By CONOR NICHOLL
Sports In Kansas has published 17 preseason stories – every class and every position group. Class 6A is the final classification preview to run. While Derby is the favorite, the class is deep. Blue Valley Northwest had the biggest turnaround ever by a 6A state titlist last season. SIK looks at possible BVNW-esque teams for 2022 as well as traditional contenders. Statistical rankings from Conor Nicholl, SIK; Washburn Rural interviews from Bethany Bowman, SIK.
Class 6A: Derby is the clear favorite, but who is this year’s Blue Valley Northwest?
Derby is the preseason No. 1 ranked team for the seventh straight season. Coach Brandon Clark’s juggernaut has played in seven consecutive state championship games and finished titlist, titlist, runner-up, titlist, titlist, titlist and runner-up last season to Blue Valley Northwest.
In the last nine seasons, Derby is 103-9 with three undefeated seasons. The Panthers have zero home losses since the ’14 playoffs, and no home defeats since the ’13 season opener. This season, Derby is again loaded and the consensus top team.
The Panthers have running back Dylan Edwards, who accumulated more than 3,000 all-purpose yards, earned Gatorade Player of the Year and committed to Notre Dame. Defensive end Sam Same has committed to Iowa State. Linebacker Miles Wash recorded 127 tackles and is headed to FCS Southern Illinois. Derby returns five of its top-seven tacklers. The Panthers by far led 6A with 52.2 points per game.
However, Derby lost, 41-21, to Blue Valley Northwest in the 6A state championship last year. BVNW delivered the all-time biggest turnaround by a 6A titlist, per SIK research and state historian Brett Marshall. Clint Rider was all classes coach of the year. Northwest went from 0-9 to 2-7 to 5-2 to 12-1 and won the first state crown in school annals.
This season, Northwest is ranked second behind running back Grant Stubblefield. He cleared 1,500 rushing yards for the second-best offense at 43.8 points a contest. He is also reigning 6A Basketball Player of the Year. Stubblefield has a football offer from Columbia University of the Ivy League. Senior tight end Aidan Behymer (6-5, 225) has offers from two Ivy League schools (Brown, Cornell), and the FCS trio of North Dakota, Northern Iowa and South Dakota State. Junior defensive back Trey Ridley has an Iowa State offer.
Wichita Northwest went 8-3 and, despite some inopportune turnovers at crucial times, paced 5A in scoring offense with 52 points a game. NW is third-ranked in 6A. The Grizzlies were 5A state runner-ups in ’18, ’19 and ’20 and look for their first-ever state title.
Senior LJ Phillips returns after 134 carries for 1,982 yards and 26 rushing scores. Junior Cencere Thompson has 129 carries for 1,180 yards and 12 TDs. Northwest averaged 559 total yards and 442 rushing yards a contest. Junior Michael Lopez returns after 28 catches for 499 yards and four scores. Junior Jayce Glasper takes over at quarterback after he saw time in a reserve role.
Senior Caden Ross is 6-foot-2, 245 and returns after 13 tackles for loss.
Dalton Schraeder is 6-foot-5, 285. His brother, Ryan, went to Maize, Butler County Community College and Valdosta State before he played left tackle for the NFL Atlanta Falcons.
Junior strong safety Jacob King is 5-10, 185 and forced three fumbles last season. Tre Birch stands 6-2, 285 and is an expected breakout player.
“Big time DL who will explode on recruiting scene this year,” Martin told SIK.
Blue Valley West (7-5) and Olathe West (7-3) follow at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively.
Class 6A has a deep group of contenders, including Blue Valley, Junction City, Lawrence, Lawrence Free State, Manhattan, Olathe North, Washburn Rural, Wichita East and Wichita Heights.
The addition of Wichita Northwest should make this the state’s highest scoring classification. Last year, 6A averaged 25.67 points per game, just behind 3A’s 25.74 points a contest for the most among 11-man classes, per SIK research. However, 6A defenses allowed 28.8 points a contest, easily the most for any 11-man class.
