Football in Kansas: K.C. Piper back home, 9/11 Memories, Eight-Man Parity, Underrated Position Groups and huge stat games

photo: Lexi Miles

By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas

Football in Kansas Week 3 notes feature:

K.C. Piper wins first home game in 694 days on last play

Victoria coach Doug Oberle, a U.S. Army Veteran, on 9/11

More top-five eight-man ranked teams already in 2021 than all of 2020

Underrated position groups from Hill City, Olathe North and Maize South

Huge statistical games from Caldwell’s Keiondre Smith

K.C. Piper plays at home for the first time in 694 days – and wins on the game’s final play

In previous years, the Kansas City Piper football team gathered in a building on the school grounds on Thursdays. Last year, the team couldn’t meet because of COVID-19. The tradition came back in 2021.

The school cooking and catering class prepares a meal. The Pirates have a guest speaker for 15 to 30 minutes. Then, one of the football players talks for several minutes.

“When it’s your peer talking about it, kids seem to take it more to heart,” coach Rick Pollard told SIK on Tuesday. “And it’s really sunk into our team DNA, and our kids really look forward to that.”

Each week, the Pirates’ player council selects a theme.

In Week 1, Piper heard a talk from Kendall Gammon, the well-known former Kansas City Chief and current broadcaster.  Piper’s theme last week was “overcoming adversity.”

Piper had boxer Cam F. Awesome (formerly Lenroy Thompson) who lives K.C. area. Awesome had qualified for the Olympics earlier in his career, though was unable to compete. Awesome has went on to lead a productive life, including as a speaker and consultant.

“Things don’t go your way, and sometimes you’ve just got to fight through them,” Pollard said.

Piper opened with a 56-7 road win against Ottawa, and then played host to Eudora in Week 2. It marked the Pirates’ first home contest since Oct. 18, 2019, a stretch of 694 days. Because of COVID-19, Piper played every 2020 game on the road and still finished 5-4.

“We talked about how last year we overcame a ton of stuff,” Pollard said. “So it just makes us better now as human beings and as players.”

Eudora features two Power 5 recruits with Jaden Hamm and Silas Etter. In a wild game, junior quarterback Logan Ladish threw a 51-touchdown pass to senior Ethan Walker on the game’s final play for a 26-23 win.

Piper leads a highlighted group of 2-0 squads that includes Russell, WaKeeney-Trego, Olathe North, Maize South, Jackson Heights, Hill City and Caldwell. Russell was 2-16 the last two seasons and is 2-0, including a triple-overtime Week 2 win versus Thomas More Prep-Marian. JH is 2-0 after it started late last year because of COVID.

“In previous years, I think a traditional Piper team would have folded right there,” Pollard said. “But I think these kids have started to turn the corner and taken that attitude of like, ‘Hey, it’s not over till its over.’ Let’s keep fighting, and they did, and it was fun to watch. That play was amazing. I mean, it was a great ball, great catch, everything was perfect about the play, and so very excited for our kids. Fought through those adversities.”

Senior wide Dominique Herring-Brittian was on the other side of the field and had already caught two touchdown passes. He finished fifth in the 100-meter dash at the Class 5A state track meet last spring. Pollard knew Eudora would focus on Herring-Brittian. Piper looked to the backside and Walker, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound center fielder with good hands who can run. Ryan Wallace of had excellent video of the game-winning catch.

“The atmosphere of our fans and our student body was great,” Pollard said.

Ladish rolled out right, and under pressure, threw down the right sideline for Walker. The wideout took a few slow steps off the line and then bolted down the field. Walker caught the ball just inside the 20-yard line with a second to go, and then outran two defenders into the end zone. He was in the defender’s grasp and stretched the ball over the goal line with his left hand.

“It just worked out right,” Pollard said.

Eudora led 9-0 at halftime. During the break, Pollard told Piper, “we are going to win this game.” The kids believed. Eudora took a 23-20 lead with 52 seconds left. Pollard noticed the Pirates remained resolved and wanted to score. Walker, a University of North Alabama baseball commit, recorded 54 tackles in ’20. He is at receiver this season and has two catches, both for long touchdowns.

“All week we were talking about things were going to happen in a game that aren’t going to go your way,” Pollard said. “And you’ve just got to keep battling back, battling back, so that’s what happened.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Ladish first started as a freshman after injury and beat Basehor-Linwood in a playoff game. Last year, Ladish rushed for 224 yards and passed for 522. Last spring, Ladish came out for track for the first time. Pollard talked him into throwing the javelin.

