Friday, September 3, 2010

Darrian Miller Playing Status in Question

Thursday evening, Dion Clisso of, a media partner of Sports Radio 810 WHB and, reported that Blue Springs running back Darrian Miller was suspended for this week’s game against the Staley Falcons.  Here is the report in its entirety:

“Blue Springs Darrian Miller will not be on the field Friday night when the Wildcats host Staley at Peve Stadium. The senior all-state back who is one of the most highly recruited players in the Kansas City Metro will not play this week due to an internal coaching decision.

The anticipated showdown between Miller and Staley's standout running back Evan Campbell will not happen. Miller's time out of the lineup will be limited to one game according to Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe.

The Wildcats are looking to find their first win of the season after opening the year with a 7-6 loss at Rockhurst. Staley opened the year with a 44-13 over Raytown.”

Friday afternoon, conflicting information began to emerge.  Candace Buckner, Kansas City Star preps reporter, said just after 2pm on her Twitter feed, @kccandace, that Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe told her last night Miller was indeed playing against Staley this evening.  

"Donohoe said he's had 2 deal w/ 'is he or is he not playing' talk all week," Buckner tweeted. "But he told me straight up, Miller's in. So who knows, we'll see."

I contacted Clisso and he told me, "I stand by my story.”

Donohoe was contacted via e-mail by 810 Game of the Week analyst Jay Binkley at around 2:15. He responded 15 minutes later with, "Let's just say that if he (Miller) plays...great.  If not, it is because of making a few bad decisions.  How's that for an answer?"  

Tune in to High School Warm-Up on Sports Radio 810 WHB at 6:30 for the latest on this story.

Week 2 Preview

Another very good schedule is on tap as football gets underway on the Kansas side.  Here are five games that will be very interesting to follow in Week 2, beginning with our Game of the Week.

Price Chopper Game of the Week on Sports Radio 810 WHB #10 SM West at #4 Olathe North – This is a match-up of the top two teams in the Sunflower League in our Top 25.  The coaches preseason poll liked Olathe East for second place by a nose.  Either way, it is an unusual treat to have two of the top teams in the league play in the opener. 

Olathe North is the defending Kansas Class 6-A champs with a 13-game winning streak entering 2010.  The Eagles lose Simone winner James Franklin but replace him with a couple of speedy and capable backs in Adonis Saunders and Dominick Wilson.  Saunders won the 6-A 100 and 200 meters as a sophomore; an injury prevented him from defending his titles last spring. 

Victor Simmons is back at quarterback after rushing for 1,100 yards last year.  Simmons is a 3-Star recruit at safety according to and committed to play at Kansas over the summer.  Coach Pete Flood said Simmons has worked hard at improving his passing abilities after he barely attempted a throw last year.

A bigger concern than replacing Franklin is finding new guys to block for the retooled backfield.  The Eagles had a bunch of seniors last season who had started two or even three years up front. Franklin deservedly got a lot of credit, but he was running behind one of the best lines in school history.  Josh Finley is the only returning starter and he moves from guard to right tackle.

Defensively, the strength of the Eagles is in the secondary where Saunders, Wilson, and Simmons are each expected to be all conference-caliber players.  Kyle Swartz returns as a 1st Team Sunflower League linebacker.  Like on offense, the guys in the trenches will be mostly be new faces.

SM West is probably the most experienced team in the league.  The Vikings will start seniors in 21 of 22 positions on offense and defense.  Drew Humphreys is a returning starter at safety who will now also start at quarterback.  Two years of varsity time on defense should Humphreys won’t be a wide-eyed first-year starter. 

The running backs unit returns intact.  Will Livingston and Cordi Pascal are back at tailback after combining for nearly 1,400 yards last season.  Both will get plenty of carries, but if Livingston is healthy look for him to get the opportunity to be the featured back.  Add in fullback Danny Dowling and the Vikings backfield is as experienced as any in the metro. 

Defensively, Humphrey’s is a two-year starter at safety and was second-team all conference last season.  He is one of five returning starters on defense for SM West. 

The Vikings have lost just one regular season game the last two years but do not have a playoff win in that span.  We’re a long way from the playoffs here on the first Friday of September, but that lack of playoff success has definitely been motivation for the team all offseason. 

So is there a Sunflower League championship on the line in the season opener?  It is obviously too early to say that for sure.  But while there are certainly other challengers for the 2010 league title, the winner of this game will be considered by most to be the favorite to come out on top when the dust settles.  Tune in to Sports Radio 810 for the play-by-play…it should be interesting.

#1 Rockhurst at Hutchinson – The Hawklets escaped Week 1 with a 7-6 win over #2 Blue Springs.  The schedule does not get easier with a trip to the six-time state champion Salthawks who routed Rockhurst last year 55-27 and is riding a 22-game winning streak. 

It is the season opener for a young Hutch squad that returns just five starters.  Rockhurst has far more experience but has struggled matching the physical play of the Salthawks the last two seasons when the teams have split two meetings.  The game is getting attention as a national top 10 game of the week as both teams are ranked in the top 100 of most country-wide polls. 

