SIK continues its in-depth classification previews. Will the 5A hegemony stay the same this year? All per-game statistics and rankings from KPreps database/Conor Nicholl.
By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas
Wichita Northwest has delivered an historic last three years under coach Steve Martin. Long known for its high-octane offense, Northwest posted a 12-1 mark in 2018. The Grizzlies broke through and reached the Class 5A state championship game, the second trip in program annals.
Northwest averaged 579 yards per game and shattered the state record; Martin believes the mark might never be broken. The Grizzlies continued their historic production in playoff wins versus Bishop Carroll (84-67) and Maize (67-60). Breece Hall, currently a first team All-American at Iowa State, cleared 2,000 rushing yards and tallied 37 offensive scores. Martin considers the ’18 team probably his best starting 22.
In the state title, Northwest was considered a slight underdog to St. Thomas Aquinas. Under coach Randy Dreiling, Aquinas featured one of the most dominant offensive fronts in recent state history, including Joe Michalski, the 5A Offensive Player of the Year and Oklahoma State signing.
Aquinas won 49-28 at Pittsburg State University. It gave Dreiling his eighth state title after seven with Hutchinson. Martin believed the Grizzlies made “too many mistakes.” Dreiling said the Aquinas squad was maybe the best team he’s ever had.
“It looked like a Division II football game,” Martin said.
The next year, Northwest massively improved its defense with new coordinator Marc Marinelli, the former head coach at Goddard-Eisenhower. Northwest permitted just 13 points a contest. The Grizzlies again defeated BC (35-18) and Maize (80-42) to reach the title game. Northwest lost, 40-31, to Mill Valley. NW held a 464-415 edge in total yards in the championship.
Last season, Northwest had its well-publicized early season delay because of COVID-19. MV and Northwest were 1-2 virtually all year in some form in 5A rankings. Northwest paced 5A in scoring offense and second in defense with an average score of 54-12.
This time, the Grizzlies defeated rival Carroll, 41-21, in the state semifinals. In the championship, WNW fell, 49-35, to Mill Valley, the Jaguars’ fourth title with coach Joel Applebee.
Mill Valley was the top all-classes squad in Kansas. The Jaguars have continually produced Division I/II signings, including Ethan Kremer, Kansas’ all classes Player of the Year for ’20-21.
Northwest outgained Mill Valley, 460-447. The Grizzlies wanted to force Mill Valley quarterback Cooper Marsh to throw. NW limited Marsh to 7 of 16 passing and picked off a pass. However, the completions totaled 255 yards, yielded several big first downs and three touchdowns. That included plays of 41, 50 and 91 yards.
“Those seven passes were huge plays,” Martin said.
Once the season ends, Martin takes until mid-January to start working on scheme. After 2020, Northwest began scheme the week they got back from the title game. Martin believes his staff has never been this motivated.
Northwest went back and looked at the three state games. They noticed “little things” that cost the Grizzlies. In the losses, Northwest has a combined nine turnovers and is minus-seven in turnover margin, a statistic Martin labeled “big, glaring.”
As uber-dominant as Northwest has been, the Grizzlies are trying to break through the 5A ceiling of Aquinas/Mill Valley.
Northwest joins Claflin (2000-02), Silver Lake (’02-05) and Kapaun (83-85) as the lone teams in state annals to lose at least three state games in a row, per the Prep Power Index database/Kansas historian Brett Marshall. However, those three squads have combined for 22 state titles. NW is 0-4 all-time in state games. Northwest and Wellsville (0-4 with losses from ’82-96) are the Kansas teams with the most runner-ups without a title.
“You have got to beat them,” Martin said. “You have got to find a way to beat them.”
This season, Northwest is again the 5A West favorite with Mill Valley and Aquinas pacing 5A East. Since ’14, 5A titles have gone to three teams: MV has four, Bishop Carroll two and Aquinas one. Mill Valley and Aquinas have met in the 5A semifinals in five of the past six years.
Class 5A, especially on the West is deep, but the hegemony is headed by MV/Aquinas/Northwest, followed by Maize and Bishop Carroll. De Soto, Hays High, Kapaun, Andover, Hutchinson, Maize South, Goddard and several eastern schools are in the conversation. Northwest and Carroll meet in a highlighted Week 1 game.
