When that final whistle blew at Hummer Park in Topeka on a beautiful fall day in late November, the Bishop Miege Stags came out victorious once again by a score of 47-7 over previously unbeaten Andale in the 4A-I state championship.
Miege has a rich football tradition with seven state titles stretching from the early 1970s to the present. This senior class has been a part of four of those titles, amassing a 50-2 record during their high school careers. They also had three Eastern Kansas League titles and an undefeated home winning streak.
A pretty amazing run would be an understatement. Even though players develop at different rates, with most starting out on the freshman team, while others may see action as sophomores, this class has been a part of so much success.
Under head coach Jon Holmes’ leadership, the Stags have not only reached the top of 4A-I classification, but are considered by many as the top team in the state. State football media unanimously picked Miege as the state’s top program this past season for all classifications.
“I think you look at what they accomplished as a group. I think winning the four state titles was pretty impressive, but then I think you kind of look inside as well,” said Coach Jon Holmes. “They were undefeated two of those years; their freshman year and their senior year. Then had two losses their sophomore and junior year combined, both to Blue Valley, which was impressive since they were the 6A state runner-up both those years.”
“I think you look at what the kids were able to do. A lot of these guys were able to play as sophomores, play as juniors, and obviously all have a big role in our team this year,” continues Coach Holmes. “We had 15 seniors on the roster and every one of them played and had a role on the team. I think that really helps motivate them, as well, because they know they have something invested and they're able to play. I think that really motivates them each week to get ready to play.”
Quarterback Carter Putz, designated State Player of the Year several times, was also awarded this year’s Fontana Award (Simone Award Small Class Player of the Year). Putz, the state all-time leader in touchdown passes (124) and yardage (9,316), has committed to play baseball at Notre Dame next year. He may get much of the attention, but there are so many worthy seniors on this team deserving recognition. This was not a one-man show; 14 other seniors contributed to the program’s great success.
“Obviously Carter and Jack Burns were kind of the two leaders of the bunch, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” said Coach Holmes. “I still think if Carter chose to pursue football in college he would have plenty of suitors. Trust me, plenty of schools were interested. Baseball was his true love and he had made that decision his sophomore year.
“With all the records he's broken in the state, I think that speaks for itself. I think what goes unnoticed with him was the shoes he had to fill with Ryan Wills being a two-year starter and a division one player. Carter started as a sophomore and was able to play to a high level,” explained Holmes.
Skill position players may get the glory on most occasions, but it all starts up front, and the Miege program has seen plenty of good offensive and defensive linemen through the years. Assistant coaches Tim Grunhard (OL) and Zach Mann (DL) had a relatively young offensive and defensive line as a whole. Six-foot-three, 285-pound, 1st team 4A-I all-state center Jack Burns was the leader up front this season and he is one of the finer offensive linemen in the state. During his senior season, he gave up zero sacks and had 109 pancake blocks to his credit.
“He was a three-year starter and started in a different spot each of those years. It shows you how smart a kid he is, which is why he's going to the Ivy League (Cornell),” said the Stags’ head coach.
Some other notable seniors had top notch seasons and hope to bring their talents to the collegiate level.
Six-foot-two, 200-pound Jasir Cox was a 1st team all-EKL selection at safety. He had 88 tackles, 4 interceptions and 7 passes defended this past fall.
Coach Holmes commented, "I think he's kind of the guy with the biggest upside of the group. I think, with him being 6’2”, 200-pounds, and being the athlete he is, he moves really well in space and was a key part of our defense. First team all-conference, I think that speaks a lot of what he's able to do for us.
“I think he's got good genes as well,” continued Coach Holmes. “His brother [Jabril], was just named the freshman of the year in the Missouri Valley Conference for North Dakota State. I think that's why a lot of schools are interested in him [Jasir] and see the flashes there with him. I think he can grow into being kind of an outside linebacker-type at the next level.”
The 5’10”, 170-pound lock-down cornerback, Cameron Key, was a 1st team 4A-I and all-EKL selection this season. Key had 57 tackles and two interceptions, but was game-planned away for much of the year. For a career he had 116 tackles and five interceptions after being a three-year starter for the Stags.
“Cameron was a three-year starter for us and a very underrated player,” said Holmes. “First team all-conference this year and was probably one of the best defensive backs in the state, any class. Just was a tremendous cover corner.
“Not to mention how well he can tackle, and that often gets overlooked when you’re talking corners,” Holmes continues. “Cameron was asked to make a lot of tough tackles and was very good in the open field. He's also a very explosive athlete, being a triple jump champion (46-0.25). He can really move well, can cover guys one-on-one, can also cover some bigger receivers and, lastly, how physical he is when those guys are getting off the line of scrimmage. Not to mention he is a very smart player and I think that really helps him projecting to the next level. I think he's going to be able to fit in with any program whomever is lucky enough to get him.”