#5 Staley at #2 Blue Springs Even though this is a match-up of top 5 teams, Staley enters the game as a prohibitive underdog.  But there’s also not much to lose for the Falcons.  Blue Springs is not a conference opponent so it is really just an opportunity for Staley to see how they measure up to the best in the city with absolutely zero risk.  Two years ago in similar circumstances, Lee’s Summit West pushed the Wildcats to the brink before falling on a late two-point conversion. 

Late breaking news that is a definite advantage for the Falcons is word that Darrian Miller, the star running back for Blue Springs, will miss the game due to “coach’s decision”.  Miller, by the way, needs to use this suspension (let’s call it what it is) as a chance to refocus on football and his future.  College coaches are easily spooked, so to maximize his opportunities at the next level Miller will need to stay out of trouble and out of Kelly Donohoe’s doghouse.

Update 2:30pm:  The report that Miller is out came from a story by's Dion Clisso.  Read it here.  I should have credited Dion, but my story was not really about the suspension, it was about the game.  Now comes some conflicting information.  Candace Buckner of the Star just said on her Twitter feed that Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe told her last night Miller was indeed playing against Staley this evening.  

"Donohoe said he's had 2 deal w/ 'is he or is he not playing' talk all week," Buckner tweeted. "But he told me straight up, Miller's in. So who knows, we'll see."

Clisso told me in response, "I stand by my story."  

Donohoe was just contacted via e-mail by 810 Game of the Week analyst Jay Binkley.  He responded, "Let's just say that if he plays...great.  If not, it is because of making a few bad decisions.  How's that for an answer."  

That doesn't exactly solve the mystery, but reading between the lines it would be a reasonable guess to say Miller will not play tonight and Donohoe is being coy to keep Staley on their toes.  

Miller’s absence gives Staley an opening.  The Falcons will probably need to win a low-scoring game and taking away the Wildcats best offensive weapon can’t hurt their chances.  The Wildcats defense is too good to give up a ton of points, so do not expect a shootout which is how Lee’s Summit West almost pulled the upset two years ago.

#22 Blue Valley West at #3 Gardner-Edgerton – There is some very positive chatter about Blue Valley West and their potential for a breakout year.  Metro Sports has them ranked 8th in the city and is covering this game on TV.  The Jaguars certainly have some reasons for optimism but top 10 strikes me as a bit lofty at this point for a team coming off a 3-6 campaign and graduated their starting quarterback.  Certainly, though, Bubba Starling and Gardner-Edgerton represent a tremendous opportunity to validate increased expectations.  If the Jaguars really push a loaded Trailblazers squad it could be a sign of better success for 2010. 

On the flip side, if the ‘Blazers roll, it might not say anything about Blue Valley West’s talent.  Rather, it could just be a sign that Gardner-Edgerton is indeed a favorite, if not THE favorite, in Kansas 5-A. 

#17 Lee’s Summit at #16 Raymore-Peculiar – Along with a September 17 matchup between Gardner-Edgerton and Bishop Miege, this ranks as the best matchup of quarterbacks in the city.  Ray-Pec’s Cameron Coffman holds offers from Nebraska, K-State, Arizona State and more.  Lee’s Summit’s Corbin Berkstresser is headed to Missouri 

The Tigers are coming off a 57-point explosion in new head coach Eric Thomas’ first game.  The new no-huddle spread offense was a success against William Chrisman.  Ray-Pec lost a tough game to #8 Lee’s Summit West 21-13.  The Panthers cannot afford a second straight loss to a Class 5 team to open the season when a brutal Class 6 and Suburban Big 6 schedule against the likes of Blue Springs, Liberty, Blue Springs South, and Rockhurst awaits.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Week 1 Review

Here are a few thoughts on the first week of high school football action.

Rockhurst 7, Blue Springs 6 – The Hawklets have to feel very fortunate at having escaped with a win.  A missed extra point in the second quarter came back to haunt Blue Springs who didn’t settle on a kicker until late in the week. 

Along with special teams, turnovers are always a huge factor in this rivalry.  In the playoffs last year, Rockhurst lost the ball three times while Blue Springs did not turn it over, a gut-wrenching stat for the Hawklets since they lost by just two points.  This year, Blue Springs returned the favor losing the turnover battle by the same 3-0.

Looking forward, both teams have championship level defenses, both have strong running games, and both had trouble throwing the ball downfield.  Blue Springs shadowed Rockhurst tight end Dan Tapko and made him a non-factor in the passing game (cramps made Tapko a non-factor in the second half).  Rockhurst really needs to find a receiver on their roster that can stretch the field. 

Blue Springs has that special receiver in Jordan Nubine and he was a force Friday.  You could argue Blue Springs can come away with more optimism for the rest of the season because new quarterback Kyle Brown actually looked quite talented and made few mistakes.  As he matures and evolves, the Brown to Nubine connection should take pressure off Darrian Miller who had to earn every yard against Rock. 

