We are extremely excited for the kickoff of the 2017 season – our 10th season covering high school football in the state of Kansas. What better way to kick off the season and the discussion of Kansas high school football than to release our Kpreps.com Top 5 rankings. So, let’s get started! Take a look at our preseason rankings and let the debate begin!
But first, our annual disclaimer: the Kpreps rankings are a collaborative effort from multiple media sources across the state and will be released each Monday throughout the season.
Defending champion Derby opens the season as the top team in Class 6A. (I believe we also used that sentence last year.) The Panthers have won back-to-back Class 6A titles and three of the last four. Derby needed a late field goal by Blayten Tullis with less than 30 seconds left to top Blue Valley 17-14 in the title game, but outside of that, the Panthers torched their competition. This season, Brandon Clark and his staff is challenged with replacing ten defensive starters lost to graduation including three all-state selections.
Shawnee Mission East begins the poll ranked second. (I believe we used that sentence last year too). The Lancers are 43-6 under Dustin Delaney and came within a two-point conversion stop of advancing back to the 6A title game. East returns only two starters back on offense, but they are both returning 6A all-state selections in running back Milton Braasch and lineman Justin Finnigan. The defense boasts seven returning starters from a unit that gave up 18 points per game a year ago.
Blue Valley opens as the No. 3 team after a state runner-up finish last season. (Again…starting to see a pattern here). The Blue Valley community and the entire Kansas high school football community were shocked by the sudden death of head coach Eric Driskell if February. Driskell posted a 70-17 record at Blue Valley with two state titles and two-consecutive 6A runner-up finishes. Allen Terrell has taken over the Tiger program and will try and maintain the same consistency despite returning only four total starters.
The Blue Valley North Mustangs open the season at No. 4 in the poll. The Mustangs have among the most talented rosters in the state with Bishop Miege-transfer Graham Mertz at quarterback and Kansas-commit Miles Emery on the defensive line. Blue Valley North will look to advance past their state quarterfinal appearance last season.
Finally, Wichita Northwest rounds out the poll at No. 5. The Grizzlies also have a very talented roster. Northwest has set the standard for offensive numbers recently by breaking state records for total yards per game in each of the past two seasons. The struggle has been on the defensive side where the Grizzlies surrendered 39 points per game last season. Coach Steve Martin will rely on eight returning defensive starters to try and improve those numbers led by a pair of juniors in linebacker Josh Carter and rising Division-I recruit DE Marcus Hicks.
In Class 5A, St. Thomas Aquinas edges out two-time defending champion Mill Valley by a narrow margin for the top spot in the preseason poll. Aquinas returns 18 total starters from last year’s 8-4 squad that fell 14-13 to Mill Valley in the sub-state semifinal. Mill Valley opens the season at No. 2, but brings back six offensive starters including quarterback Brody Flaming. The Jaguars will have the fill the void on the defensive side as only two starters return. Mill Valley will host Aquinas in Week 5.
Wichita Heights opens the season at No. 3 in the poll and features one of the state’s most exciting players in quarterback K’Vonte Baker. Baker exploded for 1,469 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns last season to earn Kpreps All-State as an all-purpose back. He will lead a Falcon squad that returns 13 total starters.
Last year’s 5A state runners-up Goddard begins the season at No. 4. The Lions came painfully close to claiming the state title, but fell 35-34 in double-overtime to Mill Valley. Goddard looks to get back to Pittsburg behind dual-threat quarterback Blake Sullivan and strong group up-front.
Bishop Carroll rounds out the preseason poll at No. 5 and will be under new leadership this fall. Longtime Carroll coach Alan Schuckman announced his retirement earlier this year after 22 seasons leading the Golden Eagles. His longtime assistant Dusty Trail will take over and lead a Carroll team that returns seven starters on each side of the ball.
Bishop Miege has dominated Class 4A-I en route to state titles in each of the past three seasons. While the Stags lost quite a bit of talent off of last year’s team to graduation, there is plenty left on the roster to make a push for a fourth-straight title. Quarterback Carter Putz has a chance to break the state’s all-time record for career passing yards which was set by Will Schneider of Shawnee Mission North last year. While Putz lost his two top wide receiver threats in Jafar Armstrong and Landry Weber, he returns three solid backs including Brison Cobbins who rushed for more than 800 yards as a freshman last fall.