Three trends that could influence 2022
Northwest’s historical improvement and win against Derby was part of three 6A trends – all that should play a factor in 2022.
1.Derby is again the favorite to come out of the West and will likely lead the class in scoring. The Panthers were second in scoring offense in ’20 at 44.6, just behind Junction City. Derby also led 6A in scoring offense in ’19 with 53.9 points a game and in ’18 at 44.6.
Since Week 4 of the 2015 season, Derby has lost five games. Those opponents have scored 49, 50, 36, 45 and 41 points. It’s going to take a big offensive night to beat the Panthers.
2. Certain teams will continue to post winning seasons – but might not be in the race at season’s end.
Manhattan, which has three playoff losses to Derby in the last five years, has 14 straight winning seasons. Blue Valley has won at least eight games in seven of the last nine years. MaxPreps noted Blue Valley is 164-55 in the last 20 years, the best for any 6A program.
Junction City has 13 winning seasons in the last 14 years. Outside of a severely curtailed 2020 from COVID, Lawrence Free State has not had a losing season since ’05.
None of those four teams have made a final since at least 2013.
While all these teams are considered contenders, none are preseason top-five.
3.Who will be this year’s breakout team?
Probably the most compelling part of 6A is which team(s) will break out and possibly finish with the best seasons in their school history?
Some recent history:
In 2016, Olathe North went 3-6. The next year, North opened 1-3, finished 7-4, then went 9-3 and 10-3 with a state title berth.
In 2018, Wichita East posted 3-6, followed by 5-4 and then 7-2, the school’s best record since ’83. WE went 6-4 last season.
Olathe West had a two-win improvement last year to 7-3, the most wins in the program’s four season history.
Olathe Northwest won five total games in three years – and then went 6-4 last fall, tied for the most wins in school history. ONW returns WR/DB Micah Geary, a top-10 secondary player for all classes. He has a Benedictine offer and MIAA interest.
In the last five years, Blue Valley West went 1-8, 3-6, 7-4, 1-5 and 7-5 and state semifinalist, which tied the second-best showing in school annals. Athlete Jack Schneider is a superb two-way player.
The team that possibly fits Blue Valley Northwest’s mold more than any other?
Junior Blues loaded after best season since 1996
Steve Buhler has coached Washburn Rural since 2013. The Junior Blues finished 5-4, 2-7, 5-4, 7-4, 4-5 and 7-3 in his first six seasons. Then, Rural delivered a combined 7-12 record for two seasons.
Last year, Rural broke through with a four-win improvement, finished 8-2 and split with Centennial League rivals Junction City and Manhattan. Rural lost to Lawrence Free State, 42-10, in the playoffs.
Rural scored 35.1 points per game and allowed 17.5 – a similar profile to Blue Valley Northwest. Two years ago, BVNW tallied 32 a contest and allowed 20.9 in its 5-2 season. Rural won a share of the Centennial League for the first time since 1996. It marked WR’s most wins since the 8-1 record in ’96. Washburn Rural’s last double-digit winning season came in the 12-0 state title squad in 1989.
“We are trying to get some consistency with the program,” WR coach Steve Buhler said. “Right now, if you look back over the last 10 years since I have been here, we have a good year, and then we kind of drop off a little bit, and then we go back up a little bit, so for me as a coach, being able to string together a couple of really good seasons is important for the program, important for these kids to get on that consistency that you see all the other top programs in the state end up with.”
Like Blue Valley Northwest was entering ‘21, Rural is highly talented and experienced with 13 returning starters.
“We want to be 8-2, if not better, and get a little deeper in the playoffs,” Buhler said.
Junior quarterback Branton DeWeese, and junior twins JC and Jaren Heim have Washburn University offers. DeWeese completed 135 of 204 passing for 1,640 yards and 21 scores against just three interceptions. JC Heim, a running back/linebacker, finished with 74 tackles. Jaren Heim plays safety.
