we have been working this offseason on throwing.”
3A: Full of elite players, especially in CNC, though can anyone defeat Andale?
Collegiate encapsulates Class 3A, a 48-team classification full of elite athletes. Fair is an elite dual threat quarterback and a high-level recruit. Black called Charbonneau a top-three linebacker in his 23 seasons on staff with the Spartans.
In southeast Kansas, CNC rivals Columbus, Frontenac and Galena have all top players, regardless of classification. Columbus features 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior Gabe Martin, who has run a 4.5 40-yard dash and squat 550 pounds. Martin helped Columbus to a 9-1 mark. A middle linebacker/fullback, Martin has 2,006 rushing yards, 21 rushing TDs and 216 tackles in his career. Both Martin and Columbus senior all-state lineman Kody Schalk first started as a freshman.
“He’s very dedicated, and not just on the field, but off the field, he tries to lead,” Columbus coach Blake Burns told me last year regarding Martin “…He works extremely hard.”
Galena features junior Brett Sarwinski, among the state’s top all-around athletes. The 3A Basketball POY, Sarwinski accounted for 19 offensive touchdowns in a 6-2 season for his dad, coach Beau Sarwinski (112-39 career). Tyler Little is one of the most slept on prospects in Kansas and Sarwinski knows someone is going to find a steal at the next level. He has a lot of versatility, perhaps what will make him the most valuable at the next level. He can play TE, OL, FB, WR, DE, OLB if needed. Little is nearly 6’5” and weighs 240 entering junior year. He has an offer from Eastern Michigan at FBS level. Sarwinski has built Galena into one of the most consistent programs in Kansas. He has 17 of the schools 20 all-time playoff victories as head coach & has taken the program to a new level.
Frontenac and 6A Derby have Kansas’ top-two defensive lines. Senior TE/DE Landon Dean (6-5, 245) has committed to Oklahoma State. The Raiders have key seniors up front with lineman Cruz Blair (6-1, 240), QB/DE Collin McCartney (6-2, 200), and Lane Franklin (6-2, 260). The quartet are all highly acclaimed players for 10th year coach Mark Smith (69-29). FHS will have to find some linebackers step up in 2021 to give them a complete defense. Mario Menghini (6-2, 185 Jr.) is expected to be a big-time player offensively for the Raiders as a running back that also has the ability to catch passes. He was first team all-league as a sophomore last year
McCartney rushed for 637 yards, passed for 1,175 and accounted for 21 offensive touchdowns. Frontenac finished 6-5 in ’20.
Those three teams have taken turns winning the CNC title each of the past seven falls. All will start in the preseason top-5/10 this year. Columbus and Galena are in District 1 and Frontenac headlines District 2. Girard, another CNC squad that upset Columbus in the playoffs, and Prairie View (8-2) are strong D2 teams. Many think Girard looked the best & most physical at times out of Friday’s jamboree with Frontenac, Pittsburg & Galena. Trojans are very underrated & led by LB Brecken Troike & QB Luke Niggamen.
They are all known for defense. Columbus, Galena, Frontenac, Girard and Prairie View were in the top-17 in 3A scoring defense.
In ’19, Frontenac was third in 3A scoring defense with 7.7 points allowed and Prairie View fourth at 9.0. Columbus was ninth at 15.9.
Cheney’s Voth and Holcomb’s Kaden Johnson are both top-25 Kansas quarterbacks who delivered more than 2,300 yards of total offense in 2020. Cheney finished 9-1, and Holcomb 7-2. They are expected to headline District 8. Cheney is third and fourth in 3A offense the last two years. Levi Knoll will be one of the top two-way players in 3A this season for Holcomb and HC Kent Teeter. Can Cheney break into a 10-game winning season this year? Nine wins are the most in a season for the Cardinals. Holcomb has two state titles in recent memory in 4A-II under Teeter (2015, 2017).
Still, the major question of Class 3A is: Can anyone defeat Andale?