Lee’s Summit West 21, Raymore-Peculiar 13 – LSW got the first win in the school’s history over Ray-Pec and they did it with a great defensive effort.  It’s early, but the Titans may have their best defense since their state title run a few years ago. 

Ray-Pec moved up to Class 6 this year and frankly this is a disturbing start for them, losing to the Class 5 Titans.  The Panthers Suburban Big 6 schedule is brutal with Lee’s Summit, Liberty, Blue Springs, and Blue Springs South all on the schedule before district play begins (against Rockhurst, no less).  The Panthers could be one of the top 20 teams in the city and still not have a .500 record.  This week’s game against Lee’s Summit, a battle between two D1 quarterbacks in Cameron Coffman and Corbin Berkstresser, looks to be a toss-up.  It will be critical for the Panthers to get a win in this one since they’ll likely enter so many games as an underdog. 

Blue Springs South 49, Raytown South 7 – Apparently things snowballed on a young Ray South team a bit in this one and the score got out of hand.  Still, it has to be taken as a positive sign for a Jaguars team that went 4-6 last year. 

Ray South, meanwhile, will probably take a step back during the regular season from where they’ve been the past two years.  Just five players with varsity experience are on the Cardinals roster, so it’s not surprising to have some growing pains.  Dave Allie and his staff will try to build for district play when everyone’s record is essentially wiped clean. 

Oak Park 55, Liberty North 0 – It was a tough welcome to varsity football for Liberty North.  The Eagles have no seniors and virtually no experience so it’s not surprising Oak Park was able to win convincingly.

However, Oak Park may also just be pretty darn good.  Coach Keith Ross is pretty upbeat about his team.  Other area coaches I’ve spoken with indicate the Northmen are very talented at the skill positions with very good team speed.  Fort Osage visits Friday night so it will be an opportunity to see if Oak Park is a team that could be a serious challenger in Class 5. 

Liberty 35, Park Hill 14 – The scouting report on the Blue Jays is that they are really good up front on both sides of the ball.  Their superiority in the trenches pushed them to 29 straight points to win this game going away, avenging a 20-11 loss to the Trojans last year.  North Kansas City is up next for Liberty before a very interesting two-game stretch against Ray-Pec and Rockhurst. 

Lee’s Summit 57, William Chrisman 23 – There was a sense that Lee’s Summit might be dramatically improved on the offensive side of the ball with a new no-huddle spread and Missouri recruit Corbin Berkstresser entering his third season as a starter.  Obviously the early returns are exceptionally positive.  The Tigers will get the chance to back up that opening win with a big opportunity game against Ray-Pec Friday. 

Jefferson City Helias 23, Harrisonville 15 – It was a matchup of Class 4 preseason ranked #3 Helias against #4 Harrisonville.  It turned out to be a disappointing loss for the Wildcats who fell behind 16-0 and turned the ball over four times.  The ‘Cats continue their regional schedule this week with a Saturday game against Hazelwood West.

Lawson 17, Maryville 7 – Lawson avenged a 15-7 Sectionals loss to Maryville in last year’s Class 2 playoffs.  The Spoofhounds went on to win the state title and then were reclassified in the offseason to Class 3.  The Cardinals won an unbeaten state title in 2007 and are on a seven-year streak of making the playoffs.  With Friday night’s win they seemed to signal they are primed for another run in 2010.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Preview - #2 Blue Springs at #1 Rockhurst

This is always one of the biggest games in the entire regular season and it will be on Sports Radio 810’s High School Football Game of the Week, the only live and impartial radio broadcast of this matchup. 

Blue Springs brings an offense that had to rebuild around the reigning Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, Darrian Miller, who rumbled for almost 2,800 yards as a junior and is now one of the top recruits in the state.  Miller will run behind a rebuilt offensive line that features only one player who started last year. 

Jordan Nubine returns as the leading wide receiver.  At 6’3” 200 pounds, he’s getting recruiting interest from Big 10 and Big 12 schools.  Kyle Brown steps in as the starting quarterback.  Kelly Donohoe says the 6’3” 185 pound junior “looks the part” and isn’t likely to get rattled. 

Defense should be the strength of the Wildcats, at least until the offense gains some experience.  The secondary should be stout with returning starters at corner in Aaron Peola and Bernard Thomas.  Thomas is a top area recruit with offers from Arkansas, KU, and K-State.  Linebacker also returns experience with Lewis Foutz and Jon Trocosso.  The defensive line must replace a couple of talented ends but Justin Middleton returns after working his way into the starting lineup last year as a junior.

For Rockhurst, experience abounds.  Tony Severino counts seven returning starters on each side of the ball.  Offensively, the stat leader in every category is back. 

Senior Frank Arbanas enters his second season as the starting quarterback.  He was solid last year, completing over half his passes for 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions.  He’s not a player that will beat you with his legs – he averaged less than two yards a carry – but his 6’5 frame did allow him to score six times near the goal line. 

