This week, leading into the high school football season, which begins on Friday night for our area teams, we’ll be previewing area leagues. Today, we start in the Mid-Continent League, where the Smith Center Redmen are hoping to build upon their last two seasons in which they made the 2-1A semifinals. Last season’s 2-1A Runner-up Plainville will look to rebuild, and Phillipsburg and Norton among others will look to make a move in the 3A ranks.
The Smith Center Redmen are one of the teams in our listening area with the highest expectations coming into 2017. After going 9-3 last season and bowing out in the Sub-State round of the 2-1A playoffs to eventual runner-up Plainville, the Redmen return seven starters on offense and six on defense. They did graduate eight seniors and will need to replace QB Thayne Benoit and RB’s Chase Ryan, Kaden Meitler and David Hileman. Colton Hutchinson is expected to take over the QB duties after he played extensive minutes when Benoit went down with an injury last season. Hutchinson threw for 765 yards and nine TD and ran for another 350 yards and five TD’s. Smith Center also returns their leading receiver Brett Meyer, who amassed 458 yards and six touchdowns receiving last year. On defense, the top three tacklers are back. Hutchinson led the team with 94 stops from his DB position, while DE Dalton Kuhn had 80 tackles and LB Trace Haven registered 78. With all of that experience coming back it’s easy to see why Smith Center has been ranked #1 by multiple outlets in the preseason. Their head coach Darren Sasse talked about those high expectations.
Smith Center opens their season Friday night at home against Plainville, a team they lost to twice last year.
As stated earlier, the Cardinals were the 2-1A state runner-up in 2016, falling by just four points to Troy in the title game in Hays and finishing 11-2 on the season. Former St. John’s/Tipton assistant Grant Stephenson is now entering his 3rd season as the Plainville head coach, and will return five starters on each side of the ball. They do lose their most talented athlete in QB Hayden Friend, who threw for 2,039 yards and 28 TD and ran for another 1,268 yards and 18 TD. The Cardinals also lose RB Riley Nyp, who racked up 1,539 yards and 22 TD on the ground and their top five receivers, including Ryan Buresh and Justin Reif who combined for over 1,500 yards and 19 TD’s receiving. The good news is the top two tacklers from their defense do return this season. Senior Hayden Gillum had 97 tackles last season and Sophomore Jared Casey had 96 stops.
Elsewhere in the 2-1A ranks in the MCL, Ellis returns just three starters on offense and four on defense from a team that went 4-5 last season. They suffered big losses to graduation, most notably their QB Easton Smith, who threw for just under 1,000 yards. The top returner for the Railers is RB Joseph Eck who had 369 yards rushing and 304 yards receiving last year.
Finally in 2-1A in the MCL, Oakley is looking to bounce back off of one of their worst ever seasons, as they went just 1-8 last season after being a mainstay in the 2-1A playoffs in previous years. Oakley does have a new head coach, as Jeff Hennick takes over the program. Hennick spent the past four seasons at his alma mater Sharon Springs, going 30-6 with a state runner-up finish during that time.
Much of the power in the MCL lies in the 3A ranks. The Phillipsburg Panthers are poised for another solid season as they return 10 starters on offense and nine on defense from a team that went 11-1 last season, with their lone loss coming to eventual 3A state runner-up Hesston in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. RB Kirk Coomes leads the group of offensive returnees, as he ran for over 1,300 yards and 17 TD and also had 94 tackles on defense. Trey Sides returns at QB as well for the Panther offense. John Gower also returns for his senior season at LB after leading Phillipsburg with 139 tackles a season ago.
Also looking to make some noise as they seem to do every year in 3A is Norton. The Bluejays went 7-4 last season and return four starters on offense and five on defense. Their most notable returnee is QB Jace Ruder, who was originally committed to play college football at Tulsa, but over the summer switched his commitment to North Carolina in the ACC. Ruder is coming off of a season where he threw for just under 1,600 yards and 14 TD. He has thrown for over 3,500 yards in his career. Also back this season is RB Tevin Petrie, who ran for just over 1,100 yards and 12 TD last season. The Bluejays will need to replace their leading tackler Jacob Green, who had 178 stops a season ago.
Finally in the 3A MCL ranks, TMP-Marian will look to improve on their 2-7 mark from last season. They do bring back seven starters on both sides of the ball, as Jason Cauley begins his second season as the Monarchs head coach.