Andale reported 81 players out on the first day of practice. Frontenac had 62. Wichita Collegiate had 51, though two are out for the season. Several teams were in the mid-50s, including Holcomb. Riley County has 41, and Galena 35.
“We call them the gold standard,” Black said. “And they really are. I mean, they kind of set the example, and we all in 3A want to be like them and wish we had what they had. They have got great numbers. The community is very supportive of all their athletics. Their kids work super hard. Their commitment to the weight room is off the charts.”
Andale – no regular season losses under coach Dylan Schmidt
Since 2010, Andale and Collegiate have been in AVCTL Division 4. They are separated by 28 miles, most of it on KS-96.
Since Dylan Schmidt took over as head coach, the Indians are 12-1, 11-1, 13-0 and 12-0. Andale’s last regular season loss was 28-21 to Buhler in Week 7 of the 2016 season. Collegiate and Andale first started playing football in 1995, according to the Kansas Football History database.
In 2019, Class 3A was known for its depth. Six teams won either nine or 10 games. No one won 11 or 12. Andale was 13-0. That year, Andale by far led 3A in offense with 49.7 points a contest.
Andale has ranked second and first the last two years in Class 3A scoring defense with 7.31 points and 6.5 points allowed a contest. In 2020, Andale paced 3A with 51.1 points a game. Rock Creek was 8.1 points behind. Andale’s margin between 1-2 was bigger than the margin between the second and eighth-best 3A offenses.
“It is the barometer for us to get to,” Black said. “And the kids, we remind them of that all the time. They are a great program with great people, great coaches, that we respect them. They respect us. It’s good for our kids, because they know if they want to be state champs, they have got through (Andale).”
Andale is 7-4 against Collegiate, including five wins in a row, all in the last four years. In ’15, Collegiate beat Andale, 46-45, in overtime in Week 3. That marks Andale’s second-to-last regular season loss.
Since then, Collegiate has fallen 32-21 in ’16, 35-7 in ’17, 55-0 in ’18 and 47-7 in ’19. Last year, the teams met again in Week 8 to decide the district title. Andale won 43-14 and then 49-0 in the state semifinals.
This year, the Indians return six offensive and five defensive starters. Very little offensive production is back. Senior quarterback Wyatt Spexarth returns. Senior running back/linebacker Logan Spexarth recorded 70 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.
Juniors Cody Parthemer (RB/DB) and Riley Marx (RB/LB) are among the key returners. Andale finished second in 4A track in the spring. Two senior linemen, Beau Kerschen and Noah Bruce were shot put state medalists. Marx and Kerschen finished 1-2 in the discus, and Marx won the javelin state title.
Andale and Collegiate are in District 7 with Halstead (4-5), Hesston (4-5) and Clearwater (7-3). Hesston had its first losing season since 1999.
“Obviously everybody shoots for them, but for us, we are going to have to go through them twice,” Black said. “And so they are definitely high on our radar, and the utmost respect for Dylan and his program, and what they have got going.”
Black said “hats off” to those who can consistently maintain a great program. He specifically mentioned New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, Alabama’s Nick Saban, Derby’s Brandon Clark and Schmidt.
“We are lucky to play them,” Black said. “I mean, I am glad we get to play them. That lets us know where we are and what we have got to shoot for, and so hopefully that becomes motivation for our kids, I feel like it does. But yeah, it’s very much I think a plus for us to have to compete against those guys.”
Collegiate: continuity with coaching staff
Black, offensive coordinator Bill Messamore and quarterbacks coach Mike Gehrer are all on staff together in 2021. They are the only three head coaches since Gehrer first took over in 1990. Collegiate has zero losing seasons since a 4-5 mark in ’91. The Spartans have three state titles, in ’94 and ’00 with Gehrer as head coach and ’09 when Messamore was in charge. Overall, this is Black’s 33rd year of coaching.
“We have all been a part of each other’s staffs, so definitely have a lot of continuity between the three of us,” Black said.
Collegiate has high expectations for several other key players. The Spartans graduated twins Nick and Jack Herrman, a pair of standout linemen. Sam Agustin earned second team all-conference linebacker status in ’20. He has offered to play offensive line and replace Nick Herrman.