Noah Pearl is a talented running back.  The 6’0” 193 pound senior rushed for 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.  Last year Sal Belfonte got almost 100 carries while gaining 850 yards but expect Pearl to carry more of the load this year with senior Cameron Turner spelling him.

The Hawklets leading receiver is also back in the form of tight end Dan Tapko.  He caught 26 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns last year and committed to Oklahoma over the summer. 

Defensively, Tapko and junior tackle Zion Gonzalez are returning starters up front.  The linebacking corps, despite the loss of one of the best high school linebackers to ever play at Rockhurst in Sal Belfonte, looks loaded.  Ryan Karlin, Scott Herring, and Alex Bales all played last year.  Junior Michael Rose is ineligible due to grades (eligible by state standards but not by the schools) and will miss the first six games.  When he returns the Hawklets will add a tremendously talented player who has already committed to Nebraska.

Cornerback is probably the biggest question mark on the defense as the Hawklets must replace a couple of seniors, including Dexter McDonald who snagged eight picks last year and is now playing at Illinois.  However, Mark Boushka returns at free safety and Dylan Veatch got a lot of playing time as a backup safety a year ago and now moves to the starting lineup.

After talking with both coaches this week, the game plan for each team is to run the ball well and stop the run.  Severino joked that the game may be over in an hour.  However, both coaches excel at in-game adjustments so look for them to try to hit a few big plays in the passing game. 

It’s cliché, but turnovers will be critical.  The Hawklets lost the playoff matchup last year when a field goal sailed through the uprights for Blue Springs as time expired, but it was the minus-three turnover disadvantage that really did Rockhurst in.  Blue Springs took great care of the football and Rockhurst did not, losing two fumbles and an interception. 

It should be a great game on a great night for football at Dasta Memorial Stadium, where Kelly Donohoe has a 7-2 record against the Hawklets (Rockhurst has a 7-2 advantage at Blue Springs in that time in one of the weirder trends you’ll ever see).  We’ll be on the air at 7pm tonight with kickoff at 7:30…hope you’ll be listening on Sports Radio 810 WHB!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Jamboree Rainouts

I headed out to check out some pre-season high school football Friday night.  First stop was Staley where the Falcons were hosting Park Hill South, North Kansas City, and Odessa.  There's a good chance we'll see Staley and Park Hill South in the first half of the season on the Game of the Week so I wanted to see both.  Add that Staley is close to my house and they were starting early at 4:45.  That allowed me to plan a trip to Blue Springs to see the Wildcats, Lee's Summit West, Raytown South, and Grandview at 7pm.

Unfortunately, the weather had something to say about those plans.  The format of these jamborees call for a four-team round robin.  Staley and Park Hill South met first while Odessa and NKC battled on the other end of the field.  I took my time getting in and hunting around for the (not surprisingly) non-existent rosters.  So I pretty much missed the entire first rotation.

Four plays into Staley and NKC the lightning moved close enough to suspend the jamboree.  They were unable to resume until Saturday morning.  I bailed and, looking at the radar, was hopeful everything would stay north of I-70 so I headed to Blue Springs.  They got in around 20 plays  but had to quit just as I got there.  They REALLY wanted to get it done that night so they hung around before conceding to the weather around 8:30 as another batch of heavy rain moved in.  I waited five minutes too long to leave and got soaked running to my car in the driving rain, feeling I was imminently going to be struck by the frequent lightning.

All that said, the night wasn't a total waste.  I saw a bit of football at Staley, caught up with several coaches, and got to hear some good pressbox gossip.

The four plays I saw at Staley was the Falcons offense against the NKC defense.  The Hornets front seven absolutely dominated.  Staley's offense probably netted around -10 yards.  They got absolutely stuffed every single snap.  However, the NKC defense apparently did not fare so well against Odessa, it was the offense that stole the show in that matchup as the Hornets scored from the 35 on three straight plays to open the scrimmage.

The Hornets appear to have some talent on both sides of the ball, but their schedule is brutal.  They start with 3 of 4 on the road, at St. Joe Central, at Liberty, home against LS West, and at Ray-Pec.  Overall they play five teams in our pre-season top 25 and seven 2009 playoff teams.  They'll need to be significantly improved over last year's 1-9 squad to post their first .500 record since 2006.

As for Staley, it wasn't a great, albeit brief, showing by our pre-season #5 team.  I'm now hearing whispers from other assistant coaches in the northland that the Falcons may be a bit down.  Predictably, the Staley parents I spoke with were decidedly more upbeat.  Coach Fred Bouchard is apparently telling his players very positive things about their potential. That could just be motivation tactics, but I still see a lot of talent and experience for the Falcons.  And the fact is Fred Bouchard just does not seem to have down years.  They went 9-3 without any seniors in 2008!  Yes, the schedule is tougher now in Class 5.  They'll probably take their lumps week 2 at Blue Springs.  But I still see 7 wins, 1 loss, and 2 toss-up games on the Staley schedule.