Cameron Clark, the 5’8”, 165-pound running back, split duties this past season with sophomore Brison Cobbins (1,294 yards rushing). Clark almost gave the Stags two running backs with over 1,000 yards on the season. He finished with 927 yards rushing on 89 carries and 14 total touchdowns. He averaged a staggering 10.4 yards per carry on the season.
“Cameron is kind of the guy I think often times in our offense got overlooked,” explained Coach Holmes. “I think you look at his stats. He was just under 100 carries and just under 1,000 yards. He averaged over ten yards a carry. In our conference, that is very hard to do.”
The Miege lead man also brought up an eye-catching tidbit when discussing Cameron’s explosive scoring ability.
“Every time he touched a ball, he made a play. I saw a stat that highlighted that he scored, I think, every seven times he touched a ball this season,” said Holmes. “That's what he shows and I think as a back he shows he's a total, complete back. He can pass protect and catch the ball out of the back field. Those are all things he was asked to do in our program. Not to mention, he's a very smart kid, as well. He has a 31 on his ACT and over a 4.0 GPA. Whatever school gets him is also going to be very lucky, because he's a tremendous kid off the field and would be a tremendous asset to any locker room at the next level.”
When it came to Miege’s tight end, Darren Gilkey is a 6’4”, 215-pounder that is just scratching the surface of his abilities since transferring from Blue Valley Northwest. He finished the season with seven catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
“Obviously, I think what a lot of people love with him is the 6’4”, 215-pound frame. He came over to us as a wide receiver and we made him a tight end. We asked him to do a lot in the run game that he was never used to doing,” explained Coach Holmes.
“As the year went on, he really got good at doing a lot of those things and his coming-out party was the state championship game where he laid out big block after big block and also had a really big touchdown run as well. I think he projects well at the next level based on that, because he's got a lot of tools and I think a couple years in a college program, he can really add some weight to his frame and really be a very productive player at the next level.”
A name that has been quite prominent the last few years to Kansas football fans is all-state linebacker Joe Watskey. The 6’0”, 240-pound middle linebacker was last year’s Sports In Kansas Non-Senior defensive player of the year. Watskey may not have taken the honor this year as a senior but that doesn’t diminish the season and career he had for the Stags.
“Joe had at least 115 tackles his sophomore, junior, and senior years. A very productive linebacker for us,” said Coach Holmes.
“All-conference, all-state type of kid. He is just one of those guys that you always know when he is in the game because there's always a big hit getting laid out. His last hit he had for us was a play against Andale in the state game where he filled a hole and really put the running back on his back,” Holmes states. “That's what Joe did for us play after play, year after year. He will always be remembered as a tough kid who is very physical. Not to mention he was a team captain, as well. I think colleges like to see that. I definitely feel like he can be a lot of the same things he was here at the next level. Plug and play guy in the middle.”
A player that definitely stepped up for Miege this past season was wide receiver Peyton Hamrick. The 6’1”, 180-pound wide-out had big shoes to fill but did a very solid job producing. He had 21 receptions for 398 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Hamrick became a very good complement to sophomore sensation Daniel Jackson (1,270 yards receiving).
“Peyton is the ultimate program kid for us. Peyton was behind some really good football players here his first three years and decided as a senior he wanted to play,” explained Coach Holmes.
“So it started a week after the state championship as a junior, where we got back in the weight room. He was one of those leaders that got guys in there with him and didn't miss an off-season workout. He was voted team captain and then had a very productive year for us. He had a touchdown in the state championship game and seemed like whenever Carter was looking for a guy on a key third down, Peyton was his guy. Carter knew Peyton was going to run the correct route, was going to run at the correct depth, and was going to catch the ball. I think the thing that went kind of unnoticed with Peyton was his ability to block down the field. That's often times overlooked at the wide receiver position but he was one of those guys that took great pride in that. He was able to do that play after play and let Cameron Clark and Brice Cobbins run it.”
Another unsung hero from this year’s senior class was safety David Robinson. The 5’10”, 185-pounder had 49 tackles and one interception this past season. Robinson had big shoes to fill replacing last year’s Landry Weber and did an admirable job.
“David is one of those guys that, again, didn't have a lot of experience coming in, especially at the safety position,” says Coach Holmes. “I think he proved week after week he was one of those guys that can come up and play against a run and also defend the pass. Because in our conference, you've got to be able to do both. We have some teams that are really good at running the ball, where you can't get sucked up on a play action. David was able to do that for us and he was also pretty smart back there in helping align our back half from time to time. I think he projects at the next level just because of how smart he is. He also has a true ability to really be able to run and at a defensive back position, that's something you have to be able to do. He was able to do that and it definitely showed.”
Arguably, one of the best senior classes in Miege history may be graduating but there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings for the Miege faithful and the state to witness for years to come.