Martin enjoys this roster, a group he said has “very high football knowledge.” Northwest didn’t have in-person classes until the spring.
“This team, when they all get on the same page, this year will be a fun year – when they get on the same page,” Martin said. “Right now, we have to develop some more leadership. We didn’t have school till April basically, so these guys haven’t been around each other that much, and we have got to develop that camaraderie, and if they can figure that out, I hope to be back in Pittsburg and this time try to win the thing, but we have got a lot of work to do, because there’s a lot of good teams out there.”
Northwest will shift Geremiah Moore to quarterback full-time after he rushed for 961 yards, passed for 305, caught 166 yards and delivered 366 kick return yards. Moore has worked hard in the offseason to improve his passing. L.J. Phillips steps into a leading role at running back. Sophomore wide receiver Michael Lopez made eye-opening plays this summer. Martin called the receiving corps shifty players, similar to Northwest in ’17-18.
Up front, Keyvan Stallings (6-3, 285) is a three-year starter. James Gilbertson moves to right tackle. All four Gilbertson brothers played for Martin, including Joey, a lineman at KU. Left tackle Jacob Lamb (6-3, 255) is a big, athletic left tackle who can run.
Defensively, Nathan Carter, brother of former all-stater Josh Carter, has 20 TFLs in the past two seasons. He has gotten his range of mobility back after a torn meniscus in ’20, a fall that yielded 37 tackles, 13 for loss. Martin said Caden Ross was “waiting in the wings” behind standouts Zac Daher and Nathan Hale. Northwest has continued to churn out D1 defensive linemen – Marcus Hicks is at Oklahoma, and Daher is at Army West Point. Ross posted 6.5 TFLs in three contests.
“Kind of Caden’s turn to shine,” Martin said.
At linebacker, senior Darius Diaz is back, and Zach Morford switches from inside to outside linebacker. Jerome Ragin transferred from Wichita West and will play middle linebacker. Sophomore Jacob King is at outside linebacker/safety. Diaz posted 58 tackles and 12 TFLs.
“I will put our linebacking corps up against anybody,” Martin said.
Northwest was the lone 5A squad to not drop a regular season game in 2020. The Grizzlies have won 23 straight City League contests dating back to a 40-35 season-opening game versus Bishop Carroll in ’17.
Martin has five double-digit win seasons in the last six years and stands at 78-22 overall with Northwest. Before ’15, the program’s only other double-digit winning season was 10-1 in ’05. The last two seasons have marked Northwest’s best scoring defenses since ’05, per the Kansas Football History database.
“What Marc is doing on the defense right now fits what we are doing, because it’s kind of like 2019 where we had to replace Josh Carter, Marcus Hicks and all those guys on defense,” Martin said. “Well, coach kind of went back to the basics this summer about running to the ball, and I think we kind of maybe lost that at times last year, we lost kind of that attitude. I think we believed about the rankings and getting recruited D1 a little bit too much.”
Mill Valley with depth, talented newcomers
Coach Joel Applebee has won four titles in 11 years with the Jaguars. Applebee has continually said “each year is different,” but 2021 has some similarities to ’16. In ’15, MV was widely considered Kansas’ best all-classes team.
The next year, the Jaguars returned just five overall starters, had new quarterback Brody Flaming, replaced 10 of top-11 tacklers.
Still, Applebee, his coaching staff and MV’s stellar development program that starts in the youth ranks, helped the Jaguars to another crown in ’16. In the past two seasons, Mill Valley has won 5A titles, including a team last year that was considered Kansas’ best.
This season, Mill Valley has just four total starters back and breaks in a new starting quarterback with junior Hayden Jay. In spot time last season, he completed 21 of 37 passes for 285 yards with two scores against three interceptions. Likely at least five players could see carries.
The offensive line will have five new starters and likely play seven to eight consistently. Senior Ryan Fulcher (6-2, 263) is expected to be in the mix after he started the Gardner-Edgerton game when standout Sam Hecht was hurt.
“He’s a great kid to have in the program and for all the younger kids to follow that lead,” Applebee said of Jay.
