By Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas w/ Chet Kuplen
Coach of the Year Honors were selected from a statewide media panel and finalized by Chet Kuplen & Conor Nicholl of Sports in Kansas. Thanks to Mammoth Sports Construction, Watco, SAFE, Nex-Tech Wireless and Gambinos Pizza for powering our all-state event in Emporia.
2021 Sports in Kansas Coaches of the Year:
Sports in Kansas All Classes/6A Coach of the Year
Clint Rider, Blue Valley Northwest
First, Kansas high school football had many exceptional coaching years, including the nine recognized below. Several of the coaches who were nominated and did not win included Mill Valley’s Joel Applebee (fifth state title), along with Wheatland-Grinnell’s Jesse Vincent and Inman’s Lance Sawyer, who went a combined 1-17 in 2018 and took programs with limited history to its first-ever state titles this fall.
This group featured Blue Valley Northwest’s Clint Rider, Meade’s Bryan Luetters, Axtell’s Eric Detweiler and Natoma’s Tyler Masters, all who led at least a six-win improvement from last fall. Masters, a veteran assistant, had a unique situation where he stepped in as a first-time head coach for the last two games.
Gary Guzman, in his fifth decade of coaching in the Wichita area, paced Maize to its first-ever title game. St. James’ Tom Radke, Olpe’s Chris Schmidt and Rossville’s Derick Hammes all encountered different roads, though each won a second consecutive title. Andale’s Dylan Schmidt improved to 61-2 and has led his alma mater to 38 straight wins. A lot of deserving coaches, but Rider earned the Class 6A and All-Classes Coach of the Year honor for statistically the best turnaround ever by a 6A school.
Blue Valley Northwest, long known for basketball under coach Ed Fritz, was 2-7, 0-9, 2-7 and 5-2 in the last four years before a 12-1 season and Class 6A state championship. This is the third team Rider has had great success after runs at Southeast-Cherokee and Hesston (state runner-up).
Northwest reached at least the semifinals for the first time in 22 years. Northwest reached its first football title game and won its first football championship. This marked the first time in eight years NW won more than five games in a season. The only other time Northwest winning double-digit games was a 10-1 year in 1996, per SIK research and the Kansas Football History database.
Class 6A is largely known for its dynasties. Entering this fall, 29 of the classification’s 43 titles were won by four schools – Lawrence, Derby, Olathe North and Hutchinson. Add in two apiece for Wichita East and Wichita Southeast and it bumps to 33.
It’s the biggest one-season jump wins ever by a 6A state champion, a classification that started play in 1978, per SIK research and the KS Football History database. Five teams, most recently 2017 Blue Valley North, won seven games the year before its 6A title. In 1984, Lawrence won state after a 6-5 season.
Rider, a 2005 SE-Cherokee graduate, follows several mantras including the ubiquitous “Pull the Sled” and the E+R=O (Event+Response=Outcome) popularized by highly successful coach Urban Meyer. The “Pull the Sled” is designed to help people know their role and pull in the direction. E+R=O is all over Northwest football, including in the weight room.
In an August interview with SIK, the outgoing and charismatic Rider detailed several key reasons for the turnaround. In 2017, multiple eighth graders (now seniors) from Harmony and Oxford Middle Schools came to the high school for weightlifting. Rider said the current seniors “set the standard.”
Rider and other coaches revamped the weight room culture and added freshman weights in his third season. NW hadn’t previously offered those classes. When Rider first came, Northwest had 107 students in five classes. Currently, NW has more than 400 kids in the weight room. Many of the standout seniors, including QB Mikey Pauley and OL/DL Gabe Peterson, bought in and started as sophomores. The pivot point came in a remarkable road victory versus Missouri power Harrisonville that ended a 13-game losing streak.
Northwest trailed by 14 points with two and a half minutes left when the Huskies turned the ball over on downs. One of the seniors at the time said, “What’s our response?” NW delivered a big comeback. Last year, Northwest beat Blue Valley in Week 1 and improved to 5-2 in a COVID-19 shortened season.
This season, NW opened with a 35-21 win versus Blue Valley. The Huskies lost, 35-16, to 5A power St. Thomas Aquinas, and then reeled off six straight wins. In the finals, Northwest led three-time state champion Derby, 28-0, and won 41-21.
Derby and Blue Valley Northwest by far led 6A in scoring offense with 52.2 points and 43.8 points, respectively. Pauley and running back Grant Stubblefield set school records. NW committed just nine turnovers. Northwest allowed just 17.2 points per game. NW averaged 32 points a game and permitted 20.9 points a contest last year. Overall, Rider is 21-26 at Northwest and 64-46 in 11 years.