Ladish broke the school record in the second track meet, threw 175 feet and eventually finished fifth at the state meet. Per Butler County Gazette’s Chuck Chaney’s classification statistics, K.C. Piper leads 4A with 393 yards a game. In his free time, Ladish serves as the offensive coordinator on a fourth-grade football squad.

“He is deceptively fast,” Pollard said. “Good size. Because he doesn’t look like he is fast, but he is a long strider, so he is covering a lot of ground. He is a really, really good athlete, but he’s also a smart kid. He studies, and he wants to know more, and he’s put the time and effort (during) the winter to make himself better. The best thing about Logan is how interacts with his teammates and everybody else.”

Perhaps no team in Kansas went through more adversity than Kansas City Piper in 2020. Piper, which has a population of 23,000 and has plenty of open land and a semi-rural atmosphere, is part of urban Wyandotte County.

Pollard said many Piper residents travel into the city for work each day, especially for public works, firefighting and police officers for Wyandotte County.

“Even though we have a Kansas City, Kan. address, we are probably still 75 to 80 percent rural out here,” Pollard said.

None of the urban KCK high schools (Schlagle, Turner, Wyandotte, Washington, Harmon, Sumner) had a ‘20 season because of COVID-19. Piper traveled to every game, went 5-4 and led 4A in scoring defense with 15.7 points allowed a contest. The schedule included Paola and Tonganoxie, both top-5 4A squads all season, and Lansing, which has quarterback Caden Crawford, an Iowa commit.

Piper’s top-two players, linebacker Branden Martin and running back LaJames White, transferred to nearby 4A schools Tonganoxie and St. James Academy, respectively. They eventually earned 4A Defensive and Offensive Player of the Year honors. Pollard still talks to those families and supported those choices. The duo played for Piper for a week and a half.

Piper did get transfer Cory Macon, formerly K.C. Washington’s outstanding quarterback, who played a key role on both sides. The Pirates were the only Kansas team to have a season and not play at home in 2020. Pollard said Macon helped push Ladish at quarterback and the two signal callers were friends. Macon, now at Highland football, helped lead the squad.

“Our kids didn’t dwell on it,” Pollard said. “If they would have dwelled on it, it would have been a horrible season, but overall, our kids just moved on. We talk about dealing with adversity and next play.”

Road trips are difficult for all squads, even shorter ones. Pollard said Piper, like all teams, needs to “schedule everything.” For all nine games, the Pirates had to pack their equipment and load the team trailer. The coaches and players worry about whether each Pirate had all equipment.

“Just those taxing items that have to go with playing on the road,” Pollard said. “And then the mental focus of the kids, having to hurry up after school, and get all your stuff so we can get on the bus and go. Those kinds of things just weigh on you throughout the season.”

Pollard was a former assistant at Mill Valley and coach Joel Applebee, who has won four state titles with the Jaguars. Applebee is long known for his development and buy-in from all levels, including youth. Pollard has preached the “whole gamut” of the program, from little kids, youth football programs, and “everything running on the same page.”

Piper has enjoyed great success with the four Beebe brothers. Two of the older brothers were Power 5 signees. Junior two-way lineman Camden Beebe (6-4, 305) is the youngest and has a Kansas State offer. Pollard said the Beebes have long worked hard and supported the program. Junior Cameron Rogers is a key lineman.

“It’s kind of that Bill Snyder way,” Pollard said. “Getting that family atmosphere about your program and having everybody involved, and so that’s kind of what I brought over to Piper.”

Longtime Victoria coach Doug Oberle, a Veteran, remembers 9/11

Victoria coach Doug Oberle served 2.5 years in the U.S. Army and 5.5 years in the National Guard. He completed his time in 2003.

“What I learned in the service has helped me as a coach,” Oberle said. “And so I value that. I value my time. I value what I did, and the reason I did it.”

Oberle is one of very few current Kansas head football coaches who is a Veteran. Notably, Prairie View coach Kyle Littrell served in the Persian Gulf in the ‘90s.

Victoria (2-0) plays host to surprising WaKeeney-Trego (2-0) on Friday. Victoria is ranked second in Eight-Man, Division II. Trego is ranked fourth in Division I. The contest is the KPreps Game of the Week and will be previewed in-depth later in the week.

“Anybody would say that puts the uniform on, obviously, it’s a meaningful thing,” Oberle said. “It’s something that’s going to stick with you your entire life.”

Oberle, who has won three state titles in the last 15 years at Victoria, still clearly remembers the events of September 11, 2001.

