Football equipment check out will soon start across the state of Kansas and time for coaches and media alike to start taking stock in their teams. Let us take a look around the Western Athletic Conference.
League Quickies: Only Hays High returns a starting quarterback but he was hurt for the final three games of the season. However, nearly every team returns a running back that either started or saw a considerable amount of playing time. The last two WAC crowns went to first year head coaches…Liberal has a first year head coach. Dodge City, Garden City and Great Bend made the playoffs last year.
Dodge City – The defending league champs have holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Jared Helfrich graduated and signed with Fort Hays State University for both football and baseball. While there is little experience at whoever takes over the signal calling duties, Helfrich and the quarterback before him were each first year starters and turned into All-Conference caliber players. All-League football and basketball star Rico Hogan has reportedly transferred to Norman, OK. Dodge City went deep into the 6A playoffs and the experience has left them hungry under their second year head coach Dave Foster. Defensively the Red Demons should be strong once again, with most of the returning starters coming from this side of the ball.
Non-Conference Schedule: @ Wichita SE, Wichita NW, @ Wichita North
District: @ Goddard, Maize, @ Garden City
Garden City – Brian Hill settles in on his second year and has the unenviable task of replacing a three year starting quarterback. While several kids will likely have a shot at the starting role, the thing to remember is that Garden City was a very balanced attack last year, meaning that the new quarterback won’t be required to sling the ball all over the yard, allowing some time to get acquainted to the new position. Garden City starts with four of their five games on the road. None of those directly relate to making the playoffs, but with a good start on the road you would think a long stretch of home games towards the end of the season should set this team up well.
Non-Conference Schedule: @ Scott City, Woodward, OK, Wichita East
District: @ Maize, Goddard, Dodge City
Great Bend – Just like in Garden City, the Panther’s head coach has a tall task of finding a replacement for an all-star quarterback. Greg Hildebrand led the team in passing and rushing and took nearly every if not every snap last year. Hildebrand had a great career and does Great Bend have another gunslinger in the waiting? Bo Black in his 11th year is far and away the longest tenured coach in the conference and has found much success on his watch. That being said it is tough to assume that Great Bend wouldn’t be anything but on the cusp of another playoff berth or league title. In a league that seems to have many returning starting offensive lineman, Great Bend does have four of five back on the line. Great Bend has an open date in the second week of the season.
Non-Conference Schedule: @ St. Thomas Aquinas, @ Wichita Heights
District: @ Hays, Salina Central, @ Salina South
Hays – The Indians were left out of the playoffs last year due to the point tie breaker and haven’t made the playoffs since the mid 90’s. They are the only team with a quarterback that returns with starting experience but Austin Unrein was hurt for the final three games. Hays High also returns four of five on the offensive line. The defense for Hays will be mostly inexperienced when it comes to starting games however many of the kids played under the Friday Night lights late in blow out games and because of injuries.
Non-Conference Schedule: @ Chapman, Goddard, @ Wichita South
District: Great Bend, @ Salina South, Salina Central
Liberal – Cliff Abbott is the first year head coach for the Redskins. If history of the league repeats itself from the past two years, Liberal will win the WAC title. In 2009, Indian’s first year head coach Ryan Cornelson won the title then in 2010 Red Demon’s first year head coach Dave Foster did the same. The first thing to do in Liberal is find a new person to take snaps after multi-year starter Slader McVey graduated and somebody to catch that ball after Jade Cathey graduated and headed off for K-State. Liberal has plenty of returners to work with eight on each side of the ball.
Non-Conference Schedule: @ Ulysses, Guymon, OK
Bishop Carroll, @ Hutchinson, @ Wichita West