By CONOR NICHOLL
Sports In Kansas continues with its classification previews. The smallest six classes are currently up at Sports In Kansas, plus positional breakdowns. Follow along for video interviews on SIK platforms, too. Class 5A: Can depth-laden Mill Valley, with the state’s top defense, win its fourth straight state title? Can Maize and Kapaun Mt. Carmel, with high-level skill player recruits, break through?
Class 5A: Three-time defending champion Mill Valley with excellent infrastructure, depth, talent and defense
In 2020, Mill Valley had a senior-laden team that won the 5A state title and was widely considered Kansas’ best squad. The Jaguars featured all-purpose threat Jacob Hartman, quarterback Cooper Marsh, linebacker Kolten Jegen and lineman Ethan Kremer, the all-classes player of the year. All four signed to play college football, either at Hutchinson Community College or a Division II school.
Plus, lineman Sam Hecht and kicker Chris Tennant went to Kansas State as preferred walk-ons. Even with all the talent, MV didn’t have any player ranked in the top-19 Kansas recruits in the Class of 2021, per recruiting leader 247.
Last season, MV returned just four starters, a pair of defensive linemen and two wide receivers: Jared Napoli and Kendrick Jones. The offensive line had one senior starter. Again, the Jaguars featured none of the state’s top-23 prospects for the Class of 2022. Still, MV had a better scoring defense and more yards per play than its ’20 team.
Mill Valley defeated Lawrence by seven in the regular season and rival Aquinas in the state semifinals. Lawrence had five college signees, three more than MV. Aquinas featured Jalen Marshall, a Missouri commit. In the championship, Mill Valley defeated Maize, 28-14. Maize was headlined by then-two juniors: quarterback Avery Johnson and wide receiver Bryce Cohoon. Johnson is the state’s top 2023 prospect and has committed to Kansas State after 5A Offensive Player of the Year honors. Cohoon is headed to Syracuse.
The championship marked coach Joel Applebee’s fifth in his first 12 years at MV. Applebee had great emotion on the field after the game, a moment he still recalled this summer.
“That senior class or even the young kids as well too, they kind of had a chip on their shoulder,” Applebee said to SIK this summer. “Because everybody on the outside probably thought that we didn’t have a chance, and I think that on the inside everybody understands the expectations of our program now.”
Mill Valley allowed 13.8 points per game, second-best in 5A, per SIK statistics. However, Massey Ratings, which accounts for strength of schedule, has MV has the state’s best defense for all 11-man classes. In the last four seasons, the Jaguars rank fourth, second, first and first in Massey Ratings’ defensive formula for all Kansas 11-man teams. (https://masseyratings.com/hsf2021/ks/ratings).
Longtime defensive coordinator Drew Hudgins heavily emphasizes preparation and recently spoke to Kansas coaches on “The separation is in the preparation.”
MV has its motto: “Champions do ordinary things better than anyone else,” with its three pillars of servant leaders: love, care and serve. The team has 13 guiding principles, including “expect to win” and “never give up.” (https://mvjaguar.com/the-program/)
Mill Valley has a remarkable youth program, a core foundational concept that Applebee instilled when he took over at MV after he was a Derby assistant.
“It is a very unique and special situation for a 5A school or 6A school for that matter,” Applebee said.
Before Applebee came along, Mill Valley had one all-time quarterfinal appearance. The young teams play games all day at Jaguar Stadium.
“That’s really the start of it all,” Applebee said. “Is just getting them excited about football and excited to be Jaguars. Over the years really seeing our numbers increase quite a bit based on that program.”
The youth program is highly organized with a board of directors. MV wants a program that “that others will strive to equal.”
“The community is what makes this program,” Applebee said. “We have a tremendous community, and we have a tremendous support system.”
Applebee also captured state titles in ’15 and ’16 and is 5-0 all-time in state games.
Mill Valley is tied with Liberal for the second-most 5A titles ever, per Kansas historian Brett Marshall. Salina Central has the record with six, the last coming in ’05.
From ’16-23, 247 has listed 137 players as top Kansas prospects. This includes multiple players from 5A schools Aquinas and Wichita Northwest; MV beat WNW for the state crowns in ’19 and ’20.
Only one of the 137 players was from Mill Valley. That was offensive lineman Kyle Kelly, the No. 21 prospect in the Class of 2020 and an Arkansas State commit.
That exists again this season. Mill Valley has zero top-15 statewide recruits, per 247.