Last Friday, many teams commemorated Sept. 11 with flags, military tributes and other ceremonies. Oberle, 50, is a longtime occupational therapy assistant in Hays. He offered his perspective of Sept. 11 to SIK on Tuesday.

“I remember it plain as day,” Oberle said.

On that day, Oberle was living in Hays. He was working at Hays Medical Center and helping a gentleman from Ness City. They had just walked back into the man’s room after a therapy session. Oberle was helping the man back into his chair.

They saw the first World Trade Center tower after it was hit. In the room, Oberle and the man watched as the second plane flew into the next tower.

Oberle didn’t sleep that night. He stayed up and watched TV. He remembers, like everyone else, trying to get back up and go to work after the horrible tragedy.

“How quickly your mind goes back to that day,” Oberle said. “And the following two weeks after that, three weeks after that. Just the outcry, where you are at when it happened, what was going on, the anger, obviously everything that goes along with that.”

Recently, Oberle saw a message on Twitter and agreed with the idea. He wishes “we just had a little more love of country right now.”

“I wish the United States currently was where it was on Sept. 12, 2001,” Oberle said. “Obviously, you never want what happened on Sept. 11, but the unity, the camaraderie, the love of our country, I wish we were to that point. But very difficult day.”

“Last week in terms of what we were seeing in the news, what we were seeing in different places, and … it just took you back to a lot of stuff,” he added. “I can’t imagine Pearl Harbor. Very similar situation, those types of things, for generations prior to us.”

Throughout his career, Oberle is known for capturing life’s moments well for his football teams. In 2016, Oberle’s mother, Pauline, passed just before he coached in the Eight-Man All-Star Game in Beloit. Oberle’s parents were longtime supporters of his playing and coaching career. All of Victoria’s current players were born after 9/11.

“How we just picked up the pieces and tried to move forward,” Oberle said. “And then the resolve of the United States at that time and the resolve of the people leading us. Certainly stuff that I wanted to get across, and have our guys try to understand. I mean, it’s difficult for them in a number of ways at that age. And then not seeing it first hand to understand what was going on. Certainly something we wanted to talk about, and certainly something we wanted to address.”

Through two games, more teams already ranked in Eight-Man, Division I and II than all of 2020

Two major themes with eight-man football this season was depth and experienced quarterbacks. Specifically Eight-Man, Division I West is especially deep with no clear favorite. In Division II, Hanover and Victoria are the consensus top-two squads, but there is limited separation between third and 12.

Plus, Division II had a high number of returning quarterbacks, including third- and fourth-year signal callers with Victoria’s Grant Schoenrock, Wheatland-Grinnell’s Trey Vincent, Axtell’s Isaac Detweiler and Division I’s Hoxie’s Ashton Dowell.

Caldwell junior Keiondre Smith, a returning starter, has continued his incredible streak of productive dual threat games.

As well, three new dual threat quarterbacks have emerged: Leoti-Wichita County’s Ehrik Hermosillo, WaKeeney-Trego’s Owen Day and Hill City sophomore Aiden Amrein. Hermosillo was a starting defensive back in 2020. Day and Amrein were hurt the vast majority of last fall for teams that finished a combined 5-10.

In Week 2, Hermosillo delivered more than 400 yards of total offense. In Week 2, Day accounted for 323 yards and seven touchdowns. Amrein delivered 36 carries for 282 yards and four touchdowns, along with 63 passing yards, in Week 2. Hill City and WaKeeney are both 2-0.

“Aggressive,” Hill City coach Travis Desbien said of Amrein. “And he’s a kid that I told him tonight too, I don’t think he realized how much he is going to be the guy that we lean on. In my offense, my quarterback is my horse.”

Those trends have yielded intriguing results through the first two weeks – and should again this week with another compelling slate.

In Division I last season, Canton-Galva, Wichita County, Little River, Madison and Clifton-Clyde occupied the same five spots in some form in the KPreps poll from Week 1 through Week 10. Hoxie was briefly ranked in the playoffs. Then, the five original teams finished in the top-five.

This year has already yielded more teams in the Division I poll than all last year. Little River, Madison and Canton-Galva have held down the top three spots, though LR beat Clifton-Clyde in a one-score game last week.

The No. 4 position has had a new team each week. Hoxie opened at four, and then lost 56-6 to Wichita County. WC took over at four last week, and then fell 76-28 to WaKeeney in Week 2.

Now Hill City is up from No. 5 to No. 4, and WaKeeney is in at No. 5.

