By CONOR NICHOLL Cnicholl1@gmail.com Sports in Kansas
This week, Sports In Kansas looks at the “Hs” – teams and players in Kansas that have made significant news through the first three weeks that happen to start with the letter H.
Hugoton, with quarterback Sawyer Harper, has had possibly the wildest start of any team in 2020, Haven is looking for its winning record in 19 years. Hoisington, with running back Holt Hanzlick and quarterback Mason Haxton, looks like the 2A West favorite, while the Harris family and Haselhorst have paced Hays High and TMP – among other stories
Hugoton battling quarantine to 2-1 start; Harper with big season, rare drop kick
Class 3A Hugoton lists 57 players on its roster. The Eagles opened with a Greater West Activities Conference home game versus Colby. The school took several kids at lunch for quarantine because of COVID-19 concerns.
“It kind of just shell-shocked our whole team,” Hugoton third-year coach Nick O’Loughlin said. “And it even kind of affected me mentally thinking, ‘Are we going to be done next week?’ And I kind of think our kids felt that way as well.”
Hugoton eventually lost, 35-6, to the Eagles.
“We came out very, very flat,” O’Loughlin said.
The next week, Hugoton was set to face Ulysses at home Friday. That week, Hugoton watched a video about recovering.
“You lose a game, good, bounce back from it,” O’Loughlin said. “You don’t get the job you want, good, bounce back from it. You can always grow from something.”
At 9:40 p.m. on Thursday, O’Loughlin received a call. Hugoton was going to play, though the entire JV squad had to miss because of quarantine. All the JV Eagles play special teams and rotate in. Hugoton was down to 18 players. All day Friday, O’Loughlin and the staff had to make adjustments and figure out how to run special teams.
“Our kids really bought into like, ‘You know what, let’s face this adversity,’” O’Loughlin, a Hugoton ‘06 graduate, said. “People will probably talk about this and see that we are only playing Iron Man football now.”
Hugoton defeated 4A Ulysses, 28-6. The players kept the same mindset from the video.
“The kids were telling me ‘Good, I get more playing time,’” O’Loughlin said. “So they just had a positive attitude about it, and they really looked forward to playing both ways.”
“We just want to play hard and give everything we’ve got,” senior quarterback Sawyer Harper added. “And came out with a win. It felt really good.”
In Week 3, the Eagles gained around five players back but lost three or four more. The Eagles have had a high volume of starters play both ways. With 20 players, Hugoton won at Guymon (Okla.), 63-13, a game marked by a huge performance from Harper.
“The kids have really figured out that we are still going to have a season,” O’Loughlin said. “But we have got to play every game as if it’s your last, and we didn’t quite do that against Colby. They were just the flattest I’ve ever seen them.”
For Guymon, the Eagles had six linemen, the rest skill players. Because of the quarantine, Harper has started on defense and required to play kickoff and kickoff return units. He just played three quarters last week.
“Everyone’s done what they have needed to do,” Harper said. “They have stepped up ever since that Colby game. Colby game must have been a fluke, but we got it all out, and we started doing really good after that.”
He completed 16 of 26 passes for 418 yards with four touchdowns against zero interceptions. Harper also successfully delivered a drop kick for an extra point, the first recorded drop kick in recent Kansas high school history.
Since the start of the season, Harper had practiced the drop kick during water breaks and other down time.
“Figuring it out and how to drop it,” Harper said. “And getting the timing down. It was really nerve-wracking in the game.”
He improved and made several last Thursday. O’Loughlin gave permission to try it Friday. The NFL last had a drop kick in 2005.
“He’s kind of a freak athlete where he can kind of just figure out how to do anything,” O’Loughlin said.
Hugoton is 2-1 for the first time since ’16, and the second occasion since ’13. Hugoton’s last fall with more than five victories came in a 10-1 year in ’09. This week, Hugoton is at 3-0 Cheney, ranked fourth in 3A, in the District 8 opener. On Tuesday, Hugoton gained most of the JV back, though lost a two-way starter after practice. One of the team’s best defensive backs is expected to also miss.
“Right now, our defense is stepping up and playing better, because we have got our best athletes out there now,” O’Loughlin said. “And Sawyer is having to play both ways now, and he actually brings a lot to the table, and I think Sawyer plays better on offense when he does play defense.
“He is more locked in,” he added. “I think he gets those nerves out right away, so we just had to make a lot of adjustments. Sometimes COVID maybe helped us in a way. It helped us who needed to be playing defense. Our middle linebacker crew is a lot better than it was for Week 1, and that’s because we had to move other kids in.”
