On Monday, Derby senior quarterback/safety Hunter Igo and several of his teammates had a conversation. They noticed Derby is usually outmatched, including when it comes to size.
“Some people have more talent,” Igo said of Derby’s opponents.
In the last three years, 247 Sports, a well-known national recruiting service, has ranked 42 Kansas high school players as the state’s top football recruits.
Just one has been from Derby.
In 2016, wide receiver Kenyon Tabor, a University of Kansas signee, stood No. 11. Multiple teams had more elite players on the list, including Topeka, Ulysses, Newton and Lawrence, squads with far less recent success than Derby.
Additionally, in the last four Signing Day classes, Derby has had 19 signees, according to Kpreps archives. Just three players inked Division I – Tabor, Darreon Jackson with Boise State in ’15 and Damare Sims with Air Force in ’16.
247 Sports just released its Class of 2019 list in the last week with 12 names. None are Derby, though Aquinas has three, Wichita Northwest, Lawrence Free State and Blue Valley North have two and Carroll has one.
However, in the last four years, Derby is 45-5. Last season, the Panthers, led by Igo, pulled off incredible road playoff wins against Lawrence Free State (55-49 in overtime) and Wichita Northwest (53-41) in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Derby lost to Blue Valley North, 49-42, in the final seconds in the 6A title game. BVN featured 10 college signings, including two with Kansas.
That doesn’t include quarterback Graham Mertz, a senior this fall, Kansas top prospect, Wisconsin commit and one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
Derby had five signings, headlined by all-state lineman Evan Clark (Missouri Western), all-state running back Brody Kooser (Fort Hays) and wide receiver Michael Littleton (South Dakota State).
Derby also defeated Bishop Carroll, the eventual 5A state titlist, in the regular season, 54-45. The Panthers, with longtime coach Brandon Clark, played virtually all of last year without a returning defensive starter.
Since ’08, Derby has four trips to the semifinals, one runner-up and three state championships.
“We haven’t really had a whole team that there is five or six guys going to Division I or whatnot,” Igo said. “And we all just want kind of go at that and just use it as like a fuel just to go and win and compete with those guys that are actually doing that.”
The 6-foot, 165-pound Igo, who also plays baseball, has run the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds. He can bench 225, squat 365 and clean 245.
Last year, Igo did not make a 6A all-state team mainly because he played two positions, but did make Sports in Kansas Non-Senior honors on defense. His Hudl film has virtually half offense and half defense, rare for a large class player. He has yet to receive an official football offer.
Igo watched his older brother, Tanner, as a former Derby standout defensive back. Tanner is now playing for Friends. Hunter wanted to lead just like Tanner.
“Hopefully that one day I could, and now it’s here, and hopefully I am doing a little bit better than him even,” Hunter siad.
Igo’s mother, Melissa, has been president of the Derby High football parent group. Igo has two younger sisters in high school, both heavily involved in athletics.
“We are very close,” Igo said of his brother. “We talk everyday, make sure everything is going all right.”
Last year, Igo started the season at quarterback and then went to safety when the team needed him. Igo hadn’t taken a defensive snap since his freshman year.
“Why not go and help where the team kind of needs it?,” Igo said.
The move quickly improved Derby’s defense. After Grant Adler had a season-ending chest injury, Igo went back to quarterback. Igo labeled the changes “pretty good” to play both positions.
“He is a kid that kids look up to,” Brandon Clark said last November. “He doesn’t have to say much. They just rally behind him, because he does everything right. He lives a good life, he does everything off the field right. He is one of the hardest workers in the weight room, he is one of the hardest workers on the practice field, and it shows on Friday.”
Last year, Derby finished 11-2 against the No. 1 hardest schedule in Class 6A, according to Prep Power Index.
The Class 6A teams that had the No. 2 through No. 9 SOS collectively finished 34-55. Additionally, the teams that had the No. 1 SOS in 5A, 4A-I, 4A-II and 3A went a combined 16-24.
“Most schools have linebackers bigger than our d-line,” Clark said. “I don’t think anybody weighs over 215. Against Free State, they were way smaller, but they held their ground, and they kept going hard, and they kept going with their motors, so it was fun to watch.”
Igo said the difference between Derby and other teams comes in doing “the little things right” and having respect for coaches, the town and “doing it for your others.”
“We really focus on showing up everyday and working your hardest, no matter what,” Igo said. “You might be tired, you might be doing something. You make sure you just show up and give it your all.”
That’s led to some seminal performances.
Against Free State, Igo delivered 317 yards of total offense, accounted for five scores and played safety late in the game. He had coverage on a Free State fourth down incompletion in the end zone. Derby scored on the next play to win. In the Northwest game, Igo, limited in the week by turf toe, accounted for six scores and 331 yards of total offense.
This season, Igo looks to return to Thanksgiving weekend. Derby returns three offensive and six defensive starters from a team that averaged 46.5 points per game, third-best in 6A.
“Getting back to the state game and winning it, putting in the work it takes to get back there,” he said.
Chet Kuplen, Managing Partner of Sports in Kansas, on Igo
"I think it says a lot about him how he competed last year and didn't care what position he was at. The reason their program is where its at is they have kids like him that just want to win. They really have built a football culture there that stands out against almost any other program you compare it to and its produced multiple state titles under coach Clark. Derby is better when he is on the field, no matter if thats with him on defense or offense. He may have been overlooked by some people for all-state due to not being in one position but man the kid is a legit high school football player. It's not easy to not play defense for nearly 2-3 years and then line up and be one of the better kids in 6A at the position. He's tough."
This feature is presented by Ledford Gage Lab, Inc. Proud to support Hunter Igo and Derby Panther Football.
Also special thanks to Eddy's Toyota and Eddy's Everything for powering all Wichtia area features with Sports in Kansas.
Q&A w/ Igo
How did you get involved in football?
I have played football every since I could run. From first playing flag to what’s now my senior year in high school.
What are your goals this season?
I have several goals this season, but the big one is getting back to state and winning.
Do you guys have a shot to make a run this year?
I believe we could, but we will need to get better each and every day.
What makes you such a force as a player?
Just growing up in a competitive family, and, everyone pushes me to do the best I can no matter what.
What’s the atmosphere like to play football on Friday night for your school and town?
It’s the best in the state no doubt about it.
For anyone that hasn’t seen one of your games, why come to one?
The atmosphere is amazing and it’s fun seeing what the team can do l.
Who are other key players on your team?
I see our team as everyone being a pretty key player.
Favorite thing about football?
To see the mood of everyone after the game on Friday night/ Saturday morning.
Do you play any other sports, tell us about that?
I play baseball, just like football I have played every since I could first start playing and I play middle infield.
What is it like to play for your coach?
It’s great having coach clark. He doesn’t only want the best of us on the field but wants to make each and every single person better in life.
What did you and the team do in the off-season to become better and plans to get better this summer?
We have workouts/ conditioning Monday- Friday at 6:30 and will have some 7v7 tournaments.
What interest are you seeing at the next level and what are your plans?
Currently I am open to play either football or baseball, just waiting to see what would fit me best.
Favorite thing to do when you aren’t playing sports?
Going outside with friends, fishing, hunting.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Just starting a family.
Favorite subject in school, what type of student are you, GPA?
My favorite subject would be PE. I keep around a 3.5
Who is your role model?
Best place to eat in your town or the surrounding area?
One thing the average person wouldn’t know about you?
I have diabetes.