This week, Hill City faces Wichita County at home. HC plays Hoxie in Week 6 and WaKeeney in Week 7.

“These two weeks, I tell you what, I am really learning a lot about the teams in our area and our district,” Desbien told SIK. “Because last week, I didn’t know how good Leoti would be, losing as many kids as they did, and they had a really quality win against a good Hoxie team.”

Last Friday, Hill City passed through WaKeeney on the way to Ness City. They saw the field set up. The HC coaches talked about the game.

“I don’t think any of us said (76)-28 Trego,” Desbien said. “So we found out tonight that maybe Trego is a lot better than we give them credit for. …I feel like we are a good spot, but I also know we’ve got a lot of good teams around us.”

Division II also with more rankings changes than 2020

In 2020, Division II had St. Francis, Hanover, Axtell, Lebo and Victoria in some order through the first five weeks of rankings before Frankfort entered.

Those six teams made up the top-five spots all year.

This year, seven teams have already been ranked.

The class opened with Hanover, Victoria, Osborne, Thunder Ridge and Wheatland-Grinnell.

Out east, Axtell (2-0) and Frankfort (2-0) have both entered the poll after being unranked in the preseason at third and fifth, respectively. Axtell earned a big Week 1 win against Wheatland-Grinnell. Then, W-G defeated Kinsley, a quality Division I team, in Week 2. Axtell is more passing-oriented, while Kinsley relies more on the ground attack.

“I don’t know if I expected the parity as much as the unknown,” Oberle said. “I mean, I still feel that way about Division II to a certain extent, but certainly Division I. … Especially eight-man, it’s such a game of momentum, and then I think this year, it’s a lot more stylistic.”

Multiple big games remain.

Victoria plays host to WaKeeney on Friday. Osborne plays Thunder Ridge in district. Starting in Week 4, Hanover faces Axtell, at Osborne and at Frankfort the next three weeks.

Outside of the top-5 rankings, southwest Kansas’ Bucklin is off to a 2-0 start and shown its best statistical defense in more than a decade. District 4 has a big matchup this week with rivals Downs-Lakeside (2-0) and Osborne (1-1).

High-octane Caldwell (2-0) plays host to Norwich (1-1) in a key Division II, District 6 matchup.

Bucklin (2-0) is at Hodgeman County (2-0) in a key Division II versus Division I game.

Different schemes could be a key factor progressing forward.

“A little bit of that is the matching of the styles and what they do defensively, what they are running,” Oberle said.

This week, Six-Man has a marquee game with South Division’s Ashland (1-0) plays Bird City-Cheylin (2-0) in a neutral site game in Deerfield. Cheylin has won 11 straight contests. Cheylin is ranked first and Ashland second in six-man.

Key underrated players/position groups include Hill City, Olathe North and Maize South

Three underrated position groups have especially shown out in the first two weeks: Hill City’s guards and linebackers, Olathe North’s offensive line and Maize South’s defensive backs.

Hill City has junior Conner Dinkel and senior Ayden Nickelson at guards and linebackers. Both have significantly played since freshman year. Last week, Nickelson earned one of HC’s four player of the week team awards.

Nickelson recorded nine tackles and has 21 this season. He missed part of last year with injury and has 193 tackles with 14 TFLs in his career. They helped Hill City, despite some early turnover issues, deliver 423 total yards, including 360 on the ground. HC had 59 snaps. Hill City beat Ness City, 49-18, on the road.

It marked the Ringnecks’ most yards in a game since 2019.

“Nickelson is a great wrestler,” Desbien said. “He’s a very aggressive kid, and he’s been a kid who has played quality minutes since a freshman. I mean, he has played about dang near every position from his freshman year to now as a senior. Everything but about quarterback. He didn’t play in the backfield tonight, but he is a dang good guard, and he’s a very big thumper on defense at our middle linebacker position. He is a hard hitting son of a gun, and he loves just hitting people. He played a good game, too.”

Dinkel finished with 12 tackles, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Dinkel has 199 tackles, 15 for loss in his career.

“Another kid that is right there with him, very similar is Conner Dinkel,” Desbien said. “Those two guys just love contact and aggression and they fit that perfect mold of what coach (Craig) Amrein wants with our mike linebackers.”

Olathe North is 2-0 and ranked second in Class 6A. ON has outscored teams, 103-0. The Eagles have 634 rushing yards and 9.8 yards per carry. Five players have between 78 and 194 rushing yards: seniors Jacob Parrish, Noah Palmer, junior Jason Scoma, senior Aquantez Love and M.J. Devoe. Olathe North is second in 6A in rushing offense and total offense with 342 and 507 yards a game, per Chaney.

