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Injured players return for a big week one

Hudson Gray is primed for a big year for Beloit. (courtesy photo from Gray)
By: Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas
Sep 12, 2019

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Blue Valley West’s Riley Cummings was part of an elite group who started as freshmen on a Class 6A team. Cummings delivered 75 carries for 357 yards and a score. He was one of four 6A freshmen to start, joining Topeka’s Ky Thomas, Garden City’s Refujio Chairez, and Dodge City’s Jashon Taylor, according to Kansas Pregame archives.

Three years later, Thomas is a University of Minnesota commit and on pace to break the city of Topeka’s all-time rushing record. Chairez has gone viral online with his squats and committed to Missouri Southern. The duo is multiple first team all-state selections. Taylor led Dodge City in tackles and was first team all-conference in ’18.

Cummings has rarely played since.

As a sophomore, he collected 39 carries for 170 yards and three scores before he separated his shoulder and was out for the rest of the fall. Last year, he tore his meniscus in the second drive of the season opener versus Mill Valley. Cummings played the rest of the night, woke up the next morning and couldn’t really walk. He missed the remainder of the year.

Last Friday, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Cummings returned to the gridiron and enjoyed the first 100-yard performance in BVW’s 28-21 upset versus Mill Valley, ranked No. 4 in the preseason Class 5A rankings. Cummings collected 23 carries for 168 yards and four scores.

“Last Friday was pretty fun,” Cummings said. “But being back with the team and being able to practice, especially to play with them, has been pretty awesome this year.”

Cummings’ performance punctuated a Week 1 for players who had missed all or parts of 2018 because of injury, transferring or other reasons. The list included Mankato-Rock Hills’ Rylee Whelchel, Beloit’s Hudson Gray, and Central Plains’ J.J. Heredia.

“He brings a physicality and a toughness to our team that we need,” Blue Valley West coach Josh Koerkenmeier said. “It was awesome to go out and see him on full display.”

Cummings has attended various camps, including Kansas State. He has no offers yet.

“There’s a lot of schools who have a lot of interest in Riley just because he is such a good athlete,” Koerkenmeier said. “And he has a lot of the physical tools. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a lot of film, and I think that’s probably the reason there has not been a whole lot of offers. Obviously, schools want to see what they are getting, and he just doesn’t have the film to show them.”

“But I think that’s going to change as we go down the road a little bit,” Koerkenmeier added. “…When you watch a game like Friday night and see how he plays the game, and his athletic ability, and it gets pretty easy to see he’s going to be a good college football player.”

Throughout the summer, Koerkenmeier focused on a fourth quarter mentality and even brought in the KC Marines for conditioning July 31. BVW wanted to establish the run and wear down MV in the second half.

“It really paid off, especially in that fourth quarter,” Cummings said of the summer.

The Jaguars trailed 14-0 at halftime, and Cummings scored all four of his touchdowns in the final quarter. BVW continually ran the ball late, especially to the boundary side on the final drive. The game-winner came with 18 seconds left on an outside zone play. 

“It’s difficult to tackle him, and it’s even harder to tackle him when you are tired,” Koerkenmeier said. “And there were a few different things they did from an X and O perspective that we kind of exploited a little bit, but really it was our kids did a great job. Our offensive line did a great job down the stretch of being really physical.”

Overall, the Jaguars churned out 44 carries for 296 yards, and senior David Brown, a first team all-state receiver, caught eight passes for 87 yards. Cummings’ twin, Jake, recorded four tackles, three for loss, as the strong safety.

Koerkenmeier said two juniors are arguably the team’s most talented players: 6-foot-5 left tackle/defensive end Rocco Hicks, also a great lacrosse player. Junior Andrew Bradley is a lock down defensive back and had 111 all-purpose yards.

“Really, really a freaky athlete,” Koerkenmeier said of Hicks. “And he absolutely dominated the game on both sides of the ball Friday night. Part of the reason why we kept running the ball to the left hand side had a lot to do with him playing left tackle.”

Senior lineman Ike Summerlin has received offers from Southern Nazarene and Southwest Minnesota State. He also recorded four stops, three for loss. Summerlin plays a little tight end.

“He is so passionate about being a great defensive lineman, and then getting better,” Koerkenmeier said. “He has shown tremendous progress in the last two or three years, and really been kind of the cornerstone of our defense and our defensive line. He’s got all the physical tools, and he’s got the motor, and he’s got the right mentality.”

Riley and Jake have played football together since they were young. Cummings called his family “really supportive.”

Jake was the quarterback, and Riley started at running back. They each played linebacker, before Jake moved to strong safety. The twins are similar in sports, but have different personalities and body types.

“Jake is a huge part of our defense,” Koerkenmeier said. “He is not as big as Riley, but he’s just a guy that’s always there to make the tackle. And when you watch our film, it’s hard not to see him flying in there and being somewhat responsible for almost every tackle.”

The twins and Summerlin played on an outstanding middle school-level team called the Top City Crush that had Thomas, Bishop Miege’s Ty-Quez Agnew-Whitten, K.C. Schlagle running back Jaylin Richardson, Topeka quarterback Da’Vonshai Harden and Free State’s Turner Corcoran and Malik Berry, all FBS prospects/commits. Thomas’ dad, Tobian, served as coach.

Before this season, BVW had a collective 6-21 record under Koerkenmeier, though improved to 3-6 last season with several close losses.

“It was really hard last year to watch,” Cummings said. “Because we had a little more success last year.”

On Friday, Blue Valley West plays host to Bishop Miege, 1-0 and ranked first in Class 4A. BVW has not enjoyed a winning record since a 5-4 year in ’14.