However, no one builds depth like Mill Valley, which is the consensus No. 1 5A preseason team. MV, Derby and 3A Andale (38 straight wins) are Kansas’ top-three 11-man teams. Derby coach Brandon Clark and Applebee are cousins and best friends. Mill Valley has more than 160 players in the program.
“A really good situation where we have had a lot of competition,” Applebee said. “I would say we probably have more depth than we have ever had in this program.”
Mill Valley has considered the state’s best defense. In SIK’s position groups, MV has the strong case for Kansas’ best linebacking and defensive back corps.
Mill Valley has a top-10 all-classes quarterback with senior Hayden Jay. He threw for 2,343 yards and accounted for 37 offensive scores.
Mill Valley has plenty of elite players, including Jay, center Ty Marsh, defensive linemen Truman Griffith and Grant Rutkowski, linebackers Noah Coy and Broc Worcester and the defensive back trio of Holden Zigmant, Mikey Bergeron and Dylan Massey.
“Every day, we come out here with a Land Shark mentality,” Coy said. “And each day we attack it, 1-0, and through tackle circuit, through everything we do, I just think we know that we need to bring it every single day.”
Junior Blake Neis, a Wichita State baseball commit, was a first team all-Sunflower League lineman and will switch to tight end this fall.
“A strength of ours that we feel like going into the season is the experience we have returning on the defensive side of the ball and the leadership really that comes from that side of the ball, too,” Applebee said. “As well as Hayden and our offensive line that has pretty good experience as well. We really feel like the leadership has been really, really good this offseason, and really good this summer, too.”
Junior Mason Kemp (6-6, 203) will play right tackle.
“Really had a fine season for us last year,” Applebee said. “And we expect him to have an even better season this year. He has made big strides in the weight room, big strides in his weight gain, and really feel like he could be a high-caliber player for us on the offensive line.”
Bergeron, considered an MIAA talent, was first team all-league defensive back. Mill Valley returns its top-four tacklers: Bergeron (97), Worcester (94), Coy (77), Zigmant (77). Griffith, the team’s best defensive athlete and a rising junior star, and Rutkowski combined for 18 sacks. Bergeron has a 39-plus inch vertical.
Zigmant, Jay, Coy, Rutkowski, Marsh and Kemp were honorable mention all-Sunflower League. Neis and Bergeron were 5A SIK First Team All-State.
“No. 1, I mean, I could say this about almost every one of them, he’s a very, very smart football player,” Applebee said of Bergeron. “Loves preparing for games, loves preparing for opponents, loves everything about film study, loves practice, wants to improve every single day, and really ultimately every single rep that he has, whether it’s an individual rep or a 7-on-7 rep or a team rep.”
Maize and Kapaun Mt. Carmel pace other contenders
Similarly to the last several years, the 5A juxtaposition is: Can Mill Valley’s overall talent and depth yield another state title against teams with Power 5 Division I commits?
This year, Mill Valley (12-1), Maize (10-3) and Kapaun Mt. Carmel (10-2) are the top-3 teams. Bishop Carroll (7-3) and Blue Valley Southwest (4-7) are No. 4 and No. 5 in the KPreps preseason rankings.
This class is not overly deep. Wichita Northwest and Wichita Heights bumped to 6A, and St. Thomas Aquinas went to 4A.
Andover, De Soto (6-4), Hays High (8-3), Hutchinson (4-5), Maize South (6-4), Spring Hill (8-2) and Topeka Seaman (6-4) are the other top contenders. Spring Hill had its best season since 1990.
Except for Maize South and Blue Valley Southwest, all those teams finished in the top-15 of 32 5A squads in scoring defense last year. Andover was 7-3 and paced 5A with 12.2 points allowed a contest.
Maize returns its bevy of talent across the board. The Eagles, paced by reigning 5A Coach of the Year Gary Guzman, went to the first state title game in school annals last fall.
Maize took an upset loss to Arkansas City in the regular season, a result that Massey Ratings easily marked as the biggest 11-man upset in Kansas football last year. Maize lost, 42-41, to Derby in a Week 7 classic, and then pulled off five straight wins. That included the 22-21 comeback and game-winning two-point conversion in the final seconds to beat KMC in the state semifinals.
Johnson became the Sunflower State’s first No. 1 recruit to commit to Kansas State in more than 15 years. He rushed 146 times for 1,080 yards and 22 scores, and passed 162 of 296 for 2,549 yards and 20 TDs. Daeshaun Carter is back after 179 carries for 1,178 yards and 16 TDs. Cohoon finished with 804 receiving yards. Connor Padgett and Cody Hughbanks combined for 137 tackles. Cohoon is the No. 15 recruit for Kansas Class of 2023.