Part of the reason for my continued optimism is RB Evan Campbell.  He rushed for almost 1,600 yards last season and will be a three-year starter.  His success has earned him some looks at the next level.  I spoke with Evan's dad pretty extensively Friday night.  They are still quite optimistic that Evan will have the opportunity to play FCS (D1) football even though he has not yet received an offer.  His 5'7 frame is the chief concern for college coaches, but he ran a 4.35 40 for a MAC school over the summer so his speed may overcome his size.

Once I made it to Blue Springs I was able to visit with both Wildcats head coach Kelly Donohoe and Lee's Summit West head coach Royce Boehm briefly.  As you would expect, both were generically optimistic about their team's chances this fall.  We're talking with Kelly tonight on 1510 in a major high school segment on 3 Guys in a Garage between 6:40 and 8p tonight, so we'll get a little more info on the Wildcats.

Pressbox chatter on Blue Springs focused on the offensive line.  I wrote in the pre-season top 10 article that I liked their chances to reload due to the depth they displayed last year.  The info I didn't have in front of me is that probably eight of the nine guys that played last year were all seniors.  So this will be a very inexperienced group coming back with the exception of Cory Phillips.

Also, the people I talked with were concerned about some of the leadership intangibles for the Wildcats.  Keeston Terry, Jared Lanpher, et al were not only experienced and talented players, they were excellent team leaders.  That void may prove to be tougher to fill than their prolific production.  Donohoe has frequently referenced that star running back Darrian Miller frustrates him sometimes, issues that were usually chalked up to immaturity.  Now that Miller is a senior and the unquestioned best player on the team, the Wildcats will need him to put those maturity questions in the past and step into a role as the unquestioned leader on the team as well.

Obviously we'll find out a lot about both of these major question marks this Friday when the Wildcats travel to Rockhurst.  The holes Darrian Miller has to run through will be an easy evaluation point for the offensive line.  The team's level of preparation and ability to respond to adversity throughout the game will be more abstract evaluation items for the quality of team leadership.

The season's almost here!  Again, Jeremy Crabtree and I will be on with Jay and the Garage crew Monday night from 6:40 to 8p talking recruiting and high school football!  We'll be joined by St. Pius X coach Rick Byers and Kelly Donohoe!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Preseason Top 10

We are less than two weeks from the start of the high school football season in Kansas City!  In case you missed my Twitter update, Sports Radio 810 WHB has officially announced that Blue Springs at Rockhurst will kick off the 2010 Game of the Week on August 27!  I'm really excited about this match-up.  We should have the first five games of the season confirmed early next week so look for that schedule soon.

I enjoyed my last Friday night off until December by taking my wife and kids out to dinner last night.  Starting next Friday with jamboree scrimmages, it's all prep football from here on out.

The Preseason Top 10 is always an exercise in extensive research.  It was no different this year.  My off-the-top-of-my-head top 4 did not change after researching, but I flip-flopped 5 and 6, deciding I liked Staley on paper just a little bitty smidge better than Kearney.  They'll settle that debate on the field in Week 5.  I then seriously studied seven or eight teams to fill the final four spots.  It's not easy to differentiate between some of these squads when there's simply no way to know how they will fill the inevitable holes in their lineups.

So take these rankings for the educated guesses they are.  There's always a few teams that exceed expectations and there's always a few that fall short.  I LOVE hearing feedback on these rankings, who's too high, who's too low, and who I missed altogether.  Comment here or e-mail me at

#1 Rockhurst Hawklets – The Hawklets are no stranger to the top spot in any metro area football poll and they get the nod in the 2010 preseason by a nose over their arch-rival Blue Springs.  Rockhurst finished last season 9-3 when a last-second field goal led to a heartbreaking 23-21 playoff loss to those same Wildcats.  There is reason for optimism on State Line Road, though, as the Hawklets return their starting quarterback, top running back, top receiver, top offensive lineman, and arguably their two most talented defenders.  Five returning starters on each side of the ball is a huge number for a program that annually has to find ways to reload.

Quarterback Frank Arbanas threw for over 1,200 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions in a solid junior season.  RB Noah Pearl returns after leading the Hawklets rushing attack with 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns.  TE/DE Dan Tapko is one of the top three recruits in the city and is headed to Oklahoma next season.  He was the leading receiver for the 2009 Hawklets with just over 500 yards but his elite talent is at DE.  Cooper Kerns is a 6’4 320+ pound tackle who is one of two returning starters to the OL.  And junior LB Michael Rose may be the most talented player on the team (right up there with Tapko) and has already committed to Nebraska as part of the Class of ’12. 

Each of those players has a chance to play division 1 college football, which is a pretty rare collection of talent even at Rockhurst.  The Hawklets do have to replace their best overall player from last year Sal Belfonte who was the anchor of the defense at MLB, averaged 9 yards per carry at RB, and was probably the top PR/KR in the state.  They’ll also be inexperienced in the secondary where they must replace Illinois signee Dexter McDonald at CB. 

