By CONOR NICHOLL
“Just run fast” – Maize was great last season; the influx of new starters has made them even better
ANDOVER – Last season marked the best fall in Maize football history. The Eagles finished 10-3 and earned 5A state runner-up. Maize delivered 35.4 points a game, seventh best in the classification.
The Eagles generated 7.6 yards per play and 408 yards a game. Defensively, Maize allowed 21.8 points a contest, No. 13 in the classification. The Eagles permitted 5.3 yards per play.
Maize’s stars are well established: quarterback Avery Johnson, running back Daeshaun Carter, and wide receivers Bryce Cohoon and Justin Stephens. Johnson, the state’s top recruit, has committed to Kansas State, Cohoon to Syracuse. Defensively, Maize features Caden Miranda, a first team all-league selection.
This summer, though, Maize realized it could elevate another level. During summer 7-on-7, Maize added wide receiver Bryson Hayes. The sophomore’s parents were talented sprinters. His older sister, Teagan, had a successful career at Emporia State track. Hayes played baseball his entire life and was part of Maize’s JV team on the diamond this spring. His parents have provided simple advice regarding his speed.
“Just run fast, just use my genetics and use my blessings,” Hayes said.
At a Sharp Performance summer combine event held at Maize, Hayes delivered a blazing fast 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash. This is one of the top recorded 40 times by a Kansan in the last several years. Plus, Maize has junior Jaeden Martin.
“That’s really when coach took notice that we would insane if we were all on the field at the same time, me Bryce, Justin, Jaeden,” Hayes said.
In Week 1, Hayes enjoyed a breakout performance with three catches for 141 yards and two scores in a 78-7 win at Topeka.
In Week 2, Maize had a highlighted game against Andover Central, the reigning 4A state runner-up. AC is consistently solid and allowed 12.4 points a game in ’21, second-best in the classification. The Jaguars hadn’t lost a regular season home game since Week 5 of the 2018 season.
“They are going to give people a lot of trouble,” Maize coach Gary Guzman said. “They have got some good skill guys, some physical guys. They are scrappy.”
The game was tied at seven early in the second quarter when Johnson tossed a short pass to Hayes on the left side. Hayes sprinted down the left sideline for a 78-yard touchdown. AC never tied the game again.
“I knew I was getting the ball, so I just caught the ball, and I just turned,” Hayes said. “… My blocking was incredible on that play. My line did their job.”
“Bryson Hayes, sophomore kid who is electrifying basically,” Guzman added. “The kid can go.”
In the third quarter, Johnson found Martin for a 41-yard touchdown pass that effectively put the game out of reach. Maize won, 42-14, the most points the Jaguars had permitted since the ’16 season opener.
“They have so many weapons on both sides of the ball,” AC coach Derek Tuttle said. “I think their explosiveness of their defensive line gave us trouble in terms of being able to keep the chains moving.”
Helped by the experienced skill players, new receivers, retooled offensive line, Maize has averaged 10.9 yards per play. Johnson, the reigning 5A offensive player of the year, has thrown for 4,785 yards with 41 scores in his career.
“We returned a lot of leaders on both sides of the ball,” junior right guard Cole Chalashtari, an emerging top Class of 2024 recruit, said. “And so I think that will definitely help, and then them being leaders will help fill in those other spots that we graduated, bring up younger guys, because everyone knows what they are doing.”
Johnson averaged 7.9 and 8.6 yards per attempt his sophomore and junior seasons. After two games, he’s at 15.8. Of the top-5 quarterbacks nationally in passing yards, Johnson has a higher yards per pass attempt than four of them, per MaxPreps statistical lists.
“It’s tough, because on film you see Maize throw a lot of deep balls because Avery’s arm is good,” Tuttle said. “But then they are such a balanced offense, they can hit those quick screens like that, and then you’re forced to run and make the tackles against those quick guys like him.”
Defensively, Maize is at 3.4 yards allowed per play. That included just 166 yards allowed versus Andover Central in a performance Guzman labeled “amazing.” Maize delivered 17 tackles for loss, including four from Miranda, four from junior Christian Hanson and a pair by senior defensive end Elijah Cunningham.
“That’s what makes us great is having faith in each other and know each person is going to do their job,” Cunningham said.
Guzman knows his team has “a long ways to go,” but the added influx of new talent has yielded a highly impressive start. Maize is currently ranked No. 2 in 5A behind three-time defending champion Mill Valley. Hayes has quickly emerged as the No. 3 Kansas prospect in the Class of 2025 by at least one recruiting site. Maize has its home opener Friday against 0-2 Newton.
“We do feel like we have a special group that’s going to continue to get better, because of the young guys,” Guzman said.
“It’s going to be a fun season” – looking at the non-well-known players for Maize, Victoria, Council Grove
The 2-0 start often yields historical footnotes across Kansas. Thomas More Prep-Marian, in 2A, is 2-0 for the first time since 2011. Circle is 2-0 for the first occasion since 2010. Burrton is undefeated after two weeks for the first time in at least 19 years. Oswego has already beat two teams it lost to last fall.
