Sports in Kansas has compiled its list of 25 Linebackers to Watch for the upcoming 2017 season. List is alphabetical by last name and is not a recruiting list. Our intention is also to try to cover every classification and every part of the state to make it a true overall list to watch in the state. Every year Chet Kuplen and Ben Mitchum compile lists to project who the states top players will be at the beginning of the season which is based on last years performance/stats, input from coaches/media, and recruiting/video highlights. Special thanks to Rack Performance for powering this list.
Justin Amaro, Goddard, 6-0 210 Sr.
Amaro was a second team all-league pick last season for the state runner-up Lions. He had 76 tackles, 15 of which went for loss. He will be relied upon heavily to be the leader of the Goddard defense in 2017 as they were hit heavy by graduation. Look for another big year for Amaro.
Jayse Alexander, McPherson, 6-0 205 Sr. & Collin Goering, 6-1 205 Sr.
Alexander and Goering make the list as a combo pick as they should. The two combined for nearly 170 tackles last year for the Bullpups. Mac should be a team that will contend on 4A-I West this season and we would like to think they are a top 5 preseason team headed into 2017. These two will get plenty of good reps all season playing in one of the toughest 4A leagues in the state (AVCTL-III).
Nick Allen, Blue Valley Southwest, 6-1 220 Sr.
Allen is an athletic backer that is primed for a big senior season and earned All-EKL honors as a junior last year. He plays in the states best league and was one of the best defensive playmakers in that league. He was also a Sports in Kansas All Non-Senior pick at LB last fall as a junior.
Jack Barger, DeSoto, 6-0 210 Sr.
Barger was a first team All-Frontier League pick last season for DeSoto and is an exceptionally athletic outside backer. He has 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash and a 34-inch vertical. DeSoto has a lot of nice key pieces back for 2017. Barger should be the top returning playmaker on defense in the Frontier League.
Joshua Boyd, Silver Lake, 6-0 215 Sr.
Boyd was a first team All-3A pick for the Eagles as a junior in 2016. He will lead a defense along with Keenan Baird, another all-state caliber player for Silver Lake in 2017. Boyd led the Eagles with 127 stops in 2016.
Milton Braasch II, SM East, 6-0 215 Sr.
Whether he is playing linebacker or running back Braasch is a big factor. He was a first team All Non-Senior last season on offense after helping East to 6A semifinal appearance. He has committed to play college football at the FCS level at Colgate, joining last year’s teammate Trevor Thompson, one of the top players in the entire state. Braasch will figure to see more time on defense this season that he will on offense according to head coach Dustin Delaney. He is one of the best players in the state on both sides of the ball. He features nice speed for his size at 4.6 and has a 32-inch vertical jump.
Rogan Bruce, Labette County, 5-10 170 Sr.
Bruce doesn’t get on here because of recruiting or size but gets on here because he tears it up in the stat column. He had the most tackles in Kansas for a junior last year, registering 162 stops over 10 games. Labette County has made strides recently under head coach Sean Price as they made the playoffs last year for the first time in seven years.
Josh Carter, Wichita NW, 5-10 215 Jr.
Carter may be the most explosive one of the group even though his size does not impress you. He is one of the strongest players in the state and has squatted 500 pounds by six reps last spring, has a max of 590 on squat and a 335 max on bench. He was also one of the top throwers in the state in the shot put as a sophomore last fall. Northwest defense has been a question mark in the past but Carter and division one recruit Marcus Hicks look to change that this season. Carter is a ball hawk and is in on nearly every play, including 131 stops in 2016.
Adam Davis, Aquinas, 6-2 215 Sr. & Ryan Jurczack, Aquinas, 6-2 205 Sr.
There’s no question Davis could be an elite playmaker on both sides but it’s very rare for a Randy Dreiling team to have a two-way player. Davis will be relied upon heavily to lead the Saints defense after transferring from BV West a year ago. With a breakout season, we could see Davis generate a division one offer. Jurczak was a second team All-EKL pick last year in a league that was loaded full of all-state caliber linebackers. With the addition of Adam Davis, Aquinas could have one of the best linebacker crews in Kansas. They are strong at all levels of the defense headed into 2017 from the line, linebackers to the secondary. He led the Saints in tackles last season with 70.5 stops, 10 of which were TFLs. Aquinas is loaded on paper in 2017, but so is most of the EKL.
Jax Dineen, Free State, 5-10 230 Jr. & Gage Foster, Free State, 5-10 185 Sr.
