By CONOR NICHOLL & CHET KUPLEN
Sports In Kansas continues with its 2022 Positional Breakdown. Featured already: QB, RB, WR/TE, OL and DL. As well, several classification previews are at Sports In Kansas, plus video interviews on SIK platforms. Conor Nicholl and Chet Kuplen take a look across the state of some of the top returnees.
The theme with the linebackers: elite athletes and great teams have great returning linebackers in ’22. Mill Valley, St. James, Derby, Nemaha Central, Holton, Smith Center, St. Marys, Andale, Washburn Rural and Inman all headline this position group. All those teams are top-5 programs. MV, SJA, and Andale are defending champs, while Derby and Inman are returning runner-ups. This list is not ranked. If you’re a player interested in playing at the next level, try out our premium evaluation service with Chet Kuplen of Sports in Kansas. For details: [email protected], we’ve helped put hundreds of football athletes on the map across Kansas over the last 11 football seasons.
Nemaha Central LB corps
Nemaha Central has a strong chance to open as the No. 1 team in Class 2A under second-year coach Michael Glatczak. NC finished with a 7-3 mark and fourth in 2A scoring defense with 12.7 points allowed a contest. Nemaha Central is loaded on defense, including on defense with Cooper Hajek, Blake Stallbaumer and Wade Leonard and Jacob Hundley.
Hajek has multiple collegiate offers. Nemaha Central has a goal to hold teams under 10 points a game, which would be a team scoring defense record. Nemaha Central has possibly Kansas’ best linebacking corps. Hajek delivered a team-high 73 tackles, seven for loss. Stallbaumer delivered 44 tackles, six for loss. Leonard finished with 45 tackles, six for loss. On the outside, Hundley finished with 31 stops in the 3-3 stack defense. Glatczak noted to SIK that he is most impressed with Hajek’s sideline to sideline speed.
“Coach (Terry) Stueve harps and harps and harps on the little fundamentals during practice, and our kids are just out there playing,” Glatczak said. “They are not thinking at all. They have got the blitz packages down. When their buddy blitzes, someone is covering their spot on the pass route, so I am excited to see the upperclassmen gel on the defensive side.”
Miles Wash/Kade Sheldon/Roman Boden, Derby
Two years ago, Derby had the state’s best linebacking corps with Jack Hileman, the eventual 6A Player of the Year and currently on the Fort Hays roster. This season, Derby has another strong case for the state’s best linebackers. Derby is the defending 6A runner-up to Blue Valley Northwest. Derby is 11-1 and finished No. 10 in 6A with 22.3 points a contest. Miles Wash was first team all-league. Kade Sheldon was a second team selection, and Roman Boden was honorable mention all-league. Wash easily paced Derby with 127 tackles. He also delivered 13 tackles for loss. Sheldon finished with 44 tackles, seven for loss. Boden finished with 57 stops, six for loss. Derby returns five of its top-seven tacklers. Wash has committed to Division I Southern Illinois.
Noah Coy/Broc Worcester, Mill Valley
Mill Valley finished 12-1 and won its third straight Class 5A state championship. MV finished second in 5A in scoring defense with 13.8 points permitted a game with longtime defensive coordinator Drew Hudgins. Mill Valley is loaded across the board. MV and 3A Andale have a strong case for Kansas’ best defense. Known for its depth, Mill Valley returns two honorable mention all-Sunflower League linebackers with Noah Coy and Broc Worcester. MV is expected to open No. 1 in 5A. Worcester finished with 94 tackles, three off the team lead, along with 6.5 TFLs. Coy tied for third with 77 stops and paced MV with 10.5 TFLs. Worcester is middle linebacker and Coy is weak side linebacker. Coach Joel Applebee told SIK this summer that both are “very instinctive players.”
“He’s just steady,” Applebee said of Worcester. “He’s a true mike backer who is going to plug gaps, and he’s really worked on his footwork and speed to where he can run in the open space much better this year.”
Coy moved from running back to linebacker at the start of 2021 and continues to learn the position.
“Noah is very, very explosive,” Applebee said. “His run throughs are explosive. Anytime he commits to anything on his read, everything about it is explosive, and he just got better and better and better.”