Unlike Mill Valley, KMC has limited returning starters for Hall of Fame coach Weston Schartz. Kapaun has not made a final since 1987. Schartz, a legend in the Wichita area, has quickly turned around the Crusaders in two years. Kapaun and Bishop Carroll will play the annual Holy War game at Riverfront Stadium, home of the Wichita Wind Surge minor league baseball team.
Junior quarterback Dylan Hamilton completed 74 of 110 passes for 1,077 yards with 14 scores against three interceptions. Junior Omari Elias was a breakout star last fall with 315 carries for 2,140 yards and 24 scores. Senior Will Anciaux is a Kansas State commit after 20 catches for 283 yards and three TDs. Senior linebacker Nathan Fury recorded 105 tackles. KMC replaces all its offensive line. Anciaux is the state’s No. 9 recruit.
Bishop Carroll, which has won 25 straight Holy Wars, is loaded among the offensive line and has key returning receiver Tate Blasi.
BVSW has navigated the Eastern Kansas League with sub-.500 regular season records before playoff runs. Southwest has never had a winning season since the school was formed in ’10, per Kansas Football History. Junior quarterback Dylan Dunn completed 204 for 322 for 2,587 yards with 19 scores against 10 interceptions. He was the state’s top sophomore in passing yards. Gage Ilges and Sam Swickard combined for 53 catches.
Andover returns quarterback Brady Strausz, who passed for 977 yards and 12 scores. Christian Snipes returns after 45 tackles and six sacks. Nose tackle William Hyde has multiple offers, including FCS.
De Soto (6-4) took a regular season loss to Blue Valley Southwest. All four losses were by 16 points or fewer. De Soto has seven straight winning records. Cole Heitman returns after he picked off three passes. For the third straight year, De Soto will have a new quarterback.
Hutchinson (4-5) took a four-win drop back last season, including a pair of overtime losses. Hutchinson is highly experienced, especially with 10 offensive scores from senior hybrid player Noah Kohkar. Bradyn Rodriguez is a key defensive lineman.
Maize South (6-4) has post 10 straight winning seasons. Linebacker Conner Neill has posted terrific combine numbers and 70 tackles. Neill has posted a 41-inch vertical, 10 foot, 8 in the broad jump, a 4.09 pro agility and a 425-pound squat. He has an Emporia State offer.
Topeka Seaman (6-4) won 5A state basketball in the winter. Senior left tackle Logan Cox (6-5, 305) and junior defensive back Callen Barta (6-3, 180) are key players.
Goddard-Eisenhower (5-4) took a last-second playoff loss at Hays High. Tyner Horn, a Wichita State baseball commit, will play quarterback.
Hays High graduated Top 11 all-classes selections with quarterback Jaren Kanak and linebacker Gavin Meyers. HHS went 8-3, its best season since 1995. However, the Indians have senior defensive back Remy Stull, with a New Mexico State offer, plus junior running back Malik Bah. Senior H-back Bryce Salmans is a physical marvel with 30-plus knockdown blocks. Senior wide receiver Keamonie Archie, a move-in from Georgia, has Wyoming interest.
Converted wide receiver Kyreese Groen is a potential big college athlete and will start at quarterback. Hays High has new defensive coordinator Kip Keeley, a Shrine Bowler from nearby La Crosse. Keeley led Chanute’s defense to 8.8 points allowed a contest in ’21, best in 4A. Senior defensive tackle Carson Spray is a three-year starter. Junior lineman Trenton Holdeman is a potential breakout player.
“Team looking for their own identity after being in the shadows of last year’s senior class their whole lives, in terms of leadership and ability,” HHS coach Tony Crough said.
Jag Bowl and Land Shark mentality helping Mill Valley
In addition to the youth program, preparation and weight room, Mill Valley has benefited from its multiple deep playoff runs. MV has played at least 11 games every year since 2015. The extra practices has helped create depth.
During the playoffs, the players have the Jag Bowl on Wednesdays. The seniors call the plays and the scout team/reserves face off against each other.
“They have a lot of fun with it, and really get after it,” Applebee said. “Just really all those extra reps through November is key.”
Applebee noted senior offensive guard Jack McKinnon has one who has impressed with his development. Junior tight end Gus Hawkins (6-7, 225) moved from Scott City. Senior Hayes Miller came in from Missouri. Junior Davion Harris (6-2, 193) has switched from quarterback to receiver.
Both of Mill Valley’s top receivers, Kendrick Jones and Jared Napoli, graduated after Shrine Bowl seasons last year.