Applebee has highly complemented this year’s senior class, along with great depth and several outstanding sophomores, including sophomore defensive lineman Truman Griffith.
“Really just kind of just pushing themselves to another level, which causes the underclassmen to see that,” Applebee said.
Seniors wide receivers Kendrick Jones and Jared Napoli are each three-year starters. Jones had 32 catches for 548 yards and five scores. Napoli delivered 18 catches for 198 yards and two TDs.
On the defensive line, seniors Cody Moore and Aidan Shaffer are back. Moore finished with 34 tackles, seven for loss, and Shaffer delivered 21 stops, 3.5 TFLs. Moore took over after Cole Knappen went down with injury. Moore had never played high school football before last year.
“They have worked very, very hard, and they understand that it’s their time, and so they have put in the work,” Applebee said. “We still have a long ways to go. There is no doubt about it with the inexperience, but I love this group. They are a very hard-working group and really fun to be around.”
Overall, Applebee labeled the defensive line “extremely talented.” Griffith stands 6-3, 222. His dad took him to powerlifting meets when he was growing up. Applebee said Griffith is “so technically sound” in the weight room.
“He’s not only a good football player, he’s a great kid, and his work ethic in the weight room is just tremendous and obviously that shows,” Applebee said. “He might be one of the strongest freshman we’ve ever had in our program. He’s well-advanced.”
Senior Payton Douglas has kept developing in the program and expects to play a key role at linebacker. Mill Valley plays three safeties in its defense and will rotate five to six plays. MV has had several highly accomplished safeties, including multi-year all-stater Joel Donn. Applebee said junior Holden Zigmant (5-8, 172) reminds him of past great safeties with his smarts and very aggressive style. Zigmant has posted a 37-4 vertical this summer.
“The competition has been the highest it’s ever been in our program as far as depth,” Applebee said. “Right now, it’s the lack of experience that we just don’t know quite yet who is going to fill in. … They all love to compete against each other, but they are all great teammates with each other.”
Hays High returns a bevy of talent with Kanak, Meyers and Dales
About a year and a half ago, Hays High coach Tony Crough asked Jaren Kanak: What is your dream school? Kanak mentioned Clemson. Crough initially started dialogue with Clemson when he served as Hutchinson Community College’s defensive coordinator for one season in 2017. Crough recruited South Carolina when he was at HCC.
Crough reached out to longtime Tiger defensive coordinator Brent Venables, a Salina native. At first, Kanak didn’t get much attention.
“I knew the kind of kid, the kind of character, kind of past that Jaren had, I just thought ‘Man, this might be the perfect fit,’” Crough said.
Regionally, Kanak exploded at the 2020 Sharp Combine when he posted 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at 6-1, 197. That earned him a Kansas State scholarship, among other attention. Then, Kanak opened the 2021 track season with a 10.66 in the 100-meter dash. Crough sent that to Venables and Clemson, which significantly upped the interest.
“I said, ‘Hey, here is the kid I was telling you about,’” Crough said. “And then they were on him at that point. They really realized he could run, and they have been on him pretty hot and heavy ever since.”
Kanak exploded nationally when he posted the 10.37 at the Western Athletic Conference meet and picked up an Alabama offer, among others. Kanak had total 34 offers, per 247.
“He was already going to visit Clemson before he put out that 10.3 in the WAC championships,” Crough said. “They were on him early. They have probably been the ones that have given him the most attention throughout.”
This season, Hays High returns Kanak and senior linebacker Gavin Meyers, who has multiple Power 5 offers, including Colorado. Meyers is expected to become HHS’ all-time leading tackler in early season. He has 208 career tackles. Hays High finished 5-3, 4-0 in the WAC with two losses to Maize South and one to Kapaun.
HHS graduated DE Gaven Haselhorst, the state’s leader in tackles for loss. The Indians finished No. 4 in 5A in scoring defense at 16 points a game under veteran coordinator Layton Hickel. Two years ago, the Indians were 4-6 and allowed 29 points a game.