“Hopefully get a whole bunch of wins this year,” Cummings said. “And do whatever I can to help.”

Ness City duo

Ness City senior linebacker Nate Gabel was first team all-Central Prairie League at free safety as a sophomore. Then, Gabel tore his ACL playing basketball and was out for spring and summer. He missed the first five games of ’18.

“He just wasn’t the same,” Ness City coach Marc Cowles said.

Junior offensive lineman Matthew Delaney was having an all-conference before he had an injury in Week 6. He was a starter at cornerback as a freshman, a linebacker last year and will play defensive end this year.

They helped Ness City defeat Central Plains, 36-30, and end the Oilers’ 13-game winning streak. CP was the defending Eight-Man, Division I state champions. Delaney led the team with 11 tackles, delivered 15 carries for 71 yards and a score and caught a three-yard pass. Gabel finished third with seven tackles.

Cowles said both players had “outstanding summers” and that Delaney is probably the team’s hardest worker in the weight room. Cowles said Gabel is “back to form” following the injury. Ness City plays host to Macksville (1-0) on Friday.

“Excited for those two,” Cowles said.

Central Plains’ J.J. Heredia

In the loss, Central Plains senior J.J. Heredia, a versatile player, earned the Oilers’ overall player of the game honor. Heredia played football as a freshman. Sophomore year, Heredia decided to focus on basketball. A month into the fall, he ended up missing football, and CP’s captains voted him back on the team. Medical issues kept Heredia out as a junior, and Central Plains didn’t know if he would be cleared.

The 5-foot-11, 167-pound Heredia, listed as a defensive end/wide receiver, had nine carries for 41 yards. He delivered one reception for 31 yards and had three kick returns for 49 yards. Heredia tallied seven tackles (four solo), along with a sack and a forced fumble. Central Plains (0-1) is at rival Victoria (1-0) on Friday.

“We are just super stoked to get J.J. back out,” Central Plains coach Chris Steiner said.

Plainville’s Josh Russell

Plainville senior Josh Russell has earned a starting position at right guard for the Cardinals. Russell’s dad Joel, was a key player on great Plainville teams in the ‘80s, and his mom, Amanda, is the longtime Plainville High School administrative assistant.

At times, Plainville coach Grant Stephenson went into the office for a cup of coffee and gauged Josh’s interest with his mother. Last year, Stephenson started “kind of putting a bug in his ear” regarding Josh playing football. Josh has long been well-known for his drumming skills and musical talents.

“Trying not to push it too much,” Stephenson said. “Everybody has got their own niche in life.”

This summer, Josh worked his way into lifting and running shape and was at virtually all of the Cardinals’ workouts.

“But I just know he could really help us,” Stephenson said.

Russell is one of six Cardinal seniors, including the highly decorated pair of quarterback Jordan Finnesy and running back Jared Casey. Russell’s cousin, wide receiver Cody Crawford, is a returning starter.

Last Friday, Russell and the offensive line helped the Cardinals edge Norton, 29-22, with a fourth quarter score in a key Mid-Continent League game. The Cardinals rushed for 290 yards and recorded 367 total yards. It marked the second-most points Plainville had scored against Norton from ’04-19.

Plainville, 1-0 and ranked second in Class 1A, plays host to 2A defending champion Phillipsburg in another marquee MCL contest Friday. The Panthers (1-0) are ranked first in 2A.

“Of course, I wish I would have him the last two years, but he’s made some pretty awesome strides in the last two, three months in order to earn a starting spot on our offensive line,” Stephenson said.

Mankato-Rock Hills’ Rylee Whelchel

In his sophomore track season, Whelchel tore his hip flexor and pulled some bone off his hip during a 200-meter run. He missed the season opener and finished his season with 37 carries for 405 yards and nine scores. Overall, he delivered 955 all-purpose yards and 18 scores.

On Friday, Whelchel delivered a massive performance in a 78-28 win against Blue Valley Randolph. He rushed for nine carries for 295 yards and four touchdowns. He returned a kickoff 70 yards for a score, and a punt 55 yards for a touchdown. His 420 all-purpose yards were his most in the last three years.

Overall, Rock Hills delivered 25 carries for 599 yards and eight touchdowns in the first game with coach Colby Hamel. Rock Hills, 1-0 and just outside the top-5 in Eight-Man, Division II, will play host to Downs-Lakeside (0-1) on Friday.

Beloit’s Hudson Gray 

Beloit opened up with a 36-27 victory at Fairbury (Neb.). Senior Hudson Gray completed eight of 19 passes for 146 yards with two touchdowns against one interception. He rushed 13 times for 48 yards. Gray is back after a season-ending fibula injury in Week 3 last year. Beloit plays host to Southeast of Saline (1-0) in a marquee NCAA game.

Halstead’s Kaden Kraus

Halstead senior Kaden Kraus had 10 rushes for 91 yards and six tackles with a 38-0 win against Nickerson. The Dragons will play host to Pratt (0-1) this week. Kraus, who had 135 tackles as a sophomore, played in just three games as a junior because of injury. He recorded 25 tackles and 64 rushing yards.

Thunder Ridge’s Reece Struckhoff

Reece Struckhoff didn’t play last year because of transfer rules when he came from Stockton to Thunder Ridge. Struckhoff, one of the state’s strongest pound-for-pound players, rushed eight times for 204 yards and four scores. TR defeated Lakeside, 50-0, and plays Washington County at home this week. WC won at Doniphan West, 42-34, last week.

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