Rockhurst is undeniably loaded so the Hawklets get our nod as preseason #1.  However, the debate will be at least temporarily settled early this season as Rockhurst hosts Blue Springs August 27 to open the year on Sports Radio 810’s Game of the Week. 

#2 Blue Springs The Wildcats return just one player who started the 2009 Class 6 state title game on offense.  But boy is that one player a great place to start building a team.  Darrian Miller, rated by some as the top college football prospect in Missouri, rushed for an obscene 2,800 yards last year.  The offensive line must be rebuilt, but it was pretty patchwork at times last year due to injuries so depth there was a strength.  Keeston Terry is gone but Jordan Nubine is back and now one of the top receiver prospects in the state.  At quarterback, 3-year-starter Jared Lanpher graduated and will be replaced by Kyle Brown, a 6’2 junior with a strong arm who is also an All-American wrestler at Blue Springs.

The Wildcats leading returning tacklers are linebackers Jon Trocosso and Lewis Foutz, but perhaps their most talented defensive returner is cornerback Bernard Thomas, a 3-star recruit who holds offers from Arkansas, KU, and K-State.

Terry is probably the biggest loss because, like Belfonte at Rockhurst, he was four players in one.  Terry was the Wildcats' top receiver but also carried the ball, returned punts and kicks, and played safety on defense when needed. 

Blue Springs was probably the more skilled team in last year’s state title matchup, but Hazelwood Central was faster and used that to get a championship.  Expect Kelly Donohoe to find ways to increase overall team speed and improve the Wildcats' chances of making another title run. 

#3 Gardner-Edgerton – It is not a coincidence that the top three recruits in the metro play for the top three teams, and Gardner-Edgerton quarterback Bubba Starling might be the best of the bunch.  Starling is 6’5" and 200 pounds, runs a 4.5 40, and is the third-best dual threat quarterback in the country according to Rivals.  He is committed to play football and baseball at Nebraska but is such a highly regarded pitcher he could be an early pick in the Major League Baseball draft next summer and opt for pro baseball. 

Regardless, Starling is the backbone of a Trailblazers team that finished runner-up to Hutch last year in Class 5-A and will try to stop the Salthawks run of titles this year.  He threw and ran for about 1,400 yards each with 38 total touchdowns. 

He loses his favorite aerial target in Justice Berry, but top running back Brett Jensen returns after piling up 700 yards and 11 touchdowns.  3-Star center Lucas Powell anchors an offensive line that needs some other holes plugged.  The linebacking unit also needs new players to step in.  Overall, though, GE has six starters back on each side of the ball.  Not bad for a team that went 12-1 a year ago. 

The schedule is much more interesting this year with the Trailblazers moving to the EKL, combining with the brand new Blue Valley Southwest to increase league membership to eight schools.  The new EKL is tough with four of maybe the top 15 teams in the city.  The best league on the Kansas side is now up for debate between the Sunflower, your reigning champ for many years, and the suddenly stronger EKL.  It is especially interesting that the new kid on the block is a fairly prohibitive favorite to take the conference crown in their first year.

#4 Olathe North – The Eagles have perhaps the biggest hole to plug in the entire city with the graduation of RB James Franklin.  He departs as the leading rusher in the school’s illustrious history with over 5,900 career yards, including 2,800 and the Simone Award as the city's top player last year.  But the cupboard is not bare.

The Eagles will reload with quarterback Victor Simmons who rushed for 1,000 yards himself a year ago while splitting time at the position.  He’s also projected to start at safety, the position he recently committed to play at KU.  Simmons came out of the lineup last year when the Eagles were in throwing situations so we may well see them run it even more in 2010.

Despite the loss of Franklin, running back is still a strength for the Eagles with Adonis Saunders and Dominick Wilson.  Both have tremendous speed.  Saunders won the Class 6-A 100 and 200 meter sprints as a sophomore in 2008 (a pulled hamstring prevented him from defending his titles last spring).

On defense, Saunders and Wilson team with Simmons to form perhaps the best secondary in the city.  Kyle Swartz will anchor the linebacking corps.  The Eagles have questions on both the offensive and defensive lines, but those are generally areas where North has successfully plugged holes in the past. 

Olathe North is certainly one of the favorites in Kansas 6-A going into 2010.  They will be tested early with SM West, Olathe South, Olathe East, and an improved SM East squad up in September so we should have a good idea early how big a threat the Eagles are to repeat.

#5 Staley – The Falcons have become a powerhouse in Kansas City high school football in just two years of existence.  Coach Fred Bouchard led Staley to a tremendous 9-3 record despite having no seniors in 2008.  Last season with virtually everyone back the Falcons won 11 straight to start the year before getting blanked 28-0 in the second round of the playoffs by eventual champion Kearney. 