Hugoton, the county seat of Stevens County, has 3,904 people, according to the 2010 census. Overall, Stevens County reported 114 COVID cases as of Sept. 23, according to Kansas Department of Health and Environment. In the last 10 days, Stevens ranks as the No. 10 most cases per capita by a Kansas county, according to The New York Times.
However, multiple counties ahead of Stevens, including Cheyenne (St. Francis), Ellis (four schools), and Ford (Dodge City) have not missed games because of COVID-19. O’Loughlin said it’s “hard to say” where the cases are coming from. O’Loughlin’s aunt, who lives in McPherson, commented about Hugoton’s stricter quarantine policy that she called “a little excessive.”
“I think our quarantine policy is a little more strict than everybody else’s,” O’Loughlin said. “We had like 125 kids quarantined just because they sat within eight feet of somebody, and we were told six feet, wear a mask, and they were still quarantined anyways.”
Hugoton is going hybrid. O’Loughlin said 300 to 400 people in the town are quarantined. He brought up a question raised by multiple Kansas head coaches, including veteran Victoria coach Doug Oberle. A Rule 10 coach, Oberle, who has won three state titles as the Knights’ head coach, has long worked in health care. O’Loughlin is not aware of anyone associated with the team getting sick.
“The interesting statistic I’d like to ask is how many of those people quarantining have even came down with anything?” O’Loughlin said.
Hugoton is running the same offense as last year but spent more time in the summer honing the look. Last year, the Eagles opened 0-3 with 12 total points in the first three games but finished 4-2. Hugoton averaged 17 points a game in its last six contests and captured a district title. This season, Hugoton, despite the shorthanded squad, has delivered 97 points.
O’Loughlin runs the power Air Raid, similar to University of Oklahoma. O’Loughlin has liked to watch Sooner coach Lincoln Riley. Known for his small play sheet, Riley is 36-6 in his first three seasons with Oklahoma, including three Heisman Trophy finalists and two winners.
“It’s not that we run that many plays, we are just running them out of different looks,” O’Loughlin said. “And keeping it simple to where the kids understand their route system every time.”
The Eagles worked on the offense two days a week. Hugoton started out just having five kids show up, and then the middle of the summer, the Eagles were having 40 kids out. O’Loughlin said the offense normally half a season to “get in rhythm” and said both the varsity and JV understand the offense “a lot better.”
“The COVID thing, they were bored,” O’Loughlin said. “They were wanting to get outside and do stuff, so spending two days a week really helps, and then we also do a lot of 7-on-7 with Liberal this summer. Our kids have just really bought into throwing the football a little bit. Our numbers are up this year, too, as well, but our senior class is just a very athletic and sports-savvy group.”
Hugoton has shown plenty of team speed and depth. Last Friday, six different receivers caught a pass. Senior Jonathan Roa has been a very strong lineman. As a junior, he played guard and collected all-conference honorable mention honors. He moved to center.
Senior Abraham Garcia has showed solid footwork and physicality. Junior Ross Grewell had to move from running back to offensive line during the COVID issues, has performed well and has helped elevate the run game. It marks the second year playing football for Roa and the majority of the line.
“Our offensive line, they have stepped up ever since the Colby game,” Harper said.
Two years ago, Harper hurt his elbow and didn’t play. In ’19, Harper rushed for 375 yards and three scores. He threw for 1,807 yards with 18 scores against six interceptions. This year, he has passed for 793 yards with seven touchdowns versus two interceptions. Harper has never had a quarterback coach.
“We do the best we can, but if he actually got a really legit quarterback coach, I would like to see what he could do at the next level,” O’Loughlin said.
Senior Haden DaHarsh produced 575 receiving yards, seven receiving scores and three interceptions in ’19. This season, DaHarsh, a three-year defensive starter and two-way player, is one of the team’s most physical players. Hugoton moved him from outside to inside linebacker. Normally, Hugoton likes to have their middle linebackers at least 200 pounds. DaHarsh is 185.
“But he plays so physical, we said, ‘why not, put him inside,’” O’Loughlin said.
He is up to 12 catches for 304 yards and three TDs, including a 73-yarder. Senior Riggs Martin paced Hugoton with 105 tackles in ’19. He has 20 carries for 156 yards and 28 tackles, all team-highs. Junior defensive end Cade Mecklenburg (6-4, 210) recorded three sacks and a forced fumble versus Ulysses.
“A big bonus on our defense,” O’Loughlin said.
