McPherson High’s 2018 football team is 3 days into summer camp, but the real action didn’t begin until this morning as the Bullpups donned the pads for the first time.
The Bullpups are coming off an historic 10-2 season that included a deep run in postseason play, ending with a loss to Andale in the Class 4A Division I semifinals. They are 18-5 over the last two years.
It’s definitely going to be a different-looking Bullpup team as one of the most decorated senior classes in school history has graduated. Gone is most of a record-setting defense that anchored the team, including six players who will be playing collegiately this fall.
The onus this year is going to fall on the offense. With nearly all the skill players back and some worthy replacements to fill in on the offensive line, this is a Bullpup team that could light up the scoreboard.
“We’ve seen a lot of good things,” MHS coach Jace Pavlovich said. “We have some young guys, some juniors and sophomores, who didn’t get to play a whole lot last year stepping up. They understand our schemes. We haven’t changed a whole lot. We saw some great execution with pads on, which usually is a concern for coaches. Kids are pretty good until the shoulder pads get on.”
It’s also evident with the large number of offensive players back, that side of the ball is ahead of the game.
“We’re going to have to put points on the board,” said Pavlovich, whose team last year had a nice balance between the run and pass. “I think we can do that. We've got a lot of guys back. Skillwise we have almost everybody back.”
Of course, as it is every year, the concern early is the offensive line. Dawson VanGoethem, who will be one of the state’s best, is the only returning starter.
“Our offensive line is coming along really well,” Pavlovich said. “It’s a credit to (assistant) coach (Pat) Corcoran. Each year we say, hey, this may be a weakness for us, but by the end of the season it becomes one of our strengths. We really like where they are right now. We have more depth than I can remember us having the last 15 years. We have a lot of sophomores who are third on the depth chart who could easily start for us in Week 1.”
Kyler Hoppes will be back to direct the offense after making rapid development last year, becoming one of the best passers in Class 4A Division I. Jace Kinnamon will be one of the top running backs in the class as he went over 1,000 yards and there’s a tremendous receiving group in Gabe Hoover, Chandler Wiard, Tayln Huff and Cody Stufflebean.
Defensively, it’s almost a new group, but Stufflebean and Honestee Whittker certainly will be leaders. Khalil Lisbon, with a full year under his belt, could be a force in the defensive line. Many players who were backups last year should be able to make a seamless transition to the starting lineup as due to several blowouts last year, Pavlovich was able to get subs in early for experience.
The Bullpups wrap up camp Thursday and then host Hays and Kingman at 8 a.m. Friday at McPherson Stadium for a scrimmage, before heading to Fort Hays State camp on Saturday.
“We expect that Hays is going to have a great defense, which is going to be great for us offensively,” Pavlovich said. “I don’t know what to expect out of Kingman. I would expect the defenses are ahead of the game, they always are at this point. Our offense, with all of our skill guys back, should be firing on all cylinders.”
The Bullpups then will be stepping up big time at the Hays camp.
“Fort Hays is going to be murderers’ row,” Pavlovich said. “We have Enid, Okla., Elk City, Okla, a couple of schools from the Denver area, a couple from Nebraska... then Bishop Carroll and a lot of those top-end teams in 5A and 6A. I expect we’re going to get a heck of a lot of film work to learn from.”