This season the Falcons have plenty of holes to fill but also some pieces to build around.  The offensive backfield returns intact with a pair of 3-year starters.  Evan Campbell is one of the top running backs in the city.  Just 5’7, he has amassed almost 3,000 yards in two seasons.  Quarterback Michael Rich looked much more comfortable in year two at the helm, throwing for 1,852 yards, 20 td’s, and 9 interceptions.  Expect him to progress even more for his senior season, although identifying his passing targets will be a fall camp priority with every top receiver from last year gone. 

Defensively just four starters return.  The excellent tandem of Jayron Robinson and Sedrick Johnson accounted for over 140 tackles each and must be replaced.  3-Star linebacker prospect Videl Nelson should help fill that void as the leading returning tackler.  Safety Jackson Long will be counted on to anchor the secondary after leading the team with four interceptions a year ago.

Staley moves up to Class 5 this year and will compete in a pretty rugged district with Park Hill, St. Joe Central, and an improved (and probably new arch-rival) Oak Park.  The Falcons will be the favorites but it’s not inconceivable they could lose two of those three and miss the playoffs.  The regular season has a couple of interesting measuring stick-type matchups with Blue Springs Week 2 and Kearney Week 4. 

My preseason rankings place a heavy emphasis on returning skill position players, particularly quarterbacks, and coaches.  The Falcons score high marks in both categories with Rich and Campbell manning the backfield and Fred Bouchard manning the sidelines (the guy simply did not have down years at Harrisonville).  So, at least in August, I expect Staley to be an elite squad once again despite moving up a class and replacing players for the first time.

#6 KearneyKearney started 3-2 in 2009 before the defense clamped down, allowing less than five points per game in their 10-game winning streak to close out a Class 4 state title run.  Like most state champions, Kearney suffered some significant graduation losses including five first-team All State performers.  But the Bulldogs do return about half their 2009 starters, chiefly quarterback Shane Hartzler who threw for over 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. 

Kearney graduated their top four rushers from 2009, so running back is a question mark entering the season, but offensive line should be a strength creating holes for whoever carries the ball.  Defensively, senior linebacker Colton Michael is the leading returning tackler but the Bulldogs lose Bobby Bell Award (outstanding small-school lineman/linebacker) winner Joe Windsor who set a team record with 15.5 sacks last year.

The Bulldogs have about 150 out for football this fall, a huge number for a Class 4 school and a stark contrast to the first couple of Kearney teams to win championships in the 2000’s when about 30 kids were on the roster.  Kearney has also really excelled in the weight room as Greg Jones’ power lifting program has claimed three of the last four national championships.

#7 Bishop Miege – The Stags graduated a bunch of stars from their 2009 Class 4-A state title team including Oklahoma signee WR Justin McCay, EKL Defensive POY Neil Shortell, Alabama basketball signee Trevor Releford, 1st Team EKL RB Bobby Germinder, and a host of other All-EKL performers.  But Miege also has as many D1 recruits coming back as about any team in the city. 

Max Shortell is rated by Rivals as one of the top 20 pro-style quarterbacks in the country.  Standing 6’6” and weighing 215 pounds, he committed to Minnesota in June after throwing for nearly 2,200 yards as a junior, including 335 yards and four touchdowns in the 28-6 state title game win.  The offensive line will rebuild around 6’6” 340-pound KU commit Phil Ford.  And the defensive line will feature a game-changer with 3-Star DE and Mizzou commit Shane Ray. 

Like Staley, Miege will have the extra challenge of moving up in class, competing in 5-A this year after a slight up tick in enrollment. 

#8 Lee’s Summit West – The Titans won an undefeated Class 4 state title in 2007, but have found life a bit tougher in Class 5 the last two seasons, dropping four games each year.  They might be poised for title contention once again after playing a lot of sophomores and juniors in last year’s 7-4 campaign. 

The Titans return seven starters on each side of the ball.  Undoubtedly their most talented returner is junior offensive lineman Evan Boehm, a 6’3” 290-pound tackle who already holds offers from MU, KU, Iowa, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. 

Luke Knott will be the full-time quarterback as a junior after splitting time with senior Zach Harris a year ago.  Ryan Hiller anchors the defense at safety but is just one of several returners who garnered at least honorable mention all conference honors.

#9 St. Thomas Aquinas – The Saints went 10-2 in 2009 with both losses coming to Gardner-Edgerton, a 2-point squeaker in the regular season and a blowout in the playoffs. 

Richard Davila returns at quarterback after a very solid junior season.  Davila was terrific at times, posting a couple of 300-yard passing games, and finished with almost 1,500 yards.  One of the top recruits in the city, Dagan Reed, returns for a third season as the starting Saints running back.  He holds a scholarship offer from Nebraska. 

Defensively there will be a lot of new faces for the second straight season as nine All-EKL performers for the Saints graduated. 

#10 SM West – Will Livingston and Cordi Pascal were a nice 1-2 punch at running back for SM West last year with almost 1,400 combined yards.  Add in returning fullback Danny Dowling and SM West has perhaps the most experienced backfield in the Sunflower League.  The running backs are three of eight returning starters on offense.