6A Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Clint Rider, Blue Valley Northwest (Coach of the Year)
Brandon Clark, Derby
Clint Bowen, Lawrence
Kevin Stewart, Free State
Josh Korkenmeier, BV West
Steve Buhler, Washburn Rural
Sports in Kansas 5A Coach of the Year
Gary Guzman, Maize
Maize finished 10-3 and advanced to the first state title game in school history. The Eagles lost, 28-14, to three-time defending champion Mill Valley. However, longtime coach Gary Guzman has continually elevated the Eagle program. Maize is 9-2, 10-2, 10-2, 9-2 and 10-3 in the last five years. Before then, Maize had never won at least nine games in at least 20 years. Guzman has done an incredible job creating the Maize culture into a consistent contender on the 5A West.
Guzman spent a bulk of the ‘80s as Kapaun Mt. Carmel’s defensive coordinator and then spent stints as KMC’s head coach and Wichita Southeast’s head coach. Guzman stands at 75-40 in 11 years at Maize, and 175-127 in 30 years as a head coach. This season, Maize featured junior quarterback Avery Johnson, who has 10-plus Division I offers and is Kansas’ best three-sport athlete.
SIK has talked with Guzman at length on several occasions in the last few years, including state week this fall and on the All-Access Show w/ Bethany Bowman. Guzman has done an excellent job of building infrastructure and consistency within the program. Defensive coordinator J.J. Milanovich has served with Guzman in 10 of the past 11 years. Rob and Rocky Helm are the current offensive and special teams coordinators and have been there all 11 years.
Current offensive line coach Victor Mercado first installed the spread offense that Maize uses and coordinated the offense before he switched to the OL. Earlier this season, Maize elected to go for two points and the likely win, though couldn’t convert and lost, 42-41, to Derby.
In the state semifinals, Maize had a touchdown drive inside the final 1:36 against Kapaun. Maize closed to 21-20. Guzman called a meeting with his offensive staff and players who wanted to go for two points. Maize ran a reverse to Landon Helm, who had his first rushing attempt of the season, and tallied the game-winning conversion. The week of state, Guzman had a neat gesture when he invited back all former players who helped turn around Maize.
While Maize is known for junior quarterback Avery Johnson (10-plus FBS offers), the Eagles returned just one offensive line starter (Brandon Kerr) and four defensive starters. Maize scored 35.2 points per game and allowed 21.8 points a contest. The Eagles defeated Bishop Carroll in the playoffs. Maize was 0-4 all-time versus BC.
The Eagles became just the third team in the last 10 years to represent 5A West that was not Bishop Carroll or Wichita Northwest. Joel Applebee was highly considered for the coach of the year for Sports in Kansas but it was hard to discount what Guzman has done in putting his time in a territory they’ve never been in. Applbee has won four coach of the year honors at Sports in Kansas and won the 5th title all-time (since 2015) taking 18 new starters and winning a state title at Mill Valley. MV was expected to be the favorite to win it all coming into the season despite minimal returners.
5A Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Weston Schartz, Kapaun
Joel Applebee, Mill Valley
Gary Guzman, Maize (5A Coach of the Year)
Tony Crough, Hays
Mark Sandbo, Salina Central
Sports in Kansas 4A Coach of the Year
Tom Radke, St. James Academy
Radke captured his – and St. James’ – second all-time state championship. Last year, SJA finished 8-4 and had the lowest winning percentage of any state title in Kansas history. This season, the Thunder opened 0-4 and won nine straight games. St. James became the first team in state annals to open 0-4 and then win a state title. Before 2020, the Thunder went to the spread offense and has put up big numbers with QB’s Dakota Burritt and Jackson House.
This season, House finished with more than 3,500 yards of total offense. A big defensive move occurred when Aidan Janatello moved from strong safety to inside linebacker in Week 3 and transformed the defense. He finished as second team all-conference. Junior Wade Spencer (6-0, 231) set school marks for single season tackles for loss and sacks. Tiave Watts stepped up as the surprise at running back.
Before 2020, St. James had never reached past the state quarterfinals. SJA went to 4A for the first time in the last two years. Radke has a veteran staff with many coaches who had previously played for him at K.C. Piper and St. James. Offensive coordinator Matt Joshi came in Radke’s first year, in 2011. DC Jason Denton has been at SJA since 2017.
Larry Beashore, Brian Gray, Julian Cole, Justin Snell, Sam Bruning and Christen Buckner have all served at least four years on staff. Radke’s dad was a Hall of Fame head football coach in Aurelia, IA for more than 30 years and won more than 150 games. Radke was a walk-on wide receiver at Iowa State from ’94-97 and earned three varsity letters.