In 2020, Hays High was No. 22 of 32 in scoring offense at 22 points a game. Crough expects Kanak to play “everywhere,” though QB remains somewhat open-ended. Crough said senior Dylan Dreiling is the starter as of early August. However, Dreiling, SIK’s 5A Baseball Player of the Year, could be a high baseball draft pick and elect to miss football.
Hays High is expected to start 15 seniors, easily the most experienced roster the Indians have had in years.
Jordan Dale played quarterback most of 2020 and earned WAC Player of the Year. As of early August, Dale was listed at wide receiver. Kanak finished with 842 all-purpose yards, though had two games with significantly more production than others. Kanak had 17 tackles in ’20 and will be a hybrid defensive player.
“We are going to get him the ball a lot more than we have ever gotten him the ball,” Crough said. “We tried to last year, and he ended up getting that high ankle sprain, and then had a lot of weird things go on with COVID, and so we are going to get him the ball a lot, and then depending on how fresh he is, and what he can do, we hope to have him on the field on defense a lot as well. We know he translates into a linebacker at the next level.”
Outside of Kanak, Meyers, Dale and Dreiling, Hays High has several talented players that need to stay healthy. Senior running back Roy Moroni and junior free safety Remy Stull have dealt with some injuries. Stull started the first two games of 2020 and then missed the rest of the year.
Senior defensive tackle Gavin Nutting (6-0, 240) is rare two-way lineman starter at the 5/6A level. Nutting started on defense as a freshman and has basically been a two-way starter in the last two falls. He delivered 50 tackles and nine TFLs.
“As the game goes on, he just does better,” Crough said.
Jordan and Dalton Dale, first cousins, both enjoyed a standout multi-sport year in 2020-21. Dalton was first team all-state baseball. Jordan was a key basketball player on the 22-1 squad and the 5A high jump state runner-up. Crough called both Dales competitors. Defensively, Dalton finished with 75 tackles, four TFLs, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
“We call him a ball magnet, because it seems like whenever the defense needs a play, he ends up around the ball somehow and making a play,” Crough said. “We would take a full team full of Dalton Dales.”
Maize, Andover, KMC, DeSoto among other contenders; KCK teams return to play
Maize has posted five strong seasons under longtime coach Gary Guzman for the best run in school history: 7-3, 9-2, 10-2, 10-2 and 9-2. The Eagles return quarterback Avery Johnson, a nationally rated recruit and the No. 1 Kansas recruit in the Class of 2023.
Maize was fourth in 5A with 41.6 points a game. Johnson completed 124 of 214 passes for 1,699 yards with 16 scores against three interceptions. The Eagles also have kicker Cole Seagraves, a first team all-state 5A specialist. Segraves kicked 10 of 15 field goals. Junior WR/ATH Bryce Cohoon has posted 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash and caught 15 passes. Senior Brandon Kerr should be one of 5A’s better linemen.
De Soto (8-2) had 25 players that never missed a day of conditioning this summer. Senior offensive lineman Jon Johnson (6-2, 255) squatted 505 in late July. Coach Brian King earned 2020 United Kansas Conference coach of the year.
De Soto returns a pair of first team all-league players with senior defensive linemen Josh Dunn and Zach White. Senior Austin Mills was a second team OL pick, along with senior kicker Luke Van Booven. The Wildcats return two honorable mention picks with running back Tyler Schultze and wide receiver Ethan Schultze, both seniors.
Goddard graduated standout QB Kyler Semrad and WR Jake Shope. Senior Dylan Reese had 142 carries for 516 yards and six touchdowns. Plus, senior wide receiver Bo Bantz hauled in 83 catches and set Lions’ single game and single season reception marks. Goddard finished 7-3, a three-win improvement from two years ago.
Kapaun was among Kansas’ biggest surprises when it improved from 2-7 to 8-2 in the first season with longtime Wichita-area coach Weston Schartz. KMC lost to rival Bishop Carroll, 31-28, in Week 2 in the Holy War. BC has defeated KMC 24 times in a row.
Junior 6-6 wide receiver Will Anciaux is a Power 5 prospect. The Crusaders paced 5A in scoring defense at 10.1 points allowed a game and was third in offense at 42.3 points a contest. Bishop Carroll will again be a contender. Lineman Maddox Marcotte (6-4, 250) is a quality player. Defensive back Michael Polley has posted 4.49 in the 40. Senior wide receiver Matthew Holthusen has posted 4.44 and a school record 3.8 in the shuttle.