“The main thing is continuing to work, build off our success and keep that energy going for this season,” DeWeese said.
Senior Ty Weber is on the short list for state’s best linebacker. He recorded 106 tackles last year and has 306 all-time, best in Rural history. Weber told SIK’s Bethany Bowman that last year he played around 70 percent healthy. This year, he’s at full health and excited to show what we can bring. Weber had interest from national high school power IMG Academy, though elected to stay with the Junior Blues.
Weber was first team all-state SIK.
“Our preparation here at Washburn Rural, it’s second to none,” Weber said.
Seniors Shane Sexton and Zach Franco return on the line, along with tight end/H-back Lukas Hanks (6-4, 240).
“The biggest thing we want to do is make an even deeper playoff run than we did last year,” Sexton said. “We want to play better, just sharper, and we want to just impress everybody that comes out and watches us.”
Junior Packson Bettis delivered eight sacks. Senior Amr Sabbarini delivered 37 catches for 457 yards and seven TDs. Hanks and specialist Dayten Smoot were honorable mention all-state.
“We have a good defense, solid offense, our coaches are really good, they always help us through adversity and stuff, so practice is much harder, and we go through games, and it just feels like a breeze for us,” Sabbarini said.
WR opens with three key games, including versus 6A Wichita East, a 6A contender. No Centennial League team has won a championship since Junction City in 2008. Rural has three all-time titles, the last in ’89. Since ’92, the Junior Blues’ farthest advancement is the quarterfinals.
Another similarity – entering last season, BV Northwest’s top finish since ’99 was a quarterfinal showing.
“It’s probably going to be a battle back and forth between who scores more touchdowns,” Hanks said of the East matchup. “I mean our defense is pretty ready, but I mean, they got some speed, but I think our defense will hold down and offense will produce as always.”
Other Teams that are similar to Blue Valley Northwest’s rise and similar profile:
Blue Valley West (7-5) – Senior all-purpose player Jack Schneider is back after 768 all-purpose yards as a passer, rusher, receiver and returner. He is part of a defense that returns nine of 10 interceptions. Junior Drew Ryan picked off four passes. Junior Brody McManamon is a top-10 ’24 prospect after 22 tackles, 2.5 for loss.
Olathe Northwest (6-4) – Northwest has enjoyed significant defensive improvement and returns senior WR/DB Micah Geary, a top-10 secondary player. He has a Benedictine offer. Three years ago, Northwest allowed 40.7 points a game. In the last two seasons, ONW has allowed 20.4 and 23.6 points a contest. Geary allowed just two completions last season.
Olathe West (7-3) – Senior quarterback Mason McGavran is back after 1,232 rushing and 1,326 passing yards. The Owls scored 35.5 points per game, which ranked eighth in the class. Senior left guard Dylan Birge (6-4, 270) anchors the front.
Wichita East (6-4) – East has continued to rise and features possibly the state’s best wide receiver corps for junior quarterback DaeOnte Mitchell. He accounted for 35 offensive scores. The group includes MJ and Ashton White, and LT Robinson and Dayontay Standifer returns at linebacker. The offensive line returns just two starters.
Blue Valley (8-2) – WR Andre Davis is a top-seven all-classes prospect after 53 catches for 883 yards and has committed to Kansas State, per recruiting leader 247 Sports.
Manhattan (9-2) – Manhattan easily paced 6A in scoring defense with 13.7 points a game. Linebacker Jaxon Vikander is a standout player. Dual threat quarterback Keenan Schartz is back after more than 1,600 yards of total offense.
Olathe North (8-3) – Olathe North was second in the class in scoring defense with 15.5 points a contest. The Parrish twins (Josh, Jason) are elite athletes for one of Kansas’ most consistent programs. Senior defensive lineman Devin Lowe is an accomplished player and one of Kansas’ biggest players at 6-3, 350.