Jace Boswell/Jayden Fletcher/Garyson Booth, Holton
Holton senior Jace Boswell is a returning 3A first team all-state selection. He has committed to North Dakota. Holton finished 11-1 and finished fifth in 3A in scoring defense with 12.3 points allowed. Boswell finished with 47 tackles, three TFLs. Fletcher is 5-foot-7, 175 with a 435-pound squat. He has a Sterling College official offer. Booth (5-10, 182) has a 34-inch vertical and 4.51 in the 40. Fletcher has a Sterling offer. Booth has offers from Benedictine and Bethel.
Cade Brown, Parsons
Brown is a player that could have a big time year after having a nice sophomore season for the rising Vikings out of Parsons. This is a program not many are talking about but should be. Brown, who is only a junior, could be one of the best linebackers in 3A this season that not many know about.
Jonah Meyer, Andale
Andale led all 11-man football with 5.2 points allowed a contest. Andale set school records for scoring offense, scoring defense and average margin of victory. The Indians have won 38 straight contests and three straight 3A state championships. Jonah Meyer, the state runner-up in javelin to teammate Riley Marx, has a possible goal to compete in track at Air Force. Meyer will move back from defensive line to middle linebacker and has immediately become the vocal leader for Andale’s defense. Coach Dylan Schmidt noted Meyer’s excellent football IQ. Schmidt called Meyer “as tough as they come.”
St. James Academy/EKL
St. James Academy has won two straight 4A state championships. Veteran coach Tom Radke believes the Thunder “could be one of the best defenses that we’ve ever had here.” SJA returns a pair of honorable mention all-Eastern Kansas League selections with senior Blake Boydston and junior Spencer Dohm. SJA finished with nine straight wins and permitted 23.6 points a contest, No. 15 in 4A. Dohm paced all Kansas sophomores in tackles, per MaxPreps. Coach Tom Radke noted to SIK that Dohm has improved his speed this summer.
Dohm finished with 86 tackles and delivered 11.5 tackles for loss. Boydston finished with 53 tackles, five for loss. Radke noted Dohm improved his flexibility and “got so much faster this year.”
Eastern Kansas League honorable mention returners include: Blue Valley North seniors Anthony Andrews and Cole Bauer; Bishop Miege junior Justyce Betts; St. Thomas Aquinas senior Conor Ellis.
Washburn Rural is loaded at linebacker. Ty Weber is a returning first team all-Centennial League linebacker. Wyatt Conklin and JC Heim were both honorable mention selections. WR finished 8-2 and finished fifth in 6A with 17.5 points allowed a contest. Weber delivered 106 tackles, seven for loss and a pair of forced fumbles. Weber broke the WR all all-time record for tackles. Weber is 6-foot-3, 230 and even had interest from nationally known IMG Academy to play football there for his senior year. Weber, though, elected to stay at WR; the Junior Blues are a strong 6A contender. In his sophomore year, Heim delivered 74 tackles, eight TFLs, three sacks, three pass breakups and two safeties.
Eli Brunk, Inman
Inman didn’t allow a touchdown until Week 9. The Teutons finished as 1A state runner-up, the best season in school history. Eli Brunk has a strong case for best 1A linebacker. Brunk finished with 65 tackles, eight for loss.
Tyler Little, Galena
Galena’s Tyler Little has made multiple SIK preseason positions list. Little is 6-4, 240 pounds and is the No. 13 Kansas recruit in the Class of 2023. Little has offers from Arkansas State, Eastern Michigan and New Mexico State, plus multiple others. He is listed as a tight end for recruiting. However, Little was CNC unanimous first team all-league. Galena finished 8-2 and ranked No. 14 in 3A with 18.5 points allowed.
Andrew Kamito/Dawson Williams, Gardner-Edgerton
The Gardner-Edgerton duo were both Sunflower League honorable mention selections. G-E finished 4-6 and ranked No. 18 in 6A with 27 points allowed. The Trailblazers picked up DE Kaleb Green, a 2A Defensive Player of the Year finalist from Wellsville. Kamito and Williams combined for more than 60 tackles.
