Turnover at Mill Valley spices up Kaw Valley League football title race
For the second straight season, the previous year’s Kaw Valley League champions begin their defense of the league crown minus several key offensive stars, including a prolific quarterback.
Much in the same way the graduation of quarterback Colin Murphy, receiver Ryan Murphy and running back Jesse Hiss left a large void for BLHS in 2012, Mill Valley must account for the loss to graduation of 3,391 yards of offense and 48 touchdowns. Quarterback Skyler Windmiller, running back Kendall Short and receivers Staton Rebeck and L.J. Hatch are all gone from the Jaguars, who went 8-2 in 2012 and averaged more than 57 points against KVL opponents.
Adding further intrigue is the increased parity within the league this year, hinted at in stretches in 2012. Piper returns quarterback Tanner Eikenbary, linebacker/running back Colton Beebe and defensive lineman Kalil Richard to a team that went 10-3 and advanced to the 4A semifinals.
Another 4A playoff qualifier, Tonganoxie, returns nearly all of a roster that gave the Chieftains their first postseason victory since 2005, making the team a sleeper pick to finish in the top-three in league standings.
Turner returns Paul Berry, cited by many as one of the KVL’s top quarterbacks. But the Golden Bears will also be replacing several skill position players.
Lansing will also welcome back its quarterback, Krystain Abbott, as well as its top receiver, Khalil Bailey (6-2, 185 pounds). Bailey is one of the league’s top returning receivers, said David Brox, who publishes shukc.com and will broadcast a number of league games this year.
Even Bishop Ward, who finished 0-9 in 2012, should be much improved, Brox said.
“They return a lot of skill position players and (second-year coach) Tim Dorian has been there a couple years to know what he’s working with,” Brox said.
Still, several league coaches hesitate to remove Mill Valley from its perch as league favorite.
“I always think the team that won it the year before is the favorite again until someone beats them,” BLHS coach Steve Hopkins said. “I think Piper is right there. Piper’s got more experience coming back but Mill Valley has got depth everywhere, so even though they’re replacing kids, they’re playing kids that played a lot.”
BSHS coach Lucas Aslin said that Windmiller, who assaulted Mill Valley’s record book and KVL defenses in tandem, was in the same position that the three quarterbacks seeking to replace him are in today.
“Before, you didn’t know who he was and then he comes out and shoots lights out,” Aslin said.
It would be foolish, Hopkins added, to discount the effect of Piper’s extended season. During their run to the 4A semifinals, the Pirates were able to add two extra weeks of practice.
“Honestly, those last two weeks of practice make all the difference in the world,” Hopkins said. “The younger kids get to learn what’s going on at a high intensity.”
Both Hopkins and Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee pointed to Turner’s Berry and Bonner Springs’ Jordan Jackson as the cream of the 2013 quarterback crop.
“With Jordan Jackson and Paul Berry, you have two of the best quarterbacks in the area,” Applebee said. “We have some really good quarterbacks and good skill kids to deal with. It’s going to be an exciting year.”
Meanwhile, Piper’s Eikenbary is another signal caller on the rise. Eikenbary finished with 17 total touchdowns to 11 interceptions as a junior and compiled more than 1,300 total yards in 2012.
“Those kids scare the bejesus out of me,” Hopkins said of the three quarterbacks.
Aslin, meanwhile, is as high on Mill Valley’s chances to repeat as anyone, adding that Piper will also be in the mix, giving the league a clear top two teams. He also said that BLHS will return to the discussion of being in the top three and that he hopes his Braves will be in the mix for spots three through five.