Sports in Kansas: National Signing Day Recap

Syris Dunlap inked with FHSU out of Liberal HS on Wednesday.

By CONOR NICHOLL & Chet Kuplen – Sports in Kansas

Wednesday marked National Signing Day. This year’s class featured a standout crop of linemen, a few late switches from some of the state’s top players, and strong classes from the four in-state Division II schools. Plus, a look at notes and numbers from the class. All heights/weights, positions from college’s Signing Day releases, along with KPreps data.

Kansas State adds another solid in-state class and continues the PWO way

Kansas State has been known for having former walk-on’s on its 2-deep roster every single year since Bill Snyder was around. Coach Chris Klieman has continued that. It also helps with the strong ties that Director of Recruiting Taylor Braet, a Kansas native that has been with the Cats for several years, has built among Kansas high schools and junior colleges. While Kansas State landed scholarship players Cody Stufflebean (McPherson), Nate Matlack (Olathe East), Hadley Panzer (Lakin), Talor Warner (Gardner Edgerton) and Sam Shields (Manhattan) it also landed a ridiculously solid preferred walk-on class. Some of the players had great opportunities elsewhere to have their college paid for but for many they know the history of this program. This year alone we saw Dalton Schoen, Blaise Gammon, Harry Trotter, Blake Lynch and Devin Antcil in the starting lineup and none of the above had any Division I football offers out of high school. That’s not to mention the ones that were on the two-deep this year that had never sniffed a Division I scholarship out of HS. Player development has been key for the Wildcats. Among a few of the highlighted PWOs in this class the Cats have added Ty Bowman (6-6, 210 ATH) of Chanute and Beau Palmer (6-3, 210 ATH) of Blue Valley. Two guys that you could be hearing their names on a two-deep in a few years as these two didn’t sign with the Wildcats to become practice players, they signed because they think they can play here. The Wildcats also added Sports in Kansas 3A Offensive Player of the Year, Riley Petz of Cheney, who has major upside with his 6-1.5 frame as a DB or his speed as a WR. Petz was the swiss-army knife of high school football in Kansas this year. KSU also added Jairus Kennedy, Jaylen Carter (Washburn Rural), Terrance Collins (Aquinas) and C.J. Horton (Fort Scott). From Jordy Nelson, B.J. Finney, Ryan Mueller, Ian Campbell, KSU has a known tradition of taking an under the radar walk-on Kansas kid to Big-time college football.

Maize running back Caden Cox inks with Butler County; among large group for BCCC

While many players had Signing Day announcements weeks or months ago, the biggest news Wednesday came from Maize’s two-time first-team all-state running back Caden Cox. He has a great blend of power and speed, along with high academics. Last fall, he delivered 1,701 total yards and 20 touchdowns. Cox has helped Maize earn back-to-back Class 5A semifinals showings. Cox had earned interest from high academic eastern schools. He first committed to Kansas, then de-committed. Cox’s Twitter post, in underlined writing, said “I am committed and will be signing to BUCO to try to pursue my childhood dream of playing big-time division I football.”

Cox’s signing was part of another strong haul for Butler County. Many in-state junior colleges have significantly signed fewer players in recent years because of junior college scholarship rule changes. However, Butler County has consistently had big Kansas Signing Day classes. Butler’s class also included Bishop Miege’s highly talented safety Ty’Quez Agnew-Whitten. Derby running back Tre Washington, after back-to-back huge seasons for the two-time defending Panthers, inked with Butler County.

The Grizzlies’ signings featured Goddard wide receiver/defensive back Kaeden Hoefer, Goddard-Eisenhower defensive back Chance Omli, and Great Bend offensive lineman Barrett Lutt. Hoefer was one of the more intriguing prospects in the Class of 2020. Hoefer switched positions and significantly played quarterback for Goddard this fall after standout Kyler Semrad suffered injury.

Coldwater-South Central kicker Gage Girk signed with Butler. He was one of the top eight-man kickers in the nation the last several years.

Chairez, Kurth change schools, both head to Garden City CC; Harden also with new choice with UNI

Colby lineman Aaron Kurth and Garden City lineman Refujio Chairez, a four-year starter and the state’s strongest athlete, had first committed to other schools. Kurth, whose stock significantly rose in the summer, had an offer from Kansas. He committed to FCS South Dakota.

Chairez (6-0, 330) elected for Division II Missouri Southern and former Garden City coach Jeff Sims. However, Chairez then elected to attend Garden City CC, and also enrolled in January. Kurth (6-7, 285) also decided for Garden City, though is playing basketball this winter for Colby High School.