Alex Coester, Girard
Girard enjoyed its best start since 1999 and finished 10-1 with a sizable turnaround. Alex Coester earned second team all-league. Girard was fourth in 3A with 11.9 points per game allowed. Girard was minus-20 in turnover margin in 2020 and plus-11 last season. He rushed for 648 yards. Girard permitted 223 yards a game, per SIK research and Hudl boxscores.
Nathan Fury, Kapaun Mt. Carmel
KMC’s Nathan Fury is among the state’s best linebackers in the City League and 5A. The Crusaders posted a 10-2 season and ranked third in the class with 15.1 points per game. Fury recorded 134 tackles. He can bench 225 pounds 15 times. Fury finished third in 5A state wrestling last year. Fury went 43-6 a 182 pounds.
Cooper Simmons, Colgan
Cooper Simmons also picked up second team all-conference. He is part of Colgan’s 4-5 squad that finished No. 17 out of 48 2A squads. The Panthers drop down to 1A this fall and should be a legitimate state contender. Simmons is one of the state’s best juniors. Offensively, he paced the Panthers with 69 carries for 563 yards and nine TDs. Simmons easily led Colgan with 94 tackles.
Drew Gibbs, Centralia
Centralia’s Drew Gibbs picked up first team all-league honors. Longtime Panther defensive coordinator Roger Holthaus took over as head coach for his great friend, Larry Glatczak. Centralia went 8-3 and finished ninth in 1A with 16.9 points allowed a contest.
Ty Birkenbaugh, Kingman
Kingman’s Ty Birkenbaugh is among 2A’s top players. Kingman enjoyed its best season since 1972 with a 10-2 record. The Eagles ranked third in 2A with 10.3 points allowed a contest. Kingman has collectively allowed just 13.8 points per game in the last three seasons. The Eagles have the 3-3 Havoc defense under veteran coordinator Dustin Beam. Birkenbaugh is one of Kansas’ best linebackers. Birkenbaugh delivered 126 tackles and a team-high 19 TFLs. In November last year, Kingman coach Tanner Hageman told SIK that Birkenbaugh “stepped out of his comfort zone, being a lot more vocal” and “being a coach on the field.”
Abe Huaracha/James Rezac, St. Marys
In SIK’s 1A preview, we looked at the much-improved St. Marys’ defense under coach Kyle Schenk. A key pivotal player in the improvement is linebacker Abe Huaracha, a returning first team all-league selection known for his athleticism. St. Marys moves down from 2A to 1A and is a significant state favorite. Huaracha delivered 64 tackles and four for loss. Huaracha is highly athletic and can play defensive end, too. James Rezac delivered 49 tackles, one more than standout Keller Hurla’s 48.
This summer, St. Marys coach Kyle Schenk noted Rezac is a “workhorse in the weight room.”
“I have always said the identity of a defense is how it tackles,” Schenk said.
Jake Sasse paced SC in tackles as a sophomore, though missed all last season with injury. He was hurt again this summer, though is expected to play at least part of the season. As a sophomore, Luke Franklin finished with 61 tackles, 11 for loss. Eli Franklin delivered 70 stops, nine for loss in his sophomore season. Smith Center went 9-2 and was fifth in 1A with 13.2 points allowed a contest. In ’21, Luke delivered second team all-league honors. Kaid, Jake’s cousin, stepped in last season and had a strong season at center and middle linebacker.
NCKL: Cam Cleveland, Jr. Concordia; Marysville senior Peyton Smith
Both Cam Cleveland and Peyton Smith were first team all-league. Smith was a first team all-state punter. Concordia finished 8-3 and delivered 24.2 points per game, No. 24 out of 48 3A teams. Marysville is looking for a bounce-back season after a 2-6 finish. Cleveland easily paced Concordia with 120 tackles, 43 more than any other player.
Central Kansas League: Pratt senior Sam Bergner and Hoisington junior Tony Moore
Sam Bergner and Tony Moore were each second team all-league selections. Pratt was No. 18 in 3A with 21.1 points a game and had a nice improvement to a 6-3 mark. Hoisington was No. 19 in 2A with 21.1 points permitted a contest. Bergner paced Pratt with 54 tackles, eight for loss. He is the only one of Pratt’s top-five tacklers back. Hoisington finished 8-2. Moore, in eight games, delivered 28 tackles, four for loss.