4A Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Tom Radke, St. James Academy
Clete Frazell, Chanute
Derek Tuttle, Andover Central
Daniel Myears, Mulvane
Steve Warner, Buhler
Logan Clothier, Circle
Weston Moody, Wamego
Sports in Kansas 3A Coach of the Year
Dylan Schmidt, Andale
Andale completed its third straight dominant season with a 13-0 mark and state championship. Andale has won 38 straight games, which is top-10 all-time in Kansas history. Schmidt is 61-2 in five years at his alma mater. He has a chance to break current Little River coach Kevin Ayers as the fastest in Kansas history to 100 wins. Andale won every contest by at least 21 points. The Indians by far led 3A in scoring offense and defense with a total 694-68 margin.
Schmidt has longtime veteran assistants, such as defensive coordinator Tim Fairchild, and has built Andale into a colossus. Andale is currently the defending champion in football, volleyball, wrestling and girls’ track. This year, Andale again had more than 80 players out, which is significantly higher than many 3A powers.
Andale has waves of depth, including RB Cody Parthemer and Riley Marx, quarterback Wyatt Spexarth, and Jonah Meyer and a lot of similar players. In the state finals, Andale beat Frontenac, 53-0, and held the Raiders to six rushing yards and 48 total yards.
Andale is approaching all-time history. Only Smith Center (79), Pittsburg Colgan (66), Conway Springs (62), Claflin (51) and Hanover (43) have longer win streaks. Andale is currently tied with Olathe North on the all-time list. Schmidt has still never lost a regular season game.
Last season, Andale averaged 51.1 points per game and allowed 6.5, also the best in 3A. The Indians graduated nearly all its rushing yards. Andale was statistically even better this year with a 53-5 margin.
3A Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Mitch Gebhardt, SE Saline
Shelby Wehrman, Cheney
Shane Sieben, Rock Creek
Dylan Schmidt, Andale (3A Coach of the Year)
Neal Philpot, Girard
Jeff Schibi, Parsons
Jordan Echer, Concordia
Mark Smith, Frontenac
Brooks Barta, Holton
Sports in Kansas 2A Coach of the Year
Derick Hammes, Rossville
Rossville coach Derick Hammes won his second straight state title and fifth overall, all since 2014. Rossville led the polling wire to wire this fall.
The Bulldawgs went through an injury to quarterback Torrey Horak for part of the year. Still, Rossville earned quality wins against Centralia in Week 1 (38-0), War on 24 rival Silver Lake in district play (24-19), Nemaha Central in the playoffs (32-12), Silver Lake in the state semifinals (36-8) and Beloit in the championship game (35-12).
Four wins came against teams that made at least a state semifinal. Rossville went 13-0 and carries a 26-game winning streak into next season. Hammes is 96-15 with Rossville and 125-70 overall. Rossville paces 2A in scoring offense with 47.1 points and scoring defense with 8.5 points per game.
Rossville led 2A with 52.2 points, though was eighth with 14.5 points allowed a contest last season. Of Hammes’ five state titles, this marked the best scoring defense. Rossville allowed 9.9 points a game in ’13, 10.3 in ’14 and 14.4 in ’15. Hammes routinely has Rossville leading 2A in offense with first team all-state dual threat quarterbacks.
2A Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Tanner Hageman, Kingman
Brad Gober, Beloit
Jay Harris, TMP
Derick Hammes, Rossville (2A Coach of the Year)
Demetrius Cox, Hillsboro
Mike Berg, Wellsville
Johnny Mallatt, Riverton
JC Zahradnik, Chaparral
Sports in Kansas 1A Coach of the Year
Chris Schmidt, Olpe
Olpe has delivered back-to-back perfect seasons and allowed just 59 total points in the seasons, Kansas’ best-ever scoring defense over a two-year stretch. Olpe allowed just 24 points this fall and just one first-half touchdown. Coach Chris Schmidt also won Olpe boys’ basketball last winter. Schmidt and longtime defensive coordinator Terry Schmidt led an experienced Eagle squad that allowed points in just three games.
Olpe had nine shutouts this year and seven in on-field games last year. The Eagles have won 24 straight games. QB Damon Redeker, RB Derek Hoelting and LB Ted Skalsky were among Olpe’s veteran standouts. Olpe was the favorite all fall.