As well, Wichita East’s Amos Alford, a 6-4, 175-pound wide receiver/defensive back, committed to the Broncbusters.

Topeka quarterback Da’Vonshai Harden, the state’s No. 12 player by recruiting industry leader 247, was first committed to Kansas. However, Harden, listed as an athlete, is headed to FCS University of Northern Iowa, per 247.

Harden was one of four February UNI signings, according to The (Iowa) Gazette. Northern Iowa recruited Harden for more than a year. Jacob Keller transferred for the Panthers, and Harden, a three-star recruit, flipped his choice from KU to UNI. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Harden is listed as a quarterback on UNI’s official Signing Day list.

Top players stay with selections; cap the year of the lineman

The vast majority of the top Sunflower State players by 247 made its choices last summer. This was the year of the lineman.

Lawrence Free State lineman Turner Corcoran, the state’s top player at 6-foot-6, 280, signed with Nebraska. He was the fourth-best player at his position in the country. Topeka running back Ky Thomas, the No. 2 all-time leading rusher in state annals, signed with Minnesota. Bishop Miege wide receiver Daniel Jackson, the third-best recruit, also is going to Minnesota.

Blue Valley offensive tackle Mason Richman, Salina Central tight end Quinton Stewart, and Olathe East defensive end Nate Matlack signed with Iowa, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, respectively.

Gardner-Edgerton guard Talor Warner (Kansas State), Derby offensive tackle Alex Conn (Nebraska), and Emporia offensive lineman Hayden Pauls (Iowa State) all went to Power 5 schools.

Shawnee Mission South tight end Will Huggins stayed with Kansas, and McPherson’s defensive end Cody Stufflebean, listed as an athlete, is headed to Kansas State. The Wildcats also picked up offensive lineman Sam Shields and Hadley Panzer from Manhattan High and Lakin, respectively.

Wamego running back Isiah Childs stayed with Akron. Childs has indicated he wants to play running back in college. Multiple schools recruited him as a defensive player. Mill Valley offensive tackle Kyle Kelly remained with Arkansas State, and Plainville running back Jared Casey signed with Kansas.

St. James guard Max Kalny (6-5, 275) signed with Stanford. He also picked offers from Air Force and Cornell. Kalny committed to the Cardinal on Dec. 9.

Fort Hays with major western Kansas signings

Fort Hays had made back-to-back Division II playoff trips and was 8-3 last fall. The Tigers had a massive haul with area signings. Coach Chris Brown signed his oldest son, Hunter, two years ago. This year, he signed his youngest son, Hayden. He ranks third in HHS history in total points, rushing yards, attempts and receptions and delivered more than 3,000 career yards in total offense.

Also from the Western Athletic Conference featured Great Bend wide receiver Alex Schremmer, GB defensive back Dalton Miller, Liberal wide receiver Syris Dunlap, Dodge City’s defensive back Beau Foster and DC defensive back/linebacker John Johnson. Dunlap accounted for 110 career scores, and Foster, DC’s quarterback, was the WAC Offensive Player of the Year. Miller is GB’s all-time leading tackler, and Schremmer holds multiple GB receiving records.

Norton teammates Kade Melvin (DB) and Judson Wiltfong (DL) also signed after they led the Bluejays to its first state title game in 30 years. Foster’s and Melvin’s dads – Norton head coach Lucas Melvin and Dodge City head coach David Foster – both played for the Tigers. Wiltfong, the SIK co-2A Defensive Player of the Year, joined his older brother, Hayden on the Tiger roster.

Maize South’s Trevion Mitchell was arguably the state’s highly rated defensive back entering the season. He inked with FHSU, along with Andover Central wide receiver Matt Macy, and Bishop Carroll tight end Max Bullinger. Larned defensive back Mason Perez, a three-sport standout, missed part of his senior year with injury. Thunder Ridge’s Reece Struckhoff had 2,167 rushing yards and 166 tackles and inked with the Tigers.

Emporia State signs 27; WR Brown, RB Henry, OL Hull leads group – all with strong ESU ties

The Hornets picked up 27 new players, including 14 from Kansas and five total linebackers, the most of any position group.

Blue Valley West’s David Brown, a three-time state track champion in 2019 and a first team all-state wide receiver, had significant ties to Emporia. His coach, Josh Koerkenmeier, and dad, Walter Brown, both played for Emporia State. Brown helped BVW to a 7-4 mark with 968 receiving yards as a senior. He had 66 catches for 1,054 yards and 13 TDs his junior year.

Brown was one of six signings for Blue Valley West.