The defense, though, continues to be elite. After 2020, Mill Valley graduated its top-nine tacklers. Only one player returned with more than 21 tackles. Griffith, Zigmant, Rutkowski and Worcester had very limited playing time. Bergeron did not record a varsity tackle. MV finished fifth in 5A with 16.1 points allowed.
Last season, the defense was even better with basically the entirely new group. Applebee calls Zigmant the quarterback of the defense and one of the top safeties MV has ever had. Zigmant is 5-8, 180 and has posted a 38-8 vertical and a 4.55 time in the 40-yard dash. He has a NAIA offers from Benedictine, Graceland and Peru State.
“He gets everybody in the right checks, he makes sure that everybody is in the right spot as far as positioning goes,” Applebee said. “He is a big-time leader for us. Right up there with Mikey and Grant Rutkowski on that side of the ball. Holden, he is a little smaller in stature, but he’s probably one of the most physical safeties that we have had here at Mill Valley, too, because he loves the game, and he loves to play physical, and he’s not afraid of making the big hit.”
Last year, Coy moved from running back to linebacker at the beginning of the year.
“Noah is very, very explosive,” Applebee said. “His run throughs are explosive.”
Against its seven hardest opponents – Gardner-Edgerton, Lawrence and Olathe West in the regular season, and playoff contests against Shawnee Heights, Blue Valley Southwest, Aquinas and Maize – Mill Valley continually held passing offenses in check, per SIK research and boxscores.
Those teams combined for a modest 100 of 176 passing for 1,109 yards with six scores against four interceptions. That group included Lawrence’s Truman Juelsgaard, a Shrine Bowler, and two of the state’s top-five passers with Southwest’s Dunn and Maize’s Johnson, the state’s top recruit. Overall, MV held those teams to 15.3 points per game. In all other contests, those squads scored 31 points a contest.
“A Land Shark mentality, it’s just every single play on that field, it’s pursue, swarm and tackle,” Coy said. “We just don’t want to give up any yards. We just want to be the dogs on the field, and I think that’s really what it is to a T.”
Top-15 2021 Scoring Offenses (out of 32)
Wichita Northwest 52.0 (moved to 6A)
Kapaun Mt. Carmel 39.8
Hays High 38.9
Maize South 38.1
Wichita Heights 37.4 (moved to 6A)
Topeka Seaman 36.7
Mill Valley 35.4
De Soto 34.9
Spring Hill 34.6
Salina Central 33.7
Bishop Carroll 33.2
St. Thomas Aquinas 32.0
Shawnee Heights 26.7
Top-15 2021 Scoring Defenses (out of 32)
Mill Valley 13.8
Kapaun Mt. Carmel 15.1
Spring Hill 16.3
Topeka Seaman 18.9
Shawnee Heights 18.9
KC Sumner 19.6
Salina Central 20.5
Bishop Carroll 21.6
Hays High 22.0
De Soto 22.5
Sports in Kansas 5A All-State Football – 2021 (Last season’s all state team)
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Sports in Kansas 5A First Team All-State Offense
QB- Avery Johnson, Maize, Jr.
RB- Evan Cantu, Maize South, Sr.
RB- Omari Elias, Kapaun, Soph.
RB- L.J. Phillips, Wichita Northwest, Jr.
RB- Sean Carroll, Aquinas, Jr.
WR- Kendrick Jones, Mill Valley, Sr.
WR- Ethan Schultze, De Soto, Sr.
WR- Matthew Holthusen, Bishop Carroll, Sr.
WR- Zach Atkins, Blue Valley Southwest, Sr.
TE- Jared Napoli, Mill Valley, Sr.
TE- Will Anciaux, Kapaun, Jr.
OL- Blake Neis, Mill Valley, Soph.
OL- Keyvan Stallings, Wichita Northwest, Sr.
OL- Brandon Kerr, Maize, Sr.
OL- Daniel Jantz, Maize South, Sr.
OL- Maddox Marcotte, Bishop Carroll, Sr.
ATH- Jaren Kanak, Hays, Sr.
K- Cole Segraves, Maize, Sr.
Sports in Kansas 5A First Team All-State Defense
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DL- Jalen Marshall, Aquinas, Sr.
DL- Aidan Shaffer, Mill Valley, Sr.
DL- Cody Moore, Mill Valley, Sr.
DL- Caden Miranda, Maize, Jr.
DL-Nathan Carter, Wichita Northwest, Sr.
LB- Andrew O’Doherty, Pittsburg, Sr.
LB- Austin Rivers, Spring Hill, Sr.