Tescott has defeated two ranked squads in its first year of six-man football. Before this fall, Tescott hadn’t won a season opener in 14 seasons. Tescott was 7-46 in its last six years.
Topeka Highland Park ended a 65-game losing streak, easily the state’s longest, and has won back-to-back games. Leavenworth has enjoyed its first 2-0 in five seasons.
Class 2A, District 2 is a combined 10-0 with Osage City, Council Grove, Eureka, Humboldt and West Franklin. CG and WF have already doubled its win total from ’21. WF has its top start since 2012.
Strength of schedules have varied wildly after two weeks, though three teams – Maize, Council Grove, and Eight-Man, Division II No. 4 Victoria – have all surpassed at least one early season test and enjoyed historical success.
All three have at least one well-known player throughout all classes. With Maize, it’s Johnson, Cohoon, Carter, Miranda and defensive backs Cody Hughbanks and McKinley Joynes. For Victoria, it’s first team all-state athlete Carson Werth, who collected all-league recognition in all three phases.
At Council Grove, wide receiver Ethan Burton is one of the state’s fastest players, a track medalist in the sprints and a Division II Arkansas Tech commit. CG also returned Jaxon Buchman, the Braves’ top linemen each of the past two seasons. Buchman missed Week 2 with injury.
While those standouts have certainly played well, the teams have raised their success through a variety of lesser known players: Maize’s Hayes, Cunningham, Hanson, and Chalashtari; Victoria lineman Vance Hockersmith and quarterback Thaddeus Wohler, and Council Grove’s Brad Eldridge, Jay Johnson and Holden Ziegler.
Maize scored 120 points in the first two contests. It’s likely a school record – and the most Maize has tallied after two contests since at least 1995.
“Just that combination of trying to check the pass along with trying to stop the QB run game gave us some fits,” Tuttle said. “And they are good up front on the offensive line.”
Victoria defeated Kinsley and La Crosse by the 45-point margin at halftime. While both opponents missed key players with injury, each team finished with a winning record in ’21 and should do so again in ’22. It marked the first time in 15 years tradition-laden Victoria opened with back-to-back wins by the mercy rule.
Werth had multiple key Week 1 plays, though did not score a touchdown.
Council Grove, a 1-8 squad last season, allowed the most points per game in 3A last fall. CG dropped down to 2A and was a KPreps Potential Breakout Team. The Braves have opened with back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1992. CG set some individual school records in Week 1.
“It’s been a great season,” Cunningham said. “It’s my last season. I’m kind of waking up and realizing that how much fun it is. Sometimes you get too much into it, just grinding, working too hard, and don’t have any fun, but it’s going be a fun season, and I think everybody is realizing that. Just having fun. Playing as a team.”
“These kids want to win” – Council Grove with back-to-back shutouts for first time since ’92, several defensive school records
This summer, Council Grove coach Butch Hayes believed the Braves could turn the program this year. Hayes is an experienced veteran who served a lengthy stint at Ellis and paced the Railroaders to the best seasons in school history. He spent a couple of years in a variety of roles at Rock Creek. CG, which has won more than six games just once since 1987, won a collective five contests in the last three years.
CG went 1-8 and played a highly challenging 3A schedule. The Braves allowed 46.3 points a contest. Hayes noted the Braves had excellent crowd support even during a challenging year. Once Hayes looked out on the field and saw the Braves had six freshmen. A longtime defensive coach, Hayes is the offensive coordinator. Derron Reddick, a former CG standout, runs the defense.
“We need to put a better product on the field, and I think we will this year, and a lot of things to be excited about, and we just hope we can deliver, that’s for sure,” Hayes said this summer.
CG has close to 40 players out. Hayes has looked for the team to have “a positive outlook,” support one another and have strong team unity. Hayes believed that culture was “a little bit difficult” to instill but has gotten better.
“I have had a lot of good guys come through this program,” Hayes said.
Plus, the switch to 2A was expected to help the Braves. CG is now playing more league and similar-sized schools.
“It fits us better,” Hayes said. “We had a pretty daunting task the last couple of years.”
Hayes pointed to a key Week 2 contest versus Flint Hills League rival Mission Valley as a potential pivot point. The teams are located just 37 miles apart. The last three meetings were decided by four, 22 and overtime, though the squads hadn’t played in three years.
Council Grove opened with a 41-0 win against Central Heights and defeated Northern Heights, 23-0, last week. CG has posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1992.
In Week 1, Ziegler recovered three fumbles, which tied a school mark. Johnson broke the school record with three forced fumbles. The offensive line has continued to improve with Ziegler, junior Jayden Moseley-Cannon, senior Creighton Simecka, junior Connor Garver, sophomore Dax Myers and senior Kahle Jones at tight end. Foreign exchange student Loup Charlier has done strong work in the kicking game.
Hayes was especially pleased with Simecka, a tight end last year.
“These kids want to win, and they are willing to do anything to do it, so it’s easy to put them in different positions and try to help the team out,” Hayes said.
“Every team wants to beat Victoria” – Hockersmith anchoring Knights line for improved team
Victoria senior lineman Vance Hockersmith stood out the Knights’ locker room door after a 49-0 season-opening Week 1 win against Kinsley. Hockersmith is steeped in Victoria tradition. His older brother, Wheaton, was a starting lineman on the ’14 and ’15 state teams. Vance repeated the same phrase.