Andover running back Peyton Henry, one of the faster players in the 2020 class, had former Hornet Cade Armstrong as his coach. His uncle Steve Henry played for ESU and is the school’s Athletic Hall of Honor.

Humboldt lineman Josh Hull signed with Emporia State. His mother, Mona, played basketball for the Lady Hornets.  Holton safety Trey Wright’s father, Shannon, was a former Emporia State football player.

ESU also had two pickups that were key transfers this fall.

Wichita Northwest linebacker Jack Wiens went from Andover Central to the Grizzlies and helped NW with a massive defensive improvement.

Topeka linebacker Uciph McDaniel transferred from Wichita as a senior and earned multiple offers before deciding on the Hornets. Hoisington lineman Riley Philbern also picked up several offers. Philbern played with a knee injury throughout the fall.

Harris, Callaghan, Vetter among headliners for Washburn

While Miller and Mitchell headlined the DB group this season, Aquinas’ Kordan Harris ended up with the top honor. Harris was the only DB named to the Top 11 all-classes by the Kansas Football Coaches Association. Harris was all-Simone (K.C. area) this fall at DB.

Shawnee Mission West quarterback C.J. Callaghan was one of the state’s top quarterbacks in terms of size (6-4, 230), experience and athleticism. He played for his dad, Tim, the long-time SMW coach. Callaghan was hurt for part of his senior season and played on struggling teams. However, Callaghan is considered to have a lot of upside.

Plainville safety Jordan Finnesy, also the Cardinals’ three-year starting quarterback and a state champion wrestler, signed with Washburn. Plainville standout Aubree Dewey inked with the Lady Blues’ basketball team. Finnesy and Dewey are statistically two of the best players in Mid-Continent League history.

Wamego return specialist Taybor Vetter was the state’s top return specialist the last couple falls. Vetter, listed at 5-9, 150, committed to Washburn in late January. Vetter was among the more interesting prospects in 2020 because of his elite speed.

McPherson safety Kaleb Hoppes, Gardner-Edgerton defensive back Isaiah Jackson, Wamego quarterback Brad Sackrider, and Bishop Carroll defensive end Phoenix Smith also signed with the Ichabods.

Pittsburg State has first signing day class under coach Brian Wright; Cummings a major storyline

Brian Wright took over for Tim Beck, who served more than 30 years in various capacities with the Gorillas.

Blue Valley West running back Riley Cummings was one of the top stories of the 2019 season. Cummings started as a rare freshman at running back and then suffered major injuries his sophomore and junior year and barely played. He returned as a senior with a big season.

He rushed 212 times for 1,092 yards and 13 scores, including a key Week 1 win versus Mill Valley, the eventual 5A champion. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Cummings is expected to play tight end.

St. Paul running back Adam Albertini, a rare eight-man Shrine Bowl pick, joined his brother Anthony on the PSU roster. He has posted 4.54 in the 40-yard dash.

Additionally, Blue Valley Southwest kicker/punter Dominik Stadlman, who had a priority walk-on offer from Nebraska, signed with PSU after a stellar special teams career. Tonganoxie lineman Cole Sample had a KU track offer and elected to play football for the Gorillas.

Blue Valley West linebacker Thomas Cook, Blue Valley offensive lineman Evan Taylor, Galena running back Nick Sarwinski, Humboldt running back Conor Haviland, Olathe East’s Hezekiah Newman, and Lawrence Free State’s Ryan Lutz also signed with Pittsburg State. Lutz, who was one of the players we did an evaluation on in November and knew nothing about, completely blew up after the process. He went from a player with zero offers at any level to offers from over a hand full of Division II programs. He also had NAIA and juco opps. Lutz is a nasty lineman that was in the shadows of one of the highest recruited lineman in Kansas history, Turner Corcoran.

Cook has strong ties to Pittsburg State with father (Patrick), grandpa (legendary Colgan head coach Chuck Smith) and uncles (Nick Smith, Mark Smith, Jeff Smith, Chas Smith) all played for the Gorillas. Cook was a finalist for SIK 6A POY and a Shrine Bowl Selection.

Quarterbacks: Axtell’s Buessing to Highland, Jones to Missouri Western

Axtell four-year starting quarterback Quinn Buessing, a four-sport all-state pick and statistically one of the best eight-man quarterbacks in state history, had NAIA offers and a Washburn offer. He signed with Highland Community College.

Wichita Northwest quarterback Reagan Jones kept his commitment to Missouri Western. He was the first MWSU commit in his class. Buessing was the SIK 8-man II Offensive Player of the Year, and Jones was the 5A Offensive Player of the Year.