Aiden Guy, Chaparral
Aiden Guy helped Chaparral with a big turnaround and collected first team all-league. He paced the Roadrunners with 77 tackles, 6.5 for loss. Chaparral returns its top-five tacklers, all seniors: Guy, Austin Clark, Ely Jackson, Eli Gates and Jack Francis. All five delivered at least 60 tackles. Chaparral finished 8-2 and allowed 15.8 points per game, tenth in 2A. In 2020, the Roadrunners were 2-6 and permitted 31 points a contest.
Guy and quarterback Wyatt Drouhard joined Chaparral football last season. Drouhard graduated, though Guy returns. Chaparral coach JC Zahradnik told SIK last fall that Guy grew up in Chaparral, moved to Medicine Lodge, and then came back. Zahradnik called Guy “a huge bonus.” Guy plays inside linebacker on defense, which helped some personnel move down the defensive line.
Kenton Simmons, Lawrence
Lawrence’s Kenton Simmons was first team all-league in the Sunflower. Lawrence finished 9-3 and finished eighth in 6A with 19.8 points a game. The Lions finished 5-0 at home. Lawrence and Derby were the only two 6A teams to not lose a home game. Simmons is 6-4, 235 with offers from Arkansas State, Lindenwood and Eastern Michigan.
Jaxon Vikander, Manhattan
Manhattan’s Jaxon Vikander collected first team all-conference in the Centennial League. Manhattan, always known for excellent defense, led 6A with 13.7 points a game. Vikander finished fourth at 6A 195 pounds in state wrestling last winter. Vikander is 6-1, 210 and squat 440.
KC Piper’s Terrel Anderson was a second team all-league selection. Piper finished 7-4 and allowed 20.4 points a contest, seventh-best in 4A. SIK’s Bethany Bowman went to KC Piper in the last several days, and an Anderson interview is available on SIK platforms. Anderson delivered 96 tackles, while senior Colin Vigil delivered 64 stops. Senior Mason Lheureux paced Piper with 120 stops.
Christian McAfee, Sabetha
Sabetha’s Christian McAfee, a junior, picked up first team all-conference. Sabetha is a trendy breakout team since it will move down from 3A to 2A. Sabetha finished 4-5, though had an average margin of 30-16. Sabetha was ninth in 3A in scoring defense with 15.6 points permitted. Sabetha lost games by two, 12, 14 and seven points.
Conner Neill/Brandon Lee, Maize South
Maize South’s Conner Neill has delivered impressive weight room and combine numbers and collected honorable mention all-state. Maize South is historically known for strong defense under Brent Pfeifer, the only head coach in program history. The Mavericks posted a 6-4 record.
A physical marvel, Neill is 6-0, 208 with a 41-inch vertical, 10-8 broad jump, and 4.09 pro agility. He can 330 bench, 425 squat and clean 340 to join the prestigious 1,000-pound club. He has offers from Emporia State and Missouri Western. Additionally, Brandon Lee is 5-9, 180 with a 485-pound squat. He has cleaned 315 off the floor while weighing 172. He has an Ottawa offer.
Ty Leedy, Chanute
Chanute is a loaded team and paced 4A with 8.8 points a game allowed. Ty Leedy paced Chanute in tackles as a sophomore and was just shy of the team lead as a junior. He has more than 115 total tackles in the last two years.
Zach Darche/Josh Kidd, Blue Valley West
Blue Valley West’s Zach Darche and Josh Kidd earned Eastern Kansas League first team all-conference and honorable mention, respectively. BVW is stacked on the defensive side after a 7-5 season and Class 6A semifinal showing. West was No. 12 in 6A in scoring defense and permitted 23.5 points a contest.
Connor Padgett/Peyton Ritter, Maize
Maize is known for its offensive playmakers, though returns multiple standout players. Connor Padgett is a returning first team all-league player, and Peyton Ritter was an honorable mention selection. Maize is a 5A preseason top-3 team. The Eagles went 10-3 and had its first ever state berth, a runner-up finish to Mill Valley. Maize was No. 12 in 5A in scoring defense with 21.8 points allowed.