St. Thomas Aquinas finished 6-4 with three in-state losses: Lawrence, Bishop Carroll and 42-7 road defeat to rival Mill Valley in the state semifinals. Aquinas is again loaded, paced by 6-6, 275-pound senior defensive lineman Jalen Marshall, a Mizzou commit. Marshall is ranked as the state’s No. 6 overall prospect. Marshall picked up 10 total offers.
Aquinas and Mill Valley have met in the 5A semifinals in ’15-17, the ’18 quarterfinals and the semifinals in the last two seasons. Aquinas is 29-5 in the last three years. Junior quarterback Maxxwell Ford, a 2023 riser, returns after he threw for 426 yards in spot time last season. Junior Sean Carroll is expected to step into a feature back role after 138 carries for 744 yards and seven TDs. Junior Sa’o Siavi’i is a Division I caliber defensive lineman.
Andover had enjoyed excellent defense the last two seasons with limited offense. In ’19, the Trojans were fifth in 5A in scoring defense with 15.3 points allowed a contest. Andover tallied just 12 points a game, No. 28 in 5A. Last season, Andover finished No. 29 with 17.8 points per game. The Trojans were third in defense with 13.8 points allowed a contest. Senior running back Max Middleton is back after a 1,000-yard season, and linebacker Chandler Goodnight is an exceptional player. Goodnight recently picked up a DePauw offer. Andover linebacker coach Taylor Counts posted that Goodnight has 25 career sacks, including a school record 11 as a freshman.
Andover lost to Wichita Heights, 28-22, in the playoffs last season. Heights tallied 32 points a game in a 5-3 season. All of its offensive production from non-seniors. Andover and Heights are definite 5A sleepers this fall. Heights junior running back John Randle (1,009 rushing yards) has multiple Power 5 offers.
Hutchinson improved from 2-7 to 8-2 and posted a 5-0 mark in AVCTL Division I. The Salthawks won games by eight, one, one, four and five points and lost 14-7 to Andover. Hutchinson has its 1-2 backfield combination of Noah Khokhar and Zach Hogan. Pittsburg went 4-5 and returns talented running back Caiden Barber. He rushed for 1,078 yards. Salina Central and Salina South look to improve. SC has quarterback Parker Kavanaugh, and South has QB Weston Fries and RB Brandt Cox. Maize South finished 5-4, including two losses by a combined five points. The Mavericks have nine straight winning seasons under coach Brent Pfeifer, the only coach in program history.
As of early August, Pfeifer said Owen Bailey will be the starting quarterback. Evan Cantu is back at running back after he cleared 1,000 yards. The top offensive linemen are Danial Jantz and Brady Claassen. The top defensive linemen are Josh Coleman and Blake McCormick. The Mavericks’ leading defensive backs should be Ladislao James III, Britton Forsythe and Anthony Johnson.
Kansas City-Kansas schools return to play after last season was cancelled because of the pandemic. Veteran KCK-area coach Cernyn Macon takes over K.C. Schlagle. Macon said Schlagle’s key players are junior quarterback Kahliek Rainey, senior running back/linebacker Shea Rainey, junior wide receiver/linebacker Carmelo Evans and junior wide receiver/safety Kameron Daboe.
Class 5A Top-15 Scoring Offense from 2020 (of 32)
Wichita Northwest 53.9
Mill Valley 43.8
Kapaun Mt. Carmel 42.3
De Soto 39.4
Topeka Seaman 38.2
Bishop Carroll 36.3
Maize South 34.4
Wichita Heights 32.3
Class 6A Top-15 Scoring Defense from 2020 (of 32)
Kapaun Mt. Carmel 10.1
Wichita Northwest 11.5
Hays High 16.0
Mill Valley 16.1
Topeka Seaman 16.7
Valley Center 18.0
Spring Hill 18.8
Wichita Heights 23.9
Maize South 25.7
Blue Valley Southwest 26.8
St. Thomas Aquinas 26.8
Goddard Eisenhower 27.4