Haven looking for big turnaround – longtime connections to Brandon Clark, a change in classification; Roper and Barlow among standouts
Drew Thalmann has spent 15 years on the Haven football staff. A Cheney graduate with an agricultural background, Thalmann roomed with current Derby coach Brandon Clark and current Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee for two years at Kansas State.
Clark and Applebee are first cousins and have combined to win eight state titles since ’13. Thalmann and Clark played summer league basketball on the same team the summer before their senior year and went to K-State football camp together. Their grandparents played cards together, when Thalmann’s and Clark’s parents were young.
Under previous Haven coach Mike Hill, Thalmann served as offensive coordinator, and Thomas Cooprider, a Wildcat alum, ran the defense. Hill left late in the year before the ’19 season.
By the second week of May, Haven knew they were going to have make a decision on whether the school would find a new head coach or if Thalmann and Cooprider would be co-head coaches. Both agreed to take on the duties. The teams split the administrative responsibilities. They are the sixth head coaches since Thalmann first came on staff.
Haven is a very rare school to do the two head coaches. Notably, Argonia-Attica, which forms two schools in a consolidated agreement, had two head coaches for its ’14-15 teams that both finished as state runner-up.
“I don’t know why more people don’t do a two head coaches, because it would be miserable if I was the only one,” Thalmann said.
Thalmann talked with Clark often and implemented the spread option for last season.
“You can put people kind of in a bind,” Thalmann said of the offense. “Especially when you … have a good quarterback where he can read a person and make that person wrong no matter what they do.”
Last season, Haven doubled its win total to 4-5, the second-most victories since ’04. Haven scored 164 and allowed 234. The program upped its scoring 9.5 points per game from ’18 and allowed 7.5 points fewer. The Wildcats, though, were still a highly challenging 3A district that featured Andale and Cheney, which met in the state semifinals.
“We knew last year that we were better already,” Thalmann said. “In our district, though, we were just playing teams that were obviously better than we were at the time, and still probably are in Andale and Cheney and those teams.”
This fall, Haven was the KPreps preseason 2A Potential Breakout Team. The Wildcats have not had a winning season since ’01. However, Haven returned multiple talented players.
“This is actually a year we have been kind of circling since these juniors and seniors were fifth and sixth graders,” Thalmann said. “We knew that this could be a special year.”
Senior quarterback Darby Roper rushed for 614 yards, passed for 697 and accounted for 11 touchdowns. He also delivered 54 tackles. Defensively, Keaton Loop recorded 43 tackles in just seven contests.
Haven is 2-1 with a 34-12 road loss to undefeated Hesston, a 30-0 road victory against Smoky Valley and an entertaining 46-43 home win versus Larned. Haven will open Class 2A, District 5 play versus Marion (0-3).
The switch down a class has helped Haven both in varsity and JV. For Monday JV games, Haven has 18 players, normally the same number as the opponent. Normally, Haven faced 3A squads with 35-40 players for JV.
“We are playing teams that when we look across the other side, it’s a mirror image,” Thalmann said. “We are seeing the same number of people that are struggling with the same things. By the end of the game, their best players are absolutely gassed like our players, instead of being able to platoon against us, and that’s such a huge deal in football, especially early in the year.”
Thalmann said Haven has probably seven starters that play both ways.
This season, senior Hunter Barlow (6-foot-3, 295 pounds) is the team’s best lineman and anchors both fronts. He is team’s lone four-year starter. Thalmann believes Barlow can play at the next level. Gage Dewlen has moved to center and playing well on both lines.
This season, Roper has 44 carries for 338 yards and four touchdowns, while Schmidt has delivered 62 carries for 262 yards and two scores. Schmidt is 210 pounds, but Thalmann said Schmidt plays more like 240.
“That’s the thing that Darby can do so well is … he can hand it off to the tailback, and Nathan has done a great job of running this year,” Thalmann said. “And if they decide that they want to duck in and try and take the ball, then Darby can pull it out and run around the end. So it’s really just predicated on making the defense wrong no matter what they do.”
Roper, a longtime quarterback since the younger ranks, has 330 passing yards with a 5/3 TD/INT ratio. Four players have a receiving score. Roper has 37 total tackles, easily first on the team. On Friday, Larned scored on a kickoff to go up two scores.
“We were dead in the water,” Thalmann said.
Then, Roper returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. He also picked off a pass, made big runs, and in Thalmann’s eyes “kind of took the game over.”
“He really bails us out of a lot of bad situations,” Thalmann said. “And we are going to miss that next year as much as anything.”