Junction City (8-2) – Junction City, which opens in a key road game at Hays High, was third in 6A with 16.1 points allowed a contest. Dual threat quarterback Xavion Felton accounted for 20 offensive scores. Senior Elijah Clarke-Boyd is a talented defensive end at 6-0, 235. Randall Zimmerman has 208 career victories.
Lawrence Free State (8-3) – Free State went from winless in the 2020 COVID-shortened season to a sizable improvement. Senior Calvin Clements (6-7, 290) has committed to Baylor and is a top-15 all-classes prospect.
Lawrence (9-3) – Lawrence picked up Topeka Highland Park transfer Tyrell Reed during the summer. He rushed 73 times for 884 yards and 10 scores.
Dodge City (6-4) – Dodge City was seventh in 6A scoring defense with 19.2 points per game in the first season under Glenn O’Neill, a legendary coach with great past success at Scott City (football and basketball) and Topeka Seaman (football). DC brings back senior inside linebacker Luke Barker, a state wrestling champion, and Remington Miller (58 tackles). DC improved from 4-6 in ’20.
2021 Top-15 Scoring Offense (out of 32):
Blue Valley Northwest 43.8
Shawnee Mission Northwest 43.0
Olathe North 37.0
Blue Valley 36.6
Dodge City 36.3
Olathe West 35.5
Wichita East 35.2
Washburn Rural 35.1
Free State 33.1
Junction City 31.8
Blue Valley North 28.1
Blue Valley West 25.8
2021 Top-15 Scoring Defense (out of 32)
Olathe North 15.5
Junction City 16.1
Blue Valley Northwest 17.2
Washburn Rural 17.5
Free State 17.8
Dodge City 19.2
Garden City 20.0
Wichita East 22.4
Blue Valley West 23.5
Olathe Northwest 23.6
Shawnee Mission West 24.0
Blue Valley 24.9
Sports in Kansas 6A All-State Football – 2021
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Sports in Kansas 6A First Team All-State Offense
QB- Mikey Pauley, Blue Valley Northwest, Sr.
RB- Dylan Edwards, Derby, Sr. (POY)
RB- Grant Stubblefield, Blue Valley Northwest, Jr.
RB- Sage Huffman, Blue Valley West, Soph.
RB- Vinny Smith, Manhattan, Sr.
WR- Mekhi Miller, Blue Valley North, Sr.
WR- Baylor Bowen, Lawrence, Sr.
WR- Andre Davis, Blue Valley, Jr.
TE- Cole Watson, Lawrence, Jr.
OL- Brayce Martin, Blue Valley West, Sr.
OL- Calvin Clements, Free State, Jr.
OL- Nick Herzog, Blue Valley, Sr.
OL- Noah Smith, Lawrence, Sr.
OL- Alex Key, Derby, Sr.
ATH- Malik O’Atis, SM Northwest, Jr.
K- Charlie Weinrich, Blue Valley, Sr.
K-Emanuel Aguilar, Dodge City, Sr.
Sports in Kansas 6A First Team All-State Defense
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DL- Gabe Peterson, Blue Valley Northwest, Sr. (POY)
DL- Tai Newhouse, Free State, Sr.
DL- Danny Saili, Topeka, Sr.
DL- Andon Carpenter, Derby, Sr.
DL- Terrell Elliott, Garden City, Sr.
LB- Hayden Essex, Blue Valley, Sr.
LB- Drew Ranallo, Blue Valley Northwest, Sr.
LB- Miles Wash, Derby, Jr.
LB- Keghan McConnell, Junction City Sr.
LB- Ty Weber, Washburn Rural, Jr.
DB- Jacob Parrish, Olathe North, Sr.
DB- Jet Dineen, Free State, Sr. (POY)
DB- Will Kryzkowski, Olathe West, Sr.
DB- Colby Klieman, Manhattan, Sr.
DB- Michael Allen, Blue Valley, Sr.