Dineen is the third brother from the Dineen family to earn a scholarship at KU and has done so before his junior year. Whether he will be used primarily as a fullback/running back or linebacker is still unknown but wherever he will have a impact in the Sunflower League. He is one of the strongest players in 6A with a 315 bench and 570 squat. Foster is also a stud in the weight room with a 300 plus bench and could be a dynamic two-way player for FS this season. He patrolled the outside backer position one year ago, earning second team All-Sunflower honors in a senior loaded league. Could this be the year Free State makes it to the title game on the West?
Dylan Downing, Miege, 6-1 220 Jr. & Joe Watskey, Miege, 5-11 225 Sr.
Downing is one of the top returning juniors in the state earning All Non-Senior honors from Sports in Kansas as a sophomore last fall. He was one of the top sophomores in the EKL last year with 102 total tackles and will look to patrol the middle once again with senior Joe Watskey, also an All Non-Senior last fall. Watskey has been an All Non-Senior selection from Sports in Kansas over the past two seasons for the 3x defending state champion Stags. Miege has won 4A-I every single year it has been a classification. Watskey and Downing will look to lead the defense once again in 2017.
John Gower, Phillipsburg, 5-11 185 Sr.
Gower isn’t the biggest LB in his class or on this list but it doesn’t stop him from being a tackling machine. He has had back-to-back all state seasons in 3A and 2-1A. He had 139 tackles last year and had 96 more as a sophomore in helping the Panthers to their first ever state football title in 2015. With Gower, Coomes and Sides back, it could be a bright year for the Panthers once again in 2017.
Jackson Heath, BV Northwest, 6-4 215 Sr.
Heath, a division one recruit at TE, will be used on both sides of the football for first year head coach Clint Rider. He is simply too good of a player to keep off the field. He primarily is an outside linebacker but will also be utilized in some sets as a DE. He tallied 78 tackles from his linebacker spot last year and also had another 500 plus yards receiving as a TE. He is major talent in the KC area for 2017.
Kenson Henderson, Junction City, 6-0 225 Sr.
Henderson features nice size and shows some athleticism as a middle backer for the Bluejays. He was a second team all-league pick in a senior loaded league last year for JC. He features a clean of 295 pounds and has a 32-inch vertical. He had 78 solo stops a season ago.
Tyler Henry, Gardner Edgerton, 5-9 200 Sr.
Two years ago he was one of the top playmakers in the state as a sophomore but missed the majority of his junior year with a shoulder injury in 2016. Henry plays much bigger than his 5-foot-9 frame and is pound for pound one of the strongest linebackers in this group. He was a first team All Non-Senior as a sophomore in 2015. Look for a big year for Henry.
Quinton Hicks, Campus, 6-3 230 Jr.
Hicks has the size to play at the next level and could see his stock go up this season. He is a nice athletic linebacker with 4.7 speed at 230-pound size and a 31-inch vertical. He will need to get stronger in the weight room over the next two seasons to really give himself an opportunity at division one football. His stepbrother, Marcus, junior at Wichita Northwest, is one of the top recruits in the nation for 2019 at DE.
Bryce Hutchins, Colgan, 5-11 190 Sr. & Max Wilson, Colgan, 6-0 185 Sr.
It’s too hard to leave one on and leave one off so we have another combo pick as you’ve seen in this list. Hutchins and Wilson will look to be two of the better two-way players in small classes Kansas this season. Wilson is a speedster that was also an all-state selection for the Panthers at LB last fall, while Hutchins is a hard hitter and also earned several post season honors for the Panthers. Kansas legend Chuck Smith is gone but new head coach Shawn Seematter, who was 31-6 as a DC at Halstead, is in and will rely upon these two seniors heavily as he transitions as the Panthers new man. Colgan could be the team to beat on 2-1A East.
Ander Johnson, BV North, 6-2 225 Sr. & Thatcher Robertson, BV North, 5-11 215 Sr.
Johnson, who had 93 tackles and 13 sacks last year, will be relied upon heavily to lead the Mustang defense along with KU commit DE Miles Emery. Roberton was also big as he picked up 89 tackles, three sacks, and forced three fumbles for the Mustangs. On paper BV North looks like they could be a contender this year, we will figure out soon in the loaded EKL.
Ja’Veon Johnson, Wichita Heights, 6-1 205 Sr.
Johnson had 118 tackles last fall for the Falcons. He returns with a loaded cast of players that could make Heights the team to beat on 5A West this season. Johnson was a first team All-City pick as a junior last year.
Brayden Lock, Buhler, 5-11 205 Sr. & Jhet Burkhart, 6-1 200 Sr.