“Every team wants you,” Vance said. “Every team wants to beat Victoria.”
At the end of his freshman school year, Hockersmith was involved in a serious car accident. Hockersmith missed the bulk of his sophomore season with injury. He returned last year and earned first team all-league offense and second team defense.
“It’s hard sitting on the sidelines and not being able to play with your buddies,” Hockersmith said.
Hockersmith started at offensive guard and nose guard as a junior. He has moved out to defensive end. Defensively, Hockersmith has eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack in two games.
Last season, Victoria delivered 355 yards per contest and 7.7 yards per play. The Knights finished 10-2 and advanced to the state semifinals for the second consecutive year. However, Victoria was outgained in three games, and outgained its opponent by one yard in another contest.
The Knights allowed 222 yards a game and 4.2 yards per play. Victoria went through several key injuries, especially to running back Nate Windholz. Quarterback Grant Schoenrock, a four-year starter, was banged up. Thaddeus Wohler eventually took over at quarterback and Schoenrock went to the backfield. Wohler was honorable mention all-league defensive back.
After two games this season, Victoria is at 10.7 yards per play and permitted four yards a play. The Knights didn’t have Tanis Brungardt, a first team all-state lineman, go out this season. Former standout VHS lineman Zach Von Lintel coaches the front.
“Vance does a good job,” Oberle said. “He has got to be a leader for us up front in terms of being a senior up there.”
Victoria has Hockersmith at guard at 5-foot-6, 140, with talented freshman Kyle Huser at center and sophomore Cale Braun, a first-year starter at the other line position. Huser, whom Oberle called a “very talented young guy,” became a starter on Tuesday of Week 1. Junior William Scherrer is a rotational player.
“He’s a freshman, but he’s learning fast,” Hockersmith said.
In Week 1, they helped Wohler account for five touchdowns, including four rushing.
“The thing I was most pleased with him tonight is I thought he played relaxed,” Oberle said of Wohler after Week 1.
Five players caught a pass, and six players had a rush. In Week 2, five Knights again had a reception.
“I really feel like we have got a lot of guys that (we) can put the ball in their hands,” Oberle said. “And I really feel like defensively, we have got a lot of guys that can get on the field.”
“It starts with you up front” – Maize’s retooled o-line paving the way
Maize had six offensive line starters in ’21, including two who shared a position. The 6-foot-5, 268-pound Chalashtari had always played guard, though moved to center from Week 3 to the first round of the playoffs in ‘21 because of center.
Maize graduated first team all-state lineman Brandon Kerr. Chalashtari has moved back to right guard. Three seniors Jack Kerr (6-0, 213), Zachary Wertz (6-0, 218), and Mason Thrush (6-4, 283) are returning starters. Victor Mercado is Maize’s experienced line coach.
“I tell those guys, it starts with you guys up front,” Guzman said. “If you guys can’t get it done, then we are not going to get it done. Those guys, we put a lot of pressure on them, because they are the ones that are going to help this offense move. They are the ones that are going to give Avery some time to throw the football. They are the ones that are going to open up some holes for our running backs. Without them, we can’t perform the way we are capable of performing.”
Thrush moved from right to left tackle. Sophomore Jonathan Gould (6-3, 185) has stepped in. For both games, Maize has averaged at least 9.4 yards per play. Last season, Maize did not exceed that number until Week 5. The Eagles should be significantly favored in back-to-back home games against Newton and Salina South before key road games against Maize South and Derby. Chalashtari noted Maize’s offensive line wasn’t really “set in stone” until Week 1.
“He’s doing a good job,” Guzman said of Gould. “I mean for being in this position. Throw him out here in a varsity game as a sophomore at that position at the offensive line where he knows where he has got to protect the quarterback, where he knows he has got to create some openings, I mean, that’s tough.”
The fastest player in Kansas? Hayes with big play ability
Maize knew Hayes was fast. At the Sharp Performance day, several Maize standouts, including Joynes, Carter and Stephens ran. No one bettered 4.65 except Hayes. At another showcase, Mill Valley’s Mikey Bergeron, on the short list for state’s best defensive back, delivered a 4.55. Cohoon ran 4.52 at the March 12 combine. Salina Central running back Keyon McMillian ran a 4.48 this summer.
“I am faster than Stephens, but Bryce we don’t know yet,” Hayes said. “We still got to race.”
Against Topeka, Hayes caught scoring passes of 40 and 47 yards in a 28-point first quarter. Tuttle saw Hayes’ speed on film.
“That’s the big challenge is tackling him in open space,” Tuttle said.
Maize recorded 15 plays and scored a touchdown, though didn’t have a gain of longer than 18 yards before Hayes’ game-turning catch. He caught a quick bubble screen, had a block from Stephens, juked junior Collin Sherran, and burned everyone down the sideline.
“We all knew he had speed, but then for him to come out and show it on the football field was totally different,” Chalashtari said. “He showed today, being able to get to the edge and just beat people off.”