Sean Anderson, Norton
Norton’s Sean Anderson has 240 career tackles and is a returning first team all-Mid-Continent League selection. Anderson was a first team all-Mid-Continent League linebacker. He is the only one of the four first teamers back. Norton was No. 23 in 2A with 20.2 points allowed a game. Anderson is 6-4, 240.
Bobby Trujillo, Emporia
One of the Centennial League’s top players, Emporia’s Bobby Trujillo returns for the Spartans. He delivered 111 tackles, 14 for loss. Trujillo was a state qualifier in 5A wrestling at 195 pounds.
Landon Boss, Osage City
Although Boss may be more known on the offensive side of the ball as a QB, one of the states best multiple sport athletes is also a standout on the defensive side of the ball. That is likely where he ends up at the collegiate level but could fit into multiple spots with his athleticism and explosiveness.
Brayden Kunz, Conway Springs
Kunz was a first team all 1A pick last season at linebacker. Although undersized at just 180 pounds he will be one of the top defenders in the class. Kunz is just a junior.
Conner Gagnon, Wichita Collegiate
Gagnon was a second team all-league selection for the Spartans. Collegiate delivered another strong season under coach Troy Black. The Spartans went 8-2 and permitted 15 points a game, seventh-best in 3A. Gagnon is 5-foot-7, 190 with a 430 squat, 250 bench and 275 clean.
Jace Thomas, Scott City
Thomas is expected to have a breakout year on both sides of the ball and should be one of the better players in Western Kansas this season at running back and linebacker.
Luke Simpson, Salina South
Salina South’s Luke Simpson collected second team all-league honors. Simpson led Salina South with 62 tackles and delivered six TFLs.
Javyn Alexander, McPherson
McPherson’s Jayvn Alexander was a second team all-conference pick. The Bullpups were ninth in 4A with 21.4 points a contest. McPherson had just three home games all last season, fewest in the classification. As a sophomore, Alexander was third with 64 tackles.
Jalen Rice, El Dorado
El Dorado’s Jalen Rice was second team all-league. Rice tied for second with 51 tackles.
Top 8-Man Linebackers:
Cooper Jermark, Beloit St. John’s/Tipton
Beloit-St. John’s/Tipton was a first team all-league player. BSJT finished 4-5 and permitted 34.7 points a game, which ranked No. 24 out of 51 teams in Eight-Man, Division II. The 5-foot-11, 167-pound Jermark has 301 total tackles, four force fumbles and three interceptions. Jermark delivered 158 tackles, 12 for loss.
Jackson Risley, Caldwell (now South Sumner Co.) –
Jackson Risley was first team all-league selections for Caldwell. This season, South Haven and Caldwell co-op to form South Sumner Co. football. Risley paced Caldwell with 113 tackles.
“He’s a hard-hat kind of kid,” South Sumner coach Sean Blosser told SIK this summer. “He’s going to do his job. He’s not going to speak much. He’s going to be there and do everything he can to help his team. He’s the prototypical football player.”
Carson Werth, Victoria
First team all conference last season as the Knights will again look to be a contender for a deep run. He also doubled as a standout running back.
Ryan Kuckelman, Macksville
Kuckelman is a great sized linebacker at 6’5” with nice speed at the position. He also doubles as a QB and was a 400 meter state champion as a sophomore.
Brayden Norris, Meade
Meade’s Brayden Norris was 5-foot-6, 150 pounds. He delivered key plays in the Buffaloes’ 22-14 Eight-Man, Division I championship victory versus Little River. Meade finished 13-0 and was second in Division I with 12.2 points a contest. Norris was an Eight-Man, Division I Defensive Player of the Year finalist with 128 tackles, 11 for loss.
Norris finished with 11 tackles and a key pass defended in the state championship game. Little River was at Meade’s seven-yard line in the final minute. LR eventually faced fourth down from the 12-yard line. Norris deflected the pass to seal the championship. Meade allowed 29.4 points a game in ’20 before the biggest turnaround by any eight-man program in the last 15 years. Last year, Norris could squat 315.