LB- Gavin Meyers, Hays, Sr.
LB- Cody Hawks, Eisenhower, Sr.
DB- Mikey Bergeron, Mill Valley, Jr.
DB- Camden Barta, Seaman, Sr.
DB- Isaac Schmitz, Kapaun, Sr.
DB- Kinser Newquist, Hutchinson, Sr.
ATH- Casen Stallbaumer, Seaman, Sr.
P- Kaden Claasen, Wichita Heights, Sr.
RET- Kade Wilson, Valley Center, Sr.
Sports in Kansas 5A All-State Honorable Mention
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Sa’o Siavi’I – Aquinas, Hayden Jay – Mill Valley, Truman Griffith – Mill Valley, , Jackson Turnbull – Pittsburg, Connor Padgett – Maize, Noah Khokhar – Hutchinson, Deshaun Carter – Maize, Demaria Baker – Derby, Collin Hershberger – Newton, Weston Fries – Salina South, Bryce Cohoon – Maize, John Randle – Wichita Heights, Callen Barta – Seaman, Dontrell Harris – Wichita NW, Kenyon McMillian – Salina Central, Jordan Hartman – Andover, Cincere Thompson – Wichita NW, Bobby Trujilio – Emporia, Tre Richardson – Highland Park, Cole Heitman – De Soto, Sam Torline – De Soto, Justin Stephens – Maize, Dylan Elmore – Aquinas, Max Ford – Aquinas, Dylan Dunn – BVSW, D.J. Dingle – Heights, Kahliek Rainey – Schlagle, Camron Johnson – Sumner, Nathan Fury – Kapaun, Isaac Klug – Newton, Bradyn Rodriguez – Hutchinson, Cody Highbanks – Maize, Bryce Salmans – Hays, Remy Stull – Hays, Kyreese Groen – Hays, Connor Dreiling – Hays, Hunter Huskey – Liberal, Roy Moroni – Hays, Tate Blasi – Bishop Carroll, Aldo Avalos – Liberal, Gavin Nutting – Hays, Jordan Dale – Hays, Sean Allerhelligen – Mill Valley, Paco Hernandez – Great Bend, Aiden Palmer – Spring Hill, Fletcher Pankey – Spring Hill , Daniel Mitchell – Spring Hill, Zach Knowlton – Spring Hill, Jack Sopttedhorse – Bishop Carroll, , Jacob Werne – Kapaun, Will Doolittle – Kapaun, John Paul Wrinn – Kapaun, Andrew Bye – Bishop Carroll, Zach Morford – Wichita Northwest, Isaac Schmitz – Kapaun, Darius Diaz – Wichita Northwest, Jaeden Hamilton – Wichita Heights, Caleb Crumm – Maize South, Blake MccCormick – Maize South, Daniel Jantz – Maize South, Ben Patterson – Hutchinson, Ladisalo James – Maize South, Kinser Newquist – Hutchinson, Zach Hogan – Hutchinson, Cael Moses – Maize, Owen Bailey – Maize South, Max Middleton – Andover, Parker Kavanagh – Salina Central, Cade Friend – Eisenhower, Logan Losey – Salina Central, Thomas Fleischman – Eisenhower, Dallas Gould – Valley Center, Angel Luna – Salina Central, Nick Clayton – Salina Central, Ruben Ortiz – Goddard, Braydon Wickliffe – Goddard, Dalton Dunn – Goddard, Trey Omli – Eisenhower, Kade Wilson _ Valley Center, Jaxon Kolzow – Salina Central, Carter Champlin – Andover, Tayton Klein – Andover, AJ Marozas – Aquinas, , Michael Luchtefeld – Aquinas, Chase Brungardt – Blue Valley Southwest, Jake Laureie – BV Southwest, MJ Overstreet – Aquinas, Will Gavin – Aquinas, Reice Kennedy – Mill Valley, Cody Moore – Mill Valley, Camden Barta – Seaman, Javion Lee- Topeka West, Brody Gormley – Seaman, Austin Mills – De Soto, Chayce Chadwick – De Soto, Tyler Schultze- De Soto, Ethan Schultze – De Soto, Rorrin Busenitz – Shawnee Heights, Jarin Sanders – Shawnee Heights, Matthew Etzel – Shawnee Heights, Rusy Ullery – Shawnee Heights, Zach White – De Soto, Ben Longren – De Soto, Luke Van Booven – De Soto, Aidan Morgan, Grant Roelfs – Pittsburg, Cooper Hayden – Pittsburg, Aidan Morgan – BV Southwest, Jonah Hunziker – Pittsburg