Burkhart and Lock make the list as a combo pick and look to lead a loaded Buhler group who was junior heavy a season ago. Lock was an all-state pick last season and Burkhart has had over 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons. Can the Crusaders get their first state title since 2013? Miege is the only team to ever win 4A-I as the Crusaders last won it all in 4A. That will change soon with classification restructure, but this could be the year Buhler has an opportunity to claim the last ever 4A-I title.
Riggs Robben, Bishop Carroll, 6-1 205 Sr.
Robben had over 60 stops a year ago for Carroll. He is one of the top returning playmakers on the defensive side of the football in the City League, earning first team all-league honors in 2016. Carroll will be a contender on the West for first year head coach Dusty Trail.
Owen Olson, Blue Valley, 6-4 205 Sr.
Olson is a big bodied and long outside linebacker that has the most returning tackles for the second best team in 6A last season. He had 88 stopes, with three sacks and an interception for the Tigers in 2016.
Brent Peavler, Hayden, 6-3 215 Sr.
Peavler led a Hayden defense that took second in 4A-II a season ago. He is one of the top returning defenders in the Topeka area as a senior in 2017, earning first team all-league in 2016. He was also an all 4A-II pick at LB. Hayden should be a team to beat again on 4A-II East in 2017.
Cole Strickler, Pike Valley, 5-11 195 Sr.
Strickler has been one of the most impressive combine performers and more than likely could be a SS/OLB at the next level even though he plays inside in the 8M-II ranks. He has sub 11 speed in the 100 meter dash and a 4.5 40-yard dash time. Strickler had 86 tackles last season for the Panthers. He also had 690 receiving yards and 13 TD on offense. Along with running back Lane Peters, the state record holder in the 1A 100-meter dash, they could be the two best 8-man players in Kansas this fall and are on the same team.
Payton Webb, Salina South, 6-0 200 Sr.
Webb is seeing heavy interest from the Division II ranks and was a bright spot on the South defense a year ago. South should be much improved after a down season in 2016. Webb has a nose for the football with decent size, speeda and nice strength in the weight room. He was a second team all-league pick a season ago in a senior loaded league.
Others to Watch:
Mason Slusher - Lyndon, Justin Moore – Louisburg, Parker Roth – Hesston, Brooks Nichols – Russell, Dalton Beck - Central Plains, Clayton Ridout – Doniphan West, Jared Casey – Plainville, Aaron Brown – Independent, Zach Porter – Columbus, Dagen Goodner – Humboldt, Tyler Palic – Marion, Casey Mayes – Andover, Dylan Aeschiliman – Holton, Alex McGill – Derby, Adrian Garcia – Olathe South, Jack Hamilton – Washburn Rural, Trevor Acker – St. Marys, Riley O’Dell – Smoky Valley, Jacob Howell – Cheney, Caden Godfrey – Meade, Drew Cunningham - Lakeside, Josh Seabolt – Cimarron, Cauy Rokey – Sabetha, Destin Baker – Ellinwood, Cooper Pfannenstiel – Victoria, Jalen Basart – Stockton, Blake Bouchey - Logan Palco, Maverick Green – Rawlins County, Tyler Boone – Valley Center, Austin Hibler – Emporia, Mitchell Heiman – Nemaha Central, Brock Blessing – Great Bend, Blake Penka – Great Bend, Grant Fairchild – Andale, Nikolaus Grubbs – Manhattan, Jalen Basart – Stockton, Derek Bollinger – Fort Scott, Sean Urban – Hoisington, Drake Whealy – Chaparral, Jose Aguilera – Liberal, Ryan Brockschmidt – Olathe East, Sam Payne – Seaman, Nolan Ford – Basehor Linwood, Josh Pralle – Independence, Straton Stamp – Andover Central, Dane Terry – Shawnee Heights, Braden Baker – Labette County, David Thompson – Logan Palco, Angelo Plakio – Highland Park, Samuel Larson – JC North, Cameron Bates – KC Turner, Blaine Burks – Beloit, Hunter White – SE Saline, Rick Calderon – KC Ward, Cole Barrett – St. James, Ryan Bach – KC Piper, T.J. Williams – Basehor Linwood, Joe Dill – Lansing, James Hampton – KC Schlagle, Tucker Gehrt – Rock Creek, Joseph Helton – Galena, Bryce Warfield – Caney, Ridge Smith – Columbus, Harrison Blaske – Valley Heights, Roxton Brown – Osborne, Hunter Jones – Nickerson, Mike Waggoneer – Riley Co., Avery Hawkins – Smith Center, Garret Randels – Medicine Lodge.