Conner Dinkel, Hill City
Hill City’s Conner Dinkel has earned some type of all-league honor since his freshman year, including first team all-state last season. HC won the first district title in school history and advanced to the state semifinals, the second-best finish ever. Dinkel led the Ringnecks with 119 tackles. He paced Hill City with 103 stops as a sophomore. As a freshman, he delivered 74 tackles, fourth-best on the squad. On offense, Dinkel plays guard and is among eight-man’s top linemen.
Eli Broxterman, Axtell, Isaac Detweiler, Axtell
Broxterman was a first team all-state pick as a freshman last fall for the 8M-II state champion. The Eagles are loaded on both sides of the ball and will be for quite some time. Detweiler is the returning offensive player of the year in the class but also a standout defender.
Owen Day, Trego
Day is a standout on both sides of the football and was an all-state honorable mention pick last season for Trego.
Mitch Budke, Chase County & Brock Griffin, Chase County
Budke is a standout offensive player but also a tackle machine. He is one of the best two-way players in the 8-man game across the state. Griffin is also looking to be one of the best defenders in 8M-I this season at the linebacker spot.
Logan McCarty, Cheylin
6-man standout McCarty is looking for a breakout year after registering 85 tackles last season as a sophomore.
Other top returnees across the state of Kansas:
AVCTL Division III honorable mention LBs back: Augusta senior Thomas Johnson, Circle junior Cannon McCormick, El Dorado junior Cole Rickard, Winfield junior Cole Wageman
AVCTL Division IV honorable mention linebackers back: Clearwater’s Weston Burford, Clearwater senior Ty Cash, Rose Hill senior Jayden Jones
Todrick Duncan, Riverside; Bryson Vawter, Topeka Seaman; Jack Voth, Cheney; Ottawa junior Parker Guge; Baldwin Wesley Martin; Louisburg senior Nathan Vincent; Dayontay Standifer, Wichita East; Dylan Gantz, Stafford; Silas Jones, Norton, Sam Duling – Bishop Carroll, Dayontay Standifer – Wichita East, Isaiah Yehudah – Wichita Heights, Michael Bailey – Wichita North, Nate Campbell – Wichita Heights, Mencali En – Wichita West, Canon McCormack – Circle, Sirvante Williams – Wichita SE, T’Marius Nolen – Wichita SE, Wyatt Peterson – Attica, John Gadwood – Derby, Dylan Gantz – Stafford, Rex Johnson – Ellis, Jared Ellis – Aquinas, Khai Cosner – Holcomb, Garrett Siemsen – Republic County, Adrian Panuco – Sacred Heart, Skyler Hake – Concordia, Aidan Blum – Olathe South, Grant Larson – Wamego, Wade Morgan – Douglass, Geriun Boor – Sylvan Lucas, Nate Goheen – Osborne, Doak Guttery – Osborne, Karsten McKee – Pleasanton, Brody Perkins – South Sumner, Jackson Risley – South Sumner, Cody Hambleton – Labette County, Ryan Renner, Alex Gunderson – Olathe NW, Lane Nelson – Goddard, Wyatt Potter – Aquinas, Ethan Curran – SM East, Diego Juarez – SM North, Andrew Kamito – Gardner Edgerton, Dawson Williams – Gardner Edgerton, Kiser Wiatrak – St. Paul, Drew Gibbs – Centralia, Jerrit Norris – Troy, Matthew Moeder – Great Bend, J.P. Harris – Scott City, Dylan Bice – Thunder Ridge, Cade Reynolds – Hugoton, Trey Sommer – Humboldt, Koen Werner- Sedgwick, Colter Oldham – Lakin, Tate Deever – Wabaunsee, Kaison Bigham – Valley Heights, Bryton Reves – Wabaunsee, Austin Rich – Elkhart, Caleb Dotterer – Lincoln, Brayden Berens – Skyline, Braxton Lafferty – Little River, Cauy Scripsick – Medicine Lodge, Jayston Rice – Yates Center, Jayden Reed – Rawlins County, Wyatt Peterson – A&A, Grant Stephens – Little River, Holden Barker – Colony Crest, Lakin Getz- Quinter, Kacen Anthony – Satanta, Geruin Boor- Sylvan Lucas, Colton Gossen – Peabody Burns, Adam Phillips – Wheatland Grinnell,