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Reno County football preview


By Brad Hallier

Ad Astra Radio will preview area high school football teams, based on county, before the season opener Sept. 1. Here is the preview for Kingman County.

Previous previews:

Stafford County

Harvey County

McPherson County

Kingman County

Marion County

Sedgwick County

Buhler Crusaders

Coach: Steve Warner, 18th season (148-48; 269-109 overall)

Classification: 4A

District: West

2022: 4-5

Postseason: Lost 32-13 to Arkansas City

Best postseason finish: State champions, 2013

Top returning players: Bodey Redenbaugh, jr., OT.DT; Jeffrey Neill, sr., QB/PK/P; Blake Hageman, sr., OT; Keaton Parsons, sr., OG; Ty Goans, sr., sr.,; Brendan Scripsick, jr., TE; Brayden Gentry, sr., FB/LB; Mitchell McDaniel, jr., RB/DB; Jeremy Gentry, jr., DB; Tavian Gilliam, sr., DB; Cash Carson, jr., DT; Chase Gentry, jr., DT; Will Hanen, sr., LB.

Key game: Sept. 8 vs. Circle. Last year, Circle beat Buhler for the first time ever and it set the tone for both teams, as Buhler had a rare losing season and Circle reached the 4A quarterfinals. Buhler will be hungry for some payback, and could likewise set the tone for the rest of the season.

Outlook: It was a rarity for Buhler and Warner last season – they had a losing season, the first ever for Warner in his three-plus decades of coaching, and the first for Buhler since 2005. But it was a young Buhler team beset by injury and not with much depth. With eight starters back on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Jeffrey Neill – now in his third season starting. McDaniel is expected to take over the load at running back, an area Buhler has traditionally been strong. A speedy and experienced secondary should be one of the best around. If Buhler can stay healthy, get a strong season from McDaniel and pressure opposing quarterbacks, this could be a strong season. 4A West has been wide open for the last several years. There hasn’t been a repeat finalist in 4A West since 2008-2010 when Topeka Hayden did so.

Central Christian Cougars

Coach: Matt Barnett first season

Classification: 8-player Division 2

District: 2

2022: 4-6

Postseason: Beat Marmaton Valley 52-6; lost to Axtell 50-0

Best postseason finish: Semifinals, 2019

Top returning players: Justus Huff, sr., TE/LB; Keaton Miller, jr., OL/DL; Ryland Kooiman, jr., RB/DB; Piercen Huff, so., WR/DB

Key game: Oct. 13 vs. Rural Vista. Canton-Galva is still the favorite to win this district, but the rest of the district appears to be wide open. This game could carry a lot of weight as far as who plays at home in the first round of the playoffs.

Outlook: Central Christian was better than its 4-6 record a year ago, but the Cougars lost a lot of production from last year. A new coach has arrived as well in Barnett. The positive thing about Central Christian’s schedule is many teams appear to be in rebuilding mode, just like the Cougars. There will be opportunities for wins, and if they can find a couple early, that will bode well for district play.

Fairfield Falcons

Coach: Kyle Finder, first season

2022: 0-9

Classification: 8-player Division 2

District: 2

Best postseason finish: Quarterfinals, 1995

Top returning players:  Calen Wente, sr., TE/DE; Garrett Lanning, , jr., OL/DL; Brodie Snodgrass, so., RB/DB; Connor Fowler, jr., RB/DB; Rex Zonker, jr., RB/LB.

Key game: Sept. 23  vs. Central Christian. A team in rebuilding mode, Fairfield has a chance to open district play on a positive note.

Outlook: Fairfield seemed to be on the upswing with a 2-7 record in 2021, but slipped to 0-9 last season. The Falcons struggled too, getting shut out four times and losing by mercy rule in all but one game. But the Falcons have some experience back, with five starters returning. The Falcons are playing several teams in rebuild mode and should have the chance at some wins.

Haven Wildcats

Coaches: Drew Thalmann and Thomas Cooprider, fifth season (20-19)

2022: 4-5

Postseason: Lost to Southeast of Saline 53-12

Classification: 2A

District: 6

Best postseason finish: Semifinals, 1971

Top returning players: Riley Loop, sr., OL/LB; Trey Pennington, sr., LB; Brody Boese, sr., OL/DL; Cooper Seidel, sr., OL/DL; Nash Wray, jr., QB/DB; Van Loop, jr., RB/DB; Dustin Loughrie, sr., WR/DB; Preston Sander, sr., WR/DB; Grant Patry, so., RB/DB

Key game: Sept. 29 at Garden Plain. The district is tough, as 2A state runner-up Kingman is there along with Chaparral, Garden Plain and Douglass. There’s going to be a solid team left out of the playoffs. Garden Plain appears to be headed up, but that doesn’t mean Haven can’t win this. If Haven can snag a win here, they’ll be in contention for a home playoff game.

Outlook: Haven looks to continue to build a program that is in steady hands. It wasn’t long ago when Haven was a double-overtime loss away from the state semifinals. Haven lost some good players from last year, but the Wildcats bring back some depth. Eight defensive starters are back that gave up just 21 points a game in the first six weeks. The offensive line won’t be deep, which is a concern. Dual-threat QB Wray provides a different look and can be elusive, not just in the open field but also in the backfield. Haven should win some games again. This is no longer the Haven program whose games would end with a running clock.

Hutchinson Salthawks

Coach: Mike Vernon, sixth season (24-24, 53-43 overall)

Classification: 5A

District: West

2021: 8-3

Postseason: Beat Liberal 35-7; beat Bishop Carroll 14-7; lost to Maize 21-14 

Best postseason finish: State champions, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011.

