Mill Valley football prepares to defend state title
While there are only five starters returning from Mill Valley's 2015 Class 5A state championship football team, head coach Joel Applebee has full confidence in the Jaguars as they begin their shot at defending their first title in school history.
"Obviously, our expectations still remain the same. We want to put ourselves in position to win championships, and that's our ultimate goal," Applebee said. "That remains the same. Nothing changes there."
Although the Jaguars are thin on experience, the offensive and defensive lines figure to be major strengths. The Jaguars with varsity experience include Keegan Zars, Mitchell Grissom, Jack Cooley and Alec Derritt on the offensive side of the trenches, and Ike Valenica, Blaine Boudreaux, Brady Rowse and DJ Graviette on the defensive line.
"Since Day 1, we've kind of set the tone for our program that we're going to win up front on both sides. That's the only way we are going to win is to be able to be really good up front," Applebee said. "That's the nice thing about having that experience back on the offensive and defensive line is we're going to expect those guys to be big leaders on our team and to kind of set the tone of practices and games."
Applebee was pleased with how the offensive and defensive fronts looked in team workouts in the offseason, and said they've been key in the development of newcomers like junior quarterback Brody Flaming.
"It's obviously why we did the 7-on-7 that we did this summer and facing some of the competition that we see in those tournaments. You have to play at a high level no matter what," Applebee said of Flaming. "The great thing about it is, too, that he learned how to deal with mistakes and move on to the next play. He got better and better and better throughout the summer, so that was exciting to see."
Flaming will have three seniors leading the way in his receiving corps in wide receivers Ben Hartman and Payton Marlow, and tight end Brady Garrison. Hartman and Garrison each had 200-plus receiving yards last season as they lined up with Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year and Northern Iowa freshman Christian Jegen. Marlow is back at full strength after being sidelined to injury for much of the 2015 campaign.
"We expect those guys to really step up as well and to help out Brody," Applebee said. "Brody is really starting to take command of this offense. He understands that he is going to have to do that for us to be successful. We're not going to put it all on his shoulders, but we expect him to be a big leader."
While Applebee is pleased with the progression of Flaming and the offensive unit, he said the Jaguar defense has a leader of its own in senior safety Joel Donn.
"Obviously those seniors were a big part of what we did, but he was a true leader as a junior last year as well," Applebee said of Donn, who had 74 tackles and three interceptions last season. "He was kind of the quarterback of our defense last year and making sure people were where they needed to be, and did a nice job of being in position and making sure everybody else was as well. We expect him to be a big part of it again this year and he understands that he's going to have an even bigger leadership role now that he's a senior."
The Jaguars will begin their state title defense on Sept. 2 with their home opener against St. James Academy. The matchup against the Thunder will also mark the first contest that the Jaguars will play as a member of the Eastern Kansas League, but Applebee doesn't think the transition from the Kaw Valley League will be a very big one.
Applebee prepared the Jaguars for the jump to the EKL for the past two years, as the Jaguars went up St. James, St. Thomas Aquinas and Blue Valley Northwest in 2014 and 2015 in three of the five weeks they had open on their schedule.
"It's probably the premier league, if not one of the most premier leagues in the state of Kansas," Applebee said. "They're excited about it. I know it's going to be a challenge every week."