Second-ranked Buhler wants to get back to the 4A-I state title game and get another shot at Miege. The Crusaders fell 53-21 in the title game to the Stags last fall, but Buhler returns eight starters on each side of the ball. Dalton Brown will lead the Crusader offense after rushing for 1,967 yards and 26 touchdowns last season.
The No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the poll got familiar with each other last fall as Maize South defeated McPherson twice. The Mavericks beat McPherson 14-6 during the regular season, and 35-27 to advance the state semifinals. Maize South returns 13 total starters from that team. The Mavericks finished 10-2 with both losses coming to Buhler. McPherson finished 2016 with an 8-3 record. While the Bullpups have some holes to fill on offense, McPherson returns eight starters from a defense that surrendered less than 12 points per game.
De Soto rounds out the poll at No. 5. The Wildcats return some key pieces from last year’s 7-3 team that captured the Frontier League title.
Topeka Hayden opens the season at No. 1 after finishing as the state runner-up a year ago. The Wildcats return nine starters from last year’s team including a pair of linebackers who registered more than 100 tackles in Brent Peavler (172 tackles) and Brandon VanBecelaere (106 stops).
Wichita Collegiate begins the new season at No. 2. The Spartans advanced to the state quarterfinals before falling to Holcomb 44-29. Collegiate returns one of the state’s top dual-threat quarterbacks in Cody McNerney and KU-commit Mac Copeland on the offensive line.
The Columbus Titans hold down the No. 3 spot in the preseason poll. The Titans return 15 total starters from last season’s 8-2 squad that was bounced in the first-round of the playoffs by league rival Girard.
The aforementioned Holcomb Longhorns begin the season ranked fourth. Both of Holcomb’s losses in 2016 came to eventual state champion Pratt, including 21-14 in the state semifinals. Holcomb returns 13 starters from that team including quarterback Trey Gilbert who passed for nearly 1,900 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Traditional power Holton opens the poll at No. 5. The Wildcats reached the state semifinals last season before falling to Topeka Hayden. Brooks Barta’s team was hit hard by graduation, but returns nine starters including some good size and depth up-front.
You’ll notice defending champion Pratt is not in the preseason top five. The Greenbacks sit just outside the top five after graduation claimed all but five starters off of last year’s team.
Rossville has captured the last three Class 3A state football titles, but the Bulldawgs open the 2017 season ranked No. 4 in our poll. Rossville has the tough task of reloading after the Bulldawgs were hit hard by graduation. Only one starter returns on offense and three on the defensive side. If the ‘Dawgs are to get back to Hutchinson to try and win a fourth straight, they’ll may have a tough path to get there.
No strangers to the spotlight, Silver Lake begins the season as our top-ranked team. The Eagles were the only team to beat Rossville last season, and return 12 total starters from that 10-1 team. Silver Lake notched C.J. Hamilton’s 400th win last season in the first round of the playoffs, but No. 401 was put on delay due to a 21-14 loss to Nemaha Central in the second round. That same Nemaha Central team opens the preseason poll at No. 2. The Thunder return 11 total starters including four across the offensive lineman. If the Thunder can replace three-year starter Ryan Hasenkamp at quarterback, they could be in for a special season.
The most talented team in the classification may reside in Phillipsburg where the No. 3 Panthers return 19 total starters from a team that finished 11-1 a year ago. The Panthers return all-state running back Kirk Coomes after his 1,300-yard junior season. Phillipsburg advanced to the state quarterfinals before falling to Hesston 38-26.
Hesston rounds out the preseason poll at No. 5 as the Swathers look to maintain the momentum that carried them to the 3A title game a year ago. They’ll have to do so with new leadership as Clint Rider took the Blue Valley Northwest job allowing former Sterling coach Tyson Bauerle to take over at Hesston. Plenty of talent returns including standout junior Parker Roth and most of the offensive line.
The Troy Trojans claimed the Class 2-1A state championship last season with a 28-24 victory over Plainville. Troy reached the 2-1A title game in each of the past two seasons, but graduated all but two starters from a highly successful class. That opens the door for the Smith Center Redmen which open the season as the top-ranked team in 2-1A. The Redmen return 13 total starters from last year’s 9-3 team that fell 14-0 to Plainville in the state semifinals.