Missouri Western identifying Kansas talent

Missouri Western did as good as some of the D2 schools in Kansas this year we felt like in identifying top-notch under the radar Kansas talent. The Griffons added at least six Kansas all-state players including Preven Christon (Maize), Dhimani Butler (Goddard), Brison Cobbins (Miege), Reagan Jones (Wichita Northwest), Bryce Krone (Bonner Springs), Christian Mozingo (Aquinas).

KU adds Huggins

Will Huggins, a 6-foot-7 220-pound senior out of SM South, is their headline recruit out of Kansas. A few other that we expected did not sign with the Jayhawks in Jaylin Richardson and Da’Vonshai Harden, both of whom will go to Northern Iowa. Kansas did add Jared Casey of Plainville, the SIK 1A DPOY, as a preferred walk-on. They also added Danny Robinson of BV Northwest as a PWO. The Jayhawks have made strides under Miles in identifying Kansas talent and have overall shown more interest we think but the numbers are still not showing. They’ve offered more walk-on spots to players from Kansas than what it was under Beaty but the Jayhawks are going to need a stronger impact in Kansas going forward. In our opinion, there were several players that signed with FCS teams or PWO teams this season that could have really helped the Jayhawks in the future. When the Jayhawks start offering some of those kids that’s when it will take a turn in the right direction with Kansas kids. 

Dakota’s continues to recruit Kansas at the Division I FCS level

South Dakota, North Dakota and North Dakota State takes chances on under the radar Kansas kids that may not have that FBS offer that they want and its shown. They landed three Kansas players in Cody Fayette (Maize South), Teven McKelvey (Gardner Edgerton) and Kel Stroud (Chapman) that all figure to be impact players down the road. Aaron Kurth (Colby) also committed but he will have to go to the junior college route at Garden City. South Dakota State also added Max VanMeter out of Bishop Miege (6’4” 250 DE). North Dakota added two-time 2A Player of the Year Wyatt Pedigo of Hoisington and Free State WR Marcus Preston.

NAIA Schools continue strong Kansas Classes

We’ve seen the numbers go up in some NAIA Kansas programs with the junior college out-of-state limit changing a few years back. That has helped benefit several Division II and NAIA programs in Kansas. Bethel is a college that has been on the rise with the quality of Kansas talent they’ve been taken. Could have a little to do with their coach being a former Kansas HS coach at Wichita Heights. They added solid pickups at multiple spots that included Javon Wheeler (Wichita Northwest), Eyann Zimmerman (Republic County), Tucker Smith (Atchison County, Trevor Rooks (South Barber) that were all-state picks this season. Sterling also stayed strong in Kansas with over a hand full of pickups in the state. Ottawa also signed over a hand full of kids to its program out of the KCAC.

Numbers still down of Kansas kids in the Jayhawk Conference

While Butler Community College may have done the best job in the state at any level identifying Kansas talent, the overall number of signees in Kansas at the KJCCC level continues to be down. We understand it and why coaches are recruiting the way they are without of state kids. But for us in Kansas, the out of state rule isn’t a good thing for Kansas High School Football. In fact, it has killed many future opportunities for high school kids in Kansas with nowhere to go out of high school for an affordable option. It was nice to see Fort Scott with their new staff take a chance on at least a hand full of kids that included small town stars Durbie McReynolds (Girard) and Easton Dent (St. Paul), kids that may have not gotten that opportunity a year ago. Garden City added some major talent in Chairez of Garden City and Kurth of Colby. Dodge City also added over a handful of kids with head coach Ricky Coon who has stressed that he is recruiting more Kansas kids since he took the job. Coffeyville has a new coach in Jeff Leiker so we expect that number to go up as that’s what he lived on in his previous stint as the HC. Highland also has a new coach and we only saw two reported signed from Kansas but would expect that number to be higher. The days of signing 30-50 kids from Kansas may be gone but we would like to see the numbers jump up in the future.

Numbers and notes from 2020 class

Six-time defending state champion Bishop Miege had seven signees, according to KPreps. In addition to Whitten and Jackson, offensive lineman Brian Burns is headed to Harvard, and defensive end Mason Weber to Princeton for a pair of Ivy League signings.

Also in the Ivy League, Blue Valley North defensive end Reid Spachman signed with Columbia.

Christ Prep Academy, a 2018 Homeschool National Champion, had Tanner Biggs and Noah Blair sign with Central Missouri.

Topeka High had eight signings, Lawrence Free State and Wichita Northwest inked seven, Shawnee Mission South and St. Thomas Aquinas delivered six, Derby had five signings, while KC Schlagle had four.

For a full list of signees, check out this page maintained by Kpreps here

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