ATH- Tobi Osunsanmi, Wichita East, Sr.
P- Mason McGavran, Olathe West, Sr.
RET- Anthony Favrow, Olathe West, Sr.
Coach: Clint Rider, Blue Valley Northwest, 6A State Champions
Sports in Kansas 6A All-State Honorable Mention
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TJ Jones – Junction City, Lukas Hanks – Washburn Rural, Cooper Zwart – Olathe West, Jordan Allen – Olathe South, Cortez Velasco – SM West, Dayten Smoot – Washburn Rural, Devan Lowe- Olathe North, Kenton Simmons – Lawrence, Easton Wasinger – BV Northwest, Alex Gunderson – Olathe NW, Zach Darche – Blue Valley West, Parker Leise – SM East, Jack Schnieder – BV West, Elijah Clarke-Boys – Junction City, Jaxon Vikander – Manhattan, Joel Deppe – BVNW, Jaxon Goldberg – BVN, , DaeOnte Mitchell – Wichita East, Christian Sicard – Campus, , Lucas Conover – Olathe Northwest, Spencer Davis – SM North, Micah Geary – Olathe Northwest, Caleb Wiese – Garden City, Zack Koesengphet – Garden City, Dylan Birge – Olathe West, Tucker Smith – Dodge City, Dylan Smith – Dodge City, ldo Avalos – Liberal, Kelvin Rico – Garden City, Omar Velazquez – Dodge City, Emanuel Aguilar – Dodge City, Santonio Turner – Dodge City, Daniel Sanchez – Dodge City, D’Andre Vontress – Dodge City, Joel Bellows – Garden City, Caquoy Patterson – Wichita East, Tymar’dre Williams – Wichita East, Dialo Watson – Wichita South, Zavion Parks-Ckarke – Wichita West, Cayden Brown – Derby, Dylan Conn – Derby, Quentin Dorsey – Derby, Jameer Clemons – Derby, Mercer Thatcher – Derby, Drake Thatcher – Derby, Jonas Vickers – Derby, Cole Minton – Derby, Greyson Michael Holbert, Solomon – Blue Valley, Steven Whitter – BVNW, Brooks Lowe – BV West, Andrew Long – Blue Valley, Zach Yates – BVNW, Sterling Lockett – Blue Valley, Jayden Mayfield – BV West, Jack Cecil – Blue Valley, Drew Kaufman – BVNW, Clayton Kavlick – Blue Valley, Josh Cusick – BVNW, Drew Daney – Olathe South, Kael Farkes – SMNW, Jordan Brown – Free State, Jack Meylan – SMNW, Logan Oberle – SM North, Jayden Qquendo – Olathe NW, Jackson Davis – Olathe North, Lamarquez Lee – Free State, Kayden Pennewell – SMNW, Ben Danaher – SM South, Dane Hutchins – Olathe West, Jake Schneider – SM North, Noah Palmer – Olathe North, Avion Nelson – Lawrence, Michael Stankiewicz – Olathe South, Grant Glasgow – Lawrence, CJ Elrichs – Olathe Northwest, Truman Juelsgaard – Lawrence, Tylan Alejos – Topeka, Robby Bolin – Washburn Rural, Blake Reeder – SMNW, Cade McIlvaine – Manhattan, TJ Osa – Junction City, Danny Saili – Topeka, Rudy Vargas – Junction City, Landon MacEwan – Washburn Rural, Chaz Ruffin _ Junction City, Giles Frederickson – Washburn Rural, Joe Hall – Manhattan, Grant Snowden – Manhattan, B.J. Shields – Olathe North, Dane Hutchins – Olathe West, Jake McClure – Gardner Edgerton, Lucas Anderson – Gardner Edgerton, Charlie DeZube – Blue Valley, Henry Martin – BV North, Cole Stratton – BV North, Max Muehlberger – BVNW, Aidan Behmeyer – BVNW, Christian Repass -BVNW,