St. Mary’s Colgan opens the season ranked second in 2-1A. The Panthers will be under the direction of new head coach Shawn Seematter after legendary coach Chuck Smith retired following last season. Smith led Colgan to a 343-75 record and five state championships. Colgan brings back eight starters and several other players with experience. The Plainville Cardinals open the season ranked third in the 2-1A poll. The Cardinals reached the state title game last season before falling to Troy.
Plainville returns five starters on each side of the ball with the majority of the strength coming up-front. The Cardinals graduated three skill players that earned Kpreps All-State honors in quarterback Hayden Friend, running back Riley Nyp, and receiver Ryan Buresh.
Jefferson County North opens the season as the No. 4 team in 2-1A. The Chargers return 15 total starters from an 8-2 squad that claimed the co-championships of the Northeast Kansas League. The entire backfield returns for the Chargers including Ridge Robertson and Samuel Larson who combined for nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns.
The Sedgwick Cardinals round out the poll at No. 5 this season. Sedgwick returns 14 starters from a 7-3 team that was upset by Republic County in the first round of the playoffs. Also returning is Jeff Werner at head coach after taking a one-year absence.
In Class 8-Man, Division I, the Central Plains Oilers open the season in the top spot. The Oilers last won the state title in 2014 having suffered quarterfinal losses to Spearville in each of the past two seasons. But this year’s Central Plains roster may be talented enough to advance to Newton. The Oilers return 13 total starters including nearly 80 percent of their offensive production from a year ago.
Last year’s state runner-up St. Francis opens the season at No. 2, while defending champion Osborne opens the poll at No. 3. St. Francis will try again to win the school’s first state football title behind the strength of six returning starters on each side of the ball. The Indians return 22 total lettermen and have quality depth entering the 2017 season. Osborne defeated St. Francis 38-24 in the title game a season ago, but the Bulldogs graduated a pair of all-state players in Cullen Grabast and Derek Naegele. Osborne returns Denton Schurr (1,788 yards, 31 TD), Darrien Holloway (626 yards, 17 TD), and Darnell Holloway in what may be one of the fastest backfield in all of Kansas.
Burlingame opens the season at No. 4 and has plenty of talent to make a run to Newton. The Bearcats started 11-0 last season before falling to Osborne in the state semifinals. Burlingame quarterback Dalton Sporing is one of the state’s top 8-man players, but is recovering from a knee injury and may miss some time.
Spearville rounds out the poll at No. 5 to begin the season. The Royal Lancers reached the state semifinals a year ago before falling to St. Francis 36-30. Spearville returns seven total starters including backs Bailey Sites and Kolby Stein.
Defending champion Hanover opens the season as the top team in Class 8-Man, Division II. The Wildcats rolled to a 12-0 season including a 68-22 victory over Dighton in the title game. Hanover returns seven total starters from last year’s team and, though record-setting quarterback Will Bruna is gone, Daiken Stallbaumer appears poised to take over and lead the offense.
Pike Valley opens the season as the No. 2 team. The Panthers return ten total starters including plenty of speed in back Lane Peters and end Cole Strickler. Last season, Peters rushed for nearly 1,500 yards for a second consecutive year and will likely eclipse 4,000 yards for his career in Week 1. By far the most competitive district in this classification is District 6 where many believe the top four teams on the west side reside.
Hodgeman County and Sharon Springs-Wallace County are both in District 6 and the Longhorns and Wildcats open the season ranked third and fourth, respectively. Hodgeman County returns seven starters on each side of the ball from a team that finished 5-4 last season. The Longhorns have a veteran defense with the top four tacklers coming back, and the offense features four-year starter Jacob Salmans at quarterback. Sharon Springs-Wallace County is back under the direction of Kevin Ayres after Jeff Hennick left to take the Oakley job. The Wildcat program has been a model of consistency reaching the playoffs in each of the last 11 seasons and posting a 103-22 record over that span.
Rounding out the 8M-II poll is Hutchinson Central Christian at No. 5. The Cougars enjoyed success in their first year back in the KSHSAA system by finishing 9-2 and reaching the state quarterfinals. The Cougars return eleven total starters from that team led by senior quarterback Nate Heneha.
Visit the Rankings page each week to view a complete list of the top five teams in each classification and how they performed last week.