“Sammy’s a great athlete,” Black said. “He’s had a really great offseason working. He’s a great leader. I mean, he’s just a phenomenal kid. Super smart, so I am really expecting big things out of him.”
Senior Bryon Knight started at the end of the year at defensive line. He is expected to perform on both sides. Juniors Mason Charbonneau and Brett Black are key linemen.
“Bryon has got great technique,” Black said. “He has gotten really strong over the offseason.”
Other 3A notes:
District 1: Galena has never had a losing season since coach Sarwinski took over the program in 2007. Overall, the Bulldogs have been over .500 every year since ’03. Columbus is 16-3 in the last two seasons. The only regular season loss was 23-0 in 2019. The teams met in the 2020 opener and Columbus won, 25-6. This year’s game is one of the premier 2021 district games.
District 2: Anderson County has lineman Chaylin Peine, who holds offers from FCS’ Central Arkansas and Southeast Missouri State. Prairie View’s Kyle Littrell has installed a physical style. PV is 8-2, 10-1 and 8-2 in the last three years. 2019 marked the school’s best year in 49 seasons. Back Bodi Isenhower is a top returning player. Littrell is a Louisburg graduate and Army veteran who served in the Persian Gulf. PV is a contender on the 3A east that not many are talking about.
“It’s just a mindset, but you have got to develop it, and you ram into the kids’ head, because there’s going to be bumps and bruises along the way,” Littrell told me last year. “And kids aren’t going to feel great. And it’s just one of those things where you taught them: is it injury or is it pain? Because if it’s pain, you can play. If it’s injury, we need to get somebody else in here, and you need to decide right now which one it is.”
District 3: Topeka Hayden and Perry-Lecompton should again pace the district. P-L sustained major graduation losses after back-to-back state runner-ups to Andale. Reichen Rush ran for 947 yards and 11 scores. Hayden junior lineman Joe Otting has multiple FBS offers. You can expect Hayden to always be solid under HC Bill Arnold.
D4 – Holton (9-2) is the headliner, while Sabetha (5-4) and Rock Creek (5-3) are possible breakout candidates. RC has junior Yanci Spiller, expected to be one of the state’s better defensive backs. Holton has two straight years of win improvement under Brooks Barta and only one losing season from ’97-2020. Jace Boswell is expected to be a breakout player this season for Holton who was hit heavy by graduation. RC had a two-win improvement from ’19.
D5 – Riley County (8-2), Concordia (5-4) and Marysville (4-5) should be the leaders. Former assistant Erik Willimon takes over for Steve Wagner, who retired after 37 seasons as head coach. Marysville’s Peyton Smith is back after 65 tackles and a first team all-league punting year.
D6 – This should be a very close district between three defensive-minded squads in Scott City (6-4), Colby (6-3) and Southeast of Saline (9-1). SES coach Mitch Gebhardt is 99-72 in his career and 71-36 in his first 11 seasons at SES.
All three teams were top-12 in 3A scoring defense last year. Southeast features senior linebacker Matthew Rodriguez, who has 189 tackles in the past two years. Rodriguez was a 3A Defensive Player of the Year finalist. Gebhardt calls Rodriguez, a two-time wrestling state runner-up, the prototypical linebacker.
Scott City has just six seniors and a brand-new offensive line. One-win Russell returns Jesse Whitmer, a four-year starter who has led the Broncos in tackles in each of his first three years.
2020 Class 3A Top-15 Scoring Offenses (of 48)
Rock Creek 43.0
Riley County 40.4
Southeast of Saline 36.5
Wichita Collegiate 35.2
Topeka Hayden 34.6
Caney Valley 30.7
2020 Class 3A Top-15 Scoring Defenses (of 48)
Southeast of Saline 7.3
Topeka Hayden 12.1
Prairie View 14.9
Riley County 15.8
Scott City 17.1
Wichita Collegiate 17.6
(Tie) Caney Valley/Frontenac 19.9