Certain football programs have a tradition of success with a certain position or scheme.
Smith Center and Holton have built powerhouses with run-heavy attacks behind great offensive lines and running backs. Buhler has steadily churned out 2,000-yard tailbacks with Steve Warner.
Sedgwick and Wichita Northwest’s hallmarks are their blur offenses with quick tempo. Maize South is notable for his airtight defense. Aquinas has its flexbone offense with Randy Dreiling.
McPherson is most well-known for its basketball programs. On the gridiron, coach Jace Pavlovich has built one of Class 4A, Division I’s elite defenses for the Bullpups.
However, McPherson has also had a decade-plus stretch of outstanding quarterback play that would be arguably better any team in the state, excluding Bishop Miege.
The Bullpups first built the success under legendary coach Tom Young.
After he retired, Pavlovich, McPherson’s defensive coordinator, took over as head coach in 2015. From 2008-17, five players have started at signal caller for the Bullpups. That includes this year’s incumbent, Kyler Hoppes.
Last fall, he led McPherson to a 10-2 record and semifinal appearance, tying the best showing in school annals.
“I just know the offense well,” Hoppes said.
The 6-foot, 170-pound Hoppes is slightly undersized but has delivered huge production and highlight reel moments, just like one of his role models, Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Last fall’s first-round playoff game against Buhler was tied at seven entering overtime. The Crusaders scored first, and then McPherson tallied a touchdown and decided to go for two.
Jace Kinnamon lined up in the Wildcat on the two-point attempt and sprinted left. He tossed the ball to receiver Gabe Hoover on an apparent reverse.
Hoover then flipped the ball to the right side to a wide-open Hoppes for the winning conversion. Hoppes had motioned from his QB position to tight end on the right side before the snap.
“The play call that will forever be remembered as it was the finish to what many on Saturday were calling the greatest in Bullpup history,” longtime writer Steve Sell, who has chronicled McPherson athletics for decades, wrote after the game.
In each of the last 10 seasons, McPherson has passed for at least 1,000 yards. Each quarterback has at least one season of 2,000 total yards – and several have had multiple years of such success.
Joel Piper started from ’08-09, passed for around 4,000 yards and eventually saw significant time as Washburn’s signal caller. Then, Tyler Matthews started two years and earned U.S. Army All-American honors.
Matthews threw for 2,650 and 2,847 yards in his two Bullpup seasons. He narrowly lost quarterback battles at TCU (to eventual second team All-American Trevone Boykin) and Southern Miss and spent some brief time on the New Mexico State roster.
Then, Kyler Kinnamon started three seasons, including one year where he rushed for 1,662 yards.
He had at least 900 rushing yards and 1,000 passing in two seasons. Kinnamon, son of longtime highly successful McPherson boys’ basketball coach Kurt Kinnamon, has started for Fort Hays basketball the last two years at point guard.
Casen Hoover took over and finished with 2,139 total yards his senior year.
Last season, Hoppes continued the tradition of excellent signal calling. He completed 151 of 237 passes for 1,936 yards with a 23/8 TD/INT ratio, along with 54 carries for 246 yards and six scores.
McPherson averaged 34 points a game, 165 passing yards a contest and won 10 contests, all the most since 2012.
Pound-for-pound, Hooper, who has not yet received any offers, is very strong with a 225 bench, 325 squat and 250 clean, along with 4.8 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
“I’d definitely open up to playing at the next level,” Hoppes said.
McPherson brings back six offensive and three defensive starters. Hoppes returns its two three receivers, including senior Gabe Hoover, a KPreps first team all-state picker who hauled in 41 catches for 779 yards and six scores.
Jace Kinnamon returns after an all-purpose season where he rushed for 1,079 yards and averaged 38.4 yards per punt.
Defensively, McPherson graduated all three first team all-state picks in lineman Wyatt Seidl, linebacker Jayse Alexander and Drew Labertew.
Before ’06, McPherson football had longtime struggles, including 27 wins in the ‘90s. From ’06-17, the Bullpups are 95-34 and have made the playoffs every year but one.
“It is a great atmosphere,” Hoppes said. “Even though we are known as a basketball town, you can count on the stands always being full.”
However, McPherson has never played in a state title game. The Bullpups have made the semifinals in ’87, ’08 and ’17. Hoopes looks to achieve history this season.
“Make McPherson history by making the title game for the first time,” he said of the team’s goals.
Following the Buhler win, McPherson defeated Maize South, 28-7, after a regular season defeat versus the Mavericks in Week 2. The Bullpups fell, 20-13, to eventual state runner-up Andale in the semifinals. McPherson finished fourth in the final 4A-I rankings.
This year, McPherson a strong contender in newly formed 32-team Class 4A. The Bullpups, often times the smallest 5A school, is now the seventh-biggest 4A schools. Miege, McPherson, Buhler, Goddard and Pittsburg are among the headliners.
Chet Kuplen, Founder//Managing Partner of Sports in Kansas, on Hoppes
"Everyone always thinks of basketball when you think of Mac as you should but they play some pretty darn good football out there as well. I really feel like Kyler has the opportunity to be one of the better guys in Kansas this year. I know Goddard, who lost some key talent, moves down to 4A this year and you still have Buhler who is always going to be good, but the more and more I look at it, I really like the opportunity for McPherson to be one of the representatives in the state title game this year on the 4A West. It won't be an easy path by any stretch but they are my favorite on paper, you also lose Andale to 3A and Maize South up to 5A. Any time you have your starting quarterback back, and an all state caliber one at that, you have an opportunity to be a very good football team. You lose some very solid guys on their defense but I still expect big things."
This feature is presented by McPherson High School Athletics, proud to support the McPherson High School football team.
How did you get involved in football?
Growing up, my dad was a head football coach.
What are your goals this season?
Make McPherson history by making the title game for the first time .
Do you guys have a shot to make a run this year?
Yes we do.
What makes you such a force as a player?
My ability to not have to think about plays. … I just know the offense well.
What’s the atmosphere like to play football on Friday night for your school and town?
It is a great atmosphere. Even though we are known as a basketball town, you can count on the stands always being full.
For anyone that hasn’t seen one of your games, why come to one?
Should come to one of our games because the atmosphere is great, and we’ve proven to be pretty good.
Who are other key players on your team?
Chandler Wiard, Gabe Hoover, Tayln Huff, Jace Kinnamon, Dawson Van Goethem (rest of offensive line), Cody Stufflebean, and Khalil Lisbon
Favorite thing about football?
Do you play any other sports, tell us about that?
Basketball and Golf. Hoping to return to state in both of those again this season.
What is it like to play for your coach?
Playing for coach Pav is great. Always upbeat and always willing to try new things. He trusts us to make both mental and physical plays on the field.
What did you and the team do in the off-season to become better and plans to get better this summer?
Went to team camps as well as doing 7v7 tournaments, and always grinding in the weight room.
What interest are you seeing at the next level and what are your plans?
Although I don’t have any offers, I’d definitely open up to playing at the next level.
Favorite thing to do when you aren’t playing sports?
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Most likely not in the state of Kansas
Favorite subject in school, what type of student are you, GPA?
Math and Science. 3.8 GPA
Who is your role model?
Off the field is definitely my dad. On the field is Tom Brady for his play and Baker Mayfield for his swagger.
Best place to eat in your town or the surrounding area?
Neighbors Cafe (breakfast)
One thing the average person wouldn’t know about you?
Fashion is a major key.