Senior guard Parker Lane is a well-known offensive lineman, and ON coach Chris McCartney noted this week the OL’s quality play. McCartney said center Jorge Gallegos was “very solid” last week in a 47-0 win versus Gardner-Edgerton.

It marked the most points G-E has allowed in a regular season game since Week 2 of 2017.

McCartney said guard Mason Hyskell has “done well,” and tight end Alex King has done “really well.” All three are seniors and two-year starters. Lane, Gallegos and Hyskell are all at least 275 pounds.

Plus, 6-foot-4, 275-pound sophomore Braden Hales is starting at right tackle. Hale has posted 405 in squat, 240 in clean and 240 in bench.

Maize South is long known for outstanding defensive backs. The Mavericks have opened with a 32-0 win at Great Bend and a 51-14 victory versus Salina South. Both teams had returning quarterbacks. Maize South had a pick-six and two safeties against Great Bend.

Versus GB, Maize South limited Panther quarterback Joseph Moeder to 8 of 24 passing for 49 yards with two interceptions, according to WAC statistician/Hays High broadcaster Dustin Armbruster. Salina South had just 88 passing yards versus the Mavericks.

Brent Pfeifer is the only head coach in the 13-year Maize South history. Alan Collier coaches the defensive backs. Maize South had a top-10 scoring defense in its classification each year from ’16-18, according to Prep Power Index archives. In ’19, Maize South went 10-1 with the No. 2 defense in 5A.

Last year, the Mavericks were No. 13 in 5A with 25.7 points allowed a contest.

The corners are Ladislao Jaimes III and Anthony Johnson. The safeties are Britton Forsythe and junior Jake Gnagy, a first-year starter. Jaimes delivered 43 tackles and two interceptions in 2020.

Jaimes, Johnson and Forsythe are all seniors and returning starters. Collier noted that all four put in a “ton of work” in the offseason. Forsythe is 6-1, 181 with 4.1 GPA. He competes in football and wrestling. He is a returning AVCTL Division I first team all-league defensive back and has a Benedictine offer.

Jaimes has posted a 33-inch vertical and 4.6 laser in the 40-yard dash. He had a pick-six against Great Bend. The 5-10, 160-pound Johnson recently visited Kansas Wesleyan. Johnson had an impressive ranging interception on a deep pass against Salina South, along with some nice tackles. In Week 1, he broke up a pass in the end zone.

Senior linebacker Taiten Luce, a team captain and student body president, has stepped up, too. Well-known running back Evan Cantu is one of the state’s rushing leaders after two weeks.

Caldwell’s Keiondre Smith with huge continued performances

Perhaps no player in Kansas has put together back-to-back regular seasons like Caldwell junior quarterback Keiondre Smith. He had more than 1,900 yards of total offense in Caldwell’s 8-3 season (7-3 in on-field results). This year, Caldwell is 0-2. Smith has posted 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Here is Smith’s Game-by-Game since the start of 2020, per Hudl:


58-12 W at Oxford: 19 carries for 156 yards, 4 rushing TDs; 1-1 passing, 15 yards, 1 defensive INT

64-28 W versus South Haven: 24 carries for 256 yards, 6 rushing TDs; 1-3 passing, 25 yards;

70-24 W at Norwich: 22 carries for 168 yards, 5 rushing TDs; 7-10 passing 165 yards, 3 TDs

46-22 W versus Hutchinson Central Christian: 29 carries for 183 yards, 5 rushing TDs; 5-11 passing, 104 yards, 2 TDs

44-38 L at Stafford: 24 rushes for 113 yards, 3 TDs; 6-14 passing, 63 yards, 1 pass TD; 1 defensive TD (34 fumble return)

38-18 L versus Peabody-Burns: DNP

42-14 W at South Barber: DNP

68-20 W versus Wilson: 9 carries, 150 yards, 4 TDs; 3-4 passing 72 yards, 2 TD;

36-34 W versus Central Plains: 17 rushes for 107 yards; 10-14 passing, 159 yards, 2 TD


30-0 W vs. Oxford: 9 carries, 103 yards, 2 rushing TDs; 1-5 passing, 6 yards, 1 pass TD

72-26 W at South Haven: 22 carries for 263 yards, 5 rushing TDs; 5-8 passing, 130 yards, 2 pass TDs; 2 INTs, 1 defensive TD on 28-yard fumble return

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