By CONOR NICHOLL
Last fall, Russell junior defensive lineman Roman Hernandez delivered a huge improvement and keyed the Broncos’ best football season since 1979.
In 2021, Hernandez finished with 17 tackles, three for loss and one sack in seven games as a sophomore.
In 2022, Hernandez became a near-unblockable force along the Bronco defensive line. He delivered 59 tackles, 18 for loss and 12 sacks. Hernandez ranked third in Kansas 11-man player for sacks, per MaxPreps. He also recovered four fumbles and forced three.
Russell finished 6-4 and won its first playoff game in 43 years. The Broncos enjoyed its first winning season since ’03 and finished No. 11 in 2A in scoring defense, per SIK research and the KPreps database. Russell permitted 24.9 points a game in ’21 and lowered to 15.9 points per contest in ’22.
Plus, Hernandez shown impressive speed and strength at the well-known Sharp Combine in Salina earlier this spring. The 6-foot-3 Hernandez has upped 20-plus pounds to 212 and looks to reach 220 by the fall. He posted solid weight numbers at the WaKeeney powerlifting meet, too.
“I definitely think he is extremely underrated,” Russell coach Christien Ozores, a former Junction City and Fort Hays football player, said. “I have talked to a couple D2 coaches about him, so I think they are going to start getting on him soon, but with his size and just freakish (athleticism) – he is extremely powerful.”
Hernandez picked up a Bethel College offer this week and is one of the more intriguing under-the-radar prospects in the Class of 2024.
Hernandez was first team all-conference Mid-Continent League. There’s generally a limited number of long, strong athletes who can consistently rush the quarterback in any Kansas high school recruiting class.
“I would hope there would be a lot of schools calling for him,” Ozores said.
Hernandez is headed to the Bethel College camp Saturday. Many Kansas football players are going to the Sharp Combine in Wichita on Saturday, too. Hernandez has frequently driven to Salina to train at the Sharp Football Academy. Ozores noted Hernandez has had contact with NAIA Friends University and Division II Pittsburg State University.
“I think he would be a great fit for any team that’s a four-down (lineman) team, which 90 percent of college teams are a lot of four-down teams, a lot of 4-2-5 stuff, and so I think he would be a great fit in that system,” Ozores said.
March and April generally yield offers for the incoming senior classes. For the 2024 recruiting cycle, Bishop Carroll lineman Hank Purvis has picked up offers from Ball State, Navy, Illinois State and Middle Tennessee State, among others.
Olathe North lineman Braden Hales has six Division I offers, including Ball State. Blue Valley Northwest tight end Gavin Hoffman (6-5, 217) picked up his first Division I offers, from Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, in the last week. BVNW sophomore lineman Brock Heath recently picked up a Missouri offer. Miege senior Jeremy Schleicher is another intriguing lineman prospect.
At the March 4 WaKeeney powerlifting meet, Hernandez was third in the bench press out of 17 lifters with a 275-pound lift. He ranked fifth out of 18 in the clean at 240.
At the March 19 Sharp Combine, Hernandez benched 225 pounds 12 times. Hernandez posted a 5.02 in the pro agility. Still, Hernandez believed his marks could significantly improve. Many athletes struggled to gain footing on the Salina Fieldhouse surface.
Still, out of the 125-plus athletes at Sharp, Hernandez was one of six to: lift 225 pounds at least 10 times and post a pro agility under 5.05.
The others included Eudora’s Braylen Hoobler (4.75 pro, 19 at 225); Chanute’s Garrett Love (4.80 pro; 20 at 225); Coffeyville’s 6-1, 272-pound Kainen White (4.85 pro; 11 at 225) and Trinity Catholic’s Gavin Wilson (285 bench; 4.69 pro; 10 at 225). Hoobler has gained significant traction in recruiting circles because of his combine numbers.
Hill City’s Aiden Amrein, generally considered an elite small-school prospect, Eight-Man, Division I’s top returning quarterback and a state wrestling champion, posted 13 reps at 225 and a 5.25 pro agility.
Among non-urban athletes, Hernandez, Hauser, Amrein and Clay Center’s Brody Hayes are among other highly intriguing Class of 2024 prospects.
Statewide, the top-seven Class of 2024 recruits are Topeka athlete BJ Canady, Junction City linebacker Michael Boganowski, Blue Valley running back John Price, Lyndon offensive tackle Kaedin Massey, Mill Valley offensive lineman Gus Hawkins, Blue Valley Northwest safety Trey Ridley and Maize South wide receiver Sammy Dresie.
Price, who started his career in Missouri, and Hawkins, who came from Scott City last summer, have committed to Kansas State. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Massey appears headed to Oklahoma, per 24/7, a recruiting leader.
Kapaun senior running back Omari Elias has an Air Force offer, and Mill Valley junior edge rusher Jayden Woods has five Power 5 offers.