1A Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Lance Sawyer, Inman
Chris Schmidt, Olpe (1A Coach of the Year)
Jeff Werner, Sedgwick
Jess Rutledge, Wabaunsee
Darren Sasse, Smith Center
Scott Jones, Lyndon
Larry Glatczak, Centralia
Sports in Kansas 8M-I Coach of the Year
Bryan Luetters, Meade
Meade accomplished a bevy of historical notes with first-year head coach Bryan Luetters. First, Meade went 4-3 to 13-0, a plus-nine improvement that matched the biggest one-season turnaround in the last 15 years of eight-man football. Luetters had spent many years around the program and was an assistant the last four. He has also run the weights for seven.
Still, Luetters became the first eight-man head coach to win a state title in his inaugural year since Victoria’s Doug Oberle in 2006. Meade was tenth in scoring offense (48.8) and second in scoring defense (12.2). The Buffs held down Wichita County, Hill City, Trego and Little River, all teams that averaged at least 49 points per game. Meade returned more than 95 percent of its offensive production from 2020.
Meade installed a shotgun offense and bettered its passing game. Defensively, the Buffs went to a 3-3. The Buffs had standouts like QB Torren Haynes, RB Korben Clawson and four-year starting lineman Cullen Lumry. Plus, WR/DB Brock Keith returned from a collarbone injury that cost him all of 2020 and had a big year, including in the state title game.
Meade was preseason ranked as high as No. 7 in one major preseason poll, entered the rankings at mid-fall and steadily moved up. There were considered underdogs in multiple games, though set a school record for victories and had the school’s first perfect year since 1972.
8M-I Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Kevin Ayers, Little River
Bryan Luetters, Meade (8M-I Coach of the Year)
Mick Holt, Sedan
Garrett Hiebert, Goessel
Travis Desbien, Hill City
Pat Haxton, Trego
Alex McMillian, Madison
Shelby Hoppes, Canton-Galva
Sports in Kansas 8M-II Coach of the Year
Eric Detweiler, Axtell
Axtell was preseason ranked sixth. The Eagles had no seniors in key roles. Still, Axtell had a plus-six win improvement and finished 13-0 with the school’s second state title, first since 1993. Coach Eric Detweiler had its son, junior quarterback Isaac Detweiler, along with freshman skill standouts Brandon Schmelzle and Eli Broxterman. Isaac accounted for 63 touchdowns, and Schmelzle led all eight-man freshmen nationally in touchdowns, according to MaxPreps.
Credit to the Axtell line of Grant Buessing, Sawyer Deters and Owen Strathman, who held Axtell lead Eight-Man, Division II in scoring offense (54.2) and scoring defense (12.3). Axtell should have all key players back for 2022.
8M-II Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Jesse Vincent, Wheatland-Grinnell
Eric Detweiler, Axtell (8M-II Coach of the Year)
Joel Struckhoff, Thunder Ridge
Matt Cantrell, South Barber
Trever Powell, Bucklin
Ken Simon, Dighton
Doug Oberle, Victoria
Sports in Kansas 6M Coach of the Year
Tyler Masters, Natoma
SIK was in-person for all three of Natoma’s playoff games. Natoma went from 3-2 in 2020 to 9-0 this fall. It marked the Tigers’ first playoff wins in 47 years and first-ever six-man state championship. While considered a contender, Natoma was never ranked No. 1 until after the first six-man poll.
The outgoing Masters, a former Natoma state track medalist, had served as football and boys’ basketball assistant coach. Masters loves being an assistant and enjoys the interaction and relationships that come with the position. However, Masters was pressed into head coaching duties less than 24 hours before the state semifinal against Ashland. Former head coach Robert Cox could not finish the season. Masters had never called offensive plays before.
Masters enlisted the help of Natoma head boys’ basketball coach Chris Broeckelman, who has served more than a decade in various coaching roles with the Tigers. Masters used running back Kayden Martinez, the 6-Man Offensive Player of the Year, more in the passing game in the last two contests. Natoma beat Ashland, 67-18, and Cunningham, 60-12, in the finals.
In the semifinals, Martinez went 3 of 5 passing for 147 yards. In the finals, he completed 2 of 3 for 67 yards.
Before then, Martinez has 8 of 12 for 303 yards this season.
Natoma’s game plan against Cunningham’s dual quarterbacks worked to perfection, and the Tigers were superb in red zone defense. Masters continually deflected credit to the players. Even after the state championship game, Masters did not want to be referred to as “head coach.” Natoma celebrated the state title on the field at Dodge City. The PA announcer was reading off the Tigers’ players and coaches. The PA said “head coach Tyler Masters.”
Masters turned to someone and softly said, “just coach.”
6-Man Sports in Kansas Coach of the Year Finalists
Lance McGuire, Cunningham
Tyler Masters, Natoma (6M Coach of the Year)
Ben Fox, Ashland
Marvin Gebhard, Northern Valley