Roper’s dad, Dwight, is the longtime Haven successful girls’ basketball coach. Roper is a talented basketball player for a 3A squad that reached state last winter. Earlier this week, Thalmann and Dwight went golfing.
“I said, ‘If my son grows up to be like Darby, I will be a lucky individual,’” Thalmann said.
Loop (6-1, 230) is an offensive lineman and the defense’s focal point. He has 17.5 stops, along with 2.5 tackles for loss. Opponent coaches were commenting on Loop’s play last year.
Barlow, Loop, Roper, Dewlen, Schmidt, senior wide receiver/linebacker Skylar Shingleton and senior Hunter Galloway all start both ways. All are returning starters from ’19.
Hanzlick back for Hoisington – Cardinals’ offense better per-play average than ’19 after three games
Hoisington coach Zach Baird believed Holt Hanzlick would have been an all-state player as a sophomore. Hanzlick, a highly talented player in the younger ranks, missed 2019 when he broke a bone in his tibia during a running back drill in practice.
“I was really psyched to come back this year,” Hanzlick said.
Hanzlick, a 5-foot-10, 194-pound junior, was expected to have a breakout season in 2020. He has helped depth-laden Hoisington open 3-0 and rank third in Class 2A.
“Our team chemistry is amazing, and everyone just plays for one another,” Hanzlick said.
After a quality 32-22 home win versus Halstead last Friday, Hoisington has emerged as the West favorite. It marked the first Central Kansas League regular season meeting between the teams since ’09 and first Hoisington win in the series since ’08. The Cardinals are 14-1 since the start of last year.
The Cardinals graduated Top 11 all-classes running back/linebacker Wyatt Pedigo. He cleared 2,000 rushing yards each of the last two years.
However, Hanzlick is part of a very deep running back group that features seniors Josh Ball, Hunter Morris, Cade Mason and quarterback Mason Haxton. Ball has 33 carries for 257 yards and five scores.
“It’s been a joy,” Baird said. “They are a bunch of great kids, and they will work hard, and when push comes to shove, they will stick their nose in there, and they will fight for you.”
Hanzlick has rushed 30 times for 205 yards and three TDs. Defensively, Hanzlick paces with 26 tackles, five for loss. Through three games, Hoisington has averaged 7.2 yards per play and ran 49 plays a game.
Last year, the Cardinals were at 7.1 yards per play and 53 plays a contest after first three games.
“I am back this year, and I am better than ever,” Hanzlick said.
Haselhorst and Harris standouts for Hays High and TMP
The two Hays area schools are both off to strong starts. Hays High, expected to be a 5A breakout team, is 3-0 and has allowed just 37 total points. HHS has its first 3-0 start since ’14.
The Indians have gone through several offensive changes with Dylan Dreiling and Jordan Dale both playing quarterback. Junior Jaren Kanak, a Division I all-purpose threat, was held out of the Week 3 home win versus Liberal with a foot injury, but is expected to return soon.
The defense, though, has consistently been great.
Last year, Hays High opened 1-2 and allowed 106 points.
In 2020, senior defensive Gaven Haselhorst, a Kansas State commit, has built on his massive ’19 season that yielded more than 100 tackles and 20-plus for loss. He, HHS junior linebacker Gavin Meyers (FBS offers) and Dodge City’s Alden Knedler (Div. I St. Thomas offer) all lead the WAC with 31 tackles, according to Hays High broadcaster/WAC statistician Dustin Armbruster.
Haselhorst has simply dominated games with eight tackles for loss and three sacks, both conference bests, along with a fumble recovery. Meyers has a sack, an interception, and three TFLs.
Hays High is at Garden City (1-2) in a key WAC game this Friday.
TMP is 2-1 and has its Class 2A, District 7 opener versus surprising Syracuse (3-0) at Lewis Field Stadium on Friday. Syracuse is off to its best start since ’99. The Monarchs are 2-1 for the first time since a 3-0 start yielded a 5-4 showing in ’11, the program’s last winning season.
Coach Jay Harris has brought stability to the program, and quarterback Kade Harris has continued after his strong freshman year. Harris has thrown for 360 yards with a 3/1 TD/INT ratio and has rushed 41 times for 239 yards and three scores, all team-bests. Harris also leads with 32 tackles.
Bryce Seib has a 47-yard pick-six for a team that is plus-three in turnover margin. Seib has delivered 30 tackles, along with a team-best four tackles for loss. Jace Wentling has served one of the state’s top specialists with two field goals, 7 of 9 on extra points, and a 40-yard average on three punts. Three of them have been inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
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