Top returning players: Daylee VanSyckle, senior, OT; Kaleb Cape, junior, OG; Camden Jenson, senior, C; Malik Brown, senior, OG; Jayden McQueen, sr., OT; Zion Burgess, sr., RB; Devin Spiller, sr., RB; Kade Smith, jr., RB; Mason Jones, sr., DL; Kevin Wilson, jr., LB; Morgan Carter, jr., LB; Daniel Hernandez, sr., DB; Jax Heneha, sr., SS; Terrell King, jr., FS.

Key game: Sept. 22 vs. Derby. Vernon wants the Salthawks to take the next proverbial step. What better time to show that the Salthawks are ready to do that than by beating Derby for the first time since 2014?

Outlook: If there were any doubts as to the ability Mike Vernon has to lead and mold Salthawk football in his image and vision, those should have been erased last season. An easy argument can be made that Hutchinson was the third-best team in 5A season, behind champion Mill Valley and runner-up Maize. The Salthawks’ only losses were to Maize (twice) and 6A semifinalist Derby. The 21-14 quarterfinal loss to Maize was the only 5A playoff game in the quarterfinals and semifinals that was remotely competitive. This year’s Salthawks could be even better. The entire offensive line – a staple with Salthawk football since 1997 – returns intact. VanSyckle is one of the state’s best. The defensive back seven returns five starters, and King is another to watch for as one of the state’s best. Jones will cause problems in opposing backfields. With so much talent back, one concern for the Salthawks is complacency. AVCTL Division 1 has produced at least one state finalist every year since 2003, except for 2010, as the Salthawks have the capability of getting there. Another concern is inexperience at quarterback after graduating Nic Lange. The Salthawk dynasty from 2003-2014, where they won seven titles and played in 10 championship games, isn’t too far in the rearview mirror, and Vernon isn’t satisfied with being just a good team that could beat anyone. He was a part of that dynasty, and while it would be near impossible to replicate it, Vernon wants these Salthawks to take the next step and reach a semifinal or championship game.

Nickerson Panthers

Coach: Taylor Bauman, second season (1-8)

2022: 1-8

Postseason: Did not qualify

Classification: 3A

District: 7

Best postseason finish: Quarterfinals, 2001

Top returning players: Karson Engelland, sr., OL/DL; Michael Nolde, sr., OL/DL; Logan Rogers, sr., RB/LB; Cage Kelly, sr., TE/LB; Skyler Wakefield, sr., WR/DB; Ayla Ontjes, sr., PK

Key game: Sept. 8 at Hillsboro. Last year, Nickerson started bright with a comfortable win over Lyons, but the Panthers didn’t win again. If Nickerson can match that win against Lyons to open the season, it’ll be important to build off that, as the schedule gets brutally tough from this point.

Outlook: Nickerson is a victim of geography. It is placed in the middle of so many outstanding high school football programs, such as Andale, Cheney, Pratt and Smoky Valley. A good number of players graduated from last season, so this year, the Panthers need to continue to get a grasp of Bauman’s system and compete. There are wins on the schedule, and Nickerson hopes to nab more than one this time around.

Pretty Prairie Bulldogs

Coach: Blake Lee, second season (4-5)

Classification: Eight-man Division 1

District: 4

2022: 4-5

Postseason: Did not qualify

Best postseason finish: State champions, 1993

Top returning players: Gage Bowers, sr., QB/LB; Blaine Rogers, sr., OL/DL; Christian Chandler, jr., OL/LB; Brogan Stucky, sr., OL/DL; Carter Stucky, so., RB/DB; Matthew Rogers, jr., OL/DL

Key game: Sept. 22 at Moundridge. This will be the measuring stick for the Bulldogs, as far as if they will contend for a first-round home playoff game.

Outlook: While the record wasn’t bad, Pretty Prairie was beset by injuries and off-the-field issues that forced them to forfeit a few district games, resulting in missing the playoffs. But with six starters back, there’s no reason to think the Bulldogs shouldn’t improve. Bowers is a talented all-around player who will be at the heart of the offense. Chandler played just seven games last season due to injury but still nearly accumulated 100 tackles. Pretty Prairie did graduate some athletes, but with the amount of experience back, this is a team that should make the playoffs and maybe push for a first-round home game.

Trinity Catholic Celtics

Coach: Jordan Bell, 10th season (54-33)

Classification: 1A

District: 7

2022: 6-3

Postseason: Lost 23-17, OT, to Plainville.

Best postseason finish: State champions, 1979

Top returning players: Eric Armour, QB/DB; Gavin Judy, OL/DL; Ezekiel Suter, WR/DB; Isaiah Suter-Tan, TE/LB; Samuel Suter-Tan, OL/DL; Tanner Weather, OL; Gavin Wilson, RB/LB; Jackson Dozier, DB.

Key game: Sept. 29 vs. Inman. The Teutons will likely be a little down this season after reaching consecutive championship games, but they’ve also built a program there. Trinity will get the chance to prove itself as a contender by winning this game.

Outlook: Trinity was unlucky last year, finishing third in a brutal district that included 1A runner-up Inman and semifinalist Conway Springs. That forced the Celtics to play on the road in the first round of the playoffs, a long trip to Plainville. With seven starters back on both sides of the ball, Trinity could be better this year. The problem is, Inman and Conway Springs are in the same district again. But Trinity has experience and depth, as 35 players are out, the most in Bell’s tenure. Armour is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback, and he’ll have plenty of weapons to choose from, including Wilson, Esekial Suter and Isaiah Suter-Tan. Defensively, Trinity should have one of the best around, as last year, the Celtics gave up more than 21 points in regulation just once, which came against Conway Springs. Finishing top two in the district will be vital this time around.