DJ Balazs graduated after a long run as the starting quarterback.  Senior Drew Humphreys is expected to get the job.  It will obviously be his first year as the starting quarterback but he’s started in the secondary since his sophomore season so he does have a lot of varsity experience. 

It is hard to believe coach Tim Callaghan is heading into his eighth season with the Vikings.  The program is now one of the elite ones on the Kansas side but they’ve had two straight disappointing first round playoff exits that followed very good regular seasons. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Media Dummies

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks who rarely suffers from a shortage of interesting things to say, posted on his blog a rather lengthy recap and explanation of his recent unsuccessful attempt to buy the Texas Rangers.  It's an interesting read, though a bit tedious.  This blog isn't going to be about the NBA, MLB, or sports ownership, so why in the world am I writing about a Mark Cuban manifesto?

What grabbed my attention for our purposes was a paragraph he wrote about ignoring media criticism throughout his pursuit of the Rangers.  Cuban has never been particularly shy about expressing his disdain for the media, but I think he might have taken it a step further with the following:
"What I have learned in 11 years in the sports business is that the dumbest guys in the room are always the media guys. Some do a decent job of reporting, most just spew opinions.  And those opinions change more often than they brush their teeth. So what the media was saying was of zero impact or influence on what i was going to do. Listening to the media only increases your odds of failing at whatever you are doing.  So I ignore them."
Wow, "dumbest guys in the room"!  Clearly Cuban is making an arrogant generalization but there are kernels of truth to his point.  I don't know if media guys are "dumb" but obviously many are under-informed and over-opinionated.

My initial reaction was to want to make a distinction between sports reporters and sports commentators, but the lines are getting awfully blurred.  Before the internet, you could argue roles in sports media were pretty well defined.  There were those who stuck strictly to the facts, reporters, and those who interpreted facts to form opinions, commentators.

Take your local newspaper.  15 years ago reporters covered the facts of a beat and columnists were paid to have an opinion on one topic a day.  There are still beat reporters and columnists, but the beat reporters also are guests on sports talk radio shows, write opinion-filled blogs, and commentate via Twitter.  And columnists are required to opine more frequently than ever and across more formats.

And the newspaper guys have it easy.  We may get more commentary today from the Star's MU beat reporter Mike DeArmond, but truthfully, who is more qualified to analyze and interpret facts on a big story at Mizzou than the guy who covers them every day?  So maybe in the case of newspapers opinionated reporters are not such a bad thing because generally they are still focusing on one beat about which they are incredibly knowledgeable.

Now move over to basically the rest of sports media where very few reporters or commentators have the luxury of sticking to one team or sport even.  So when Mark Cuban bids to buy the Rangers bloggers, sports radio hosts, newspaper columnists, and even television anchors, who all cover every sport and team, suddenly have to form an opinion on whether it's a good or bad thing with only a cursory understanding of a complex issue.

But what are these media members supposed to do?  It's easy to say they should be more informed, but is it reasonable to expect a guy who has to talk intelligently about Cowboys training camp in his next segment to understand the intricacies of a bankruptcy bid to buy a MLB team?  Should he simply bite his tongue, plead ignorance of an issue and say he has no opinion on Cuban's bid?

The truth is there's an awful lot of pressure on today's sports media members to have an opinion, any opinion.  The public wants outrageous commentary so that's what media companies want from their employees.  Being right or even particularly informed is not a requirement.  Have a ridiculous, indefensible position?  Doesn't matter, defend it anyway, maybe if you shout it loud enough people will believe you.

Looking at the sports media landscape, how many of today's sports journalists are not asked to provide some level of commentary or "spew opinions"?  Not so long ago journalists were paid to not have an opinion, stick to the facts and don't color them with your personal feelings.  Is the complete opposite true today or does it just seem that way?  

Another problem is that in the absence of concrete news, conjecture is required of today's sports media to plug in the gaps.  Mark Cuban was not at liberty, in the midst of sensitive negotiations, to set the record straight.  That left a void that was filled with speculation, much of which had no chance of being right.

I'm not letting all media members off the hook, mind you.  There are certainly those who are lazy, who base their opinions not on the facts but what is most likely to get a reaction, who do not care one iota about being right or whether their uninformed opinion is actually harmful to someone.  But I truly (maybe naively) believe those people are few and far between.

So this brings us to a flurry of questions:  Is this a case of a few bad apples dragging down an entire profession?  Or is there a systemic problem with the balancing act we're asking of today's sports journalists? Is it possible to maintain journalistic integrity in a culture that demands opinion and speculation from nearly every media member?  

Finally, is Mark Cuban on an island with the opinion that media members are "the dumbest guys in the room"?  Seems unlikely, which means as a profession we have work to do, either rehabilitating the image of the sports journalist or figuring out if global changes to how we do business are required to regain respect.