The question I’m most asked during the summer is, “What is McPherson High’s football record going to be?”
Normally I have a pretty good idea. I look at what’s coming back for the Bullpups and then check out the returnees of the opponent. More often than not, I’m seldom more than a game off and many times I have hit it correctly.
However, I definitely misfired on last year’s 7-2 regular-season record. I had the Bullpups going 5-4, losing to Salina South and Andale (which they did) and also losing district games to Buhler and Hays (which they didn’t).
I thought Tom Young squeezed out everything he could from last year’s team. The Buhler victory was one of the most satisfying in all the years I’ve covered the Bullpups. Kyler Kinnamon was simply all-world in that game as he ran all over the place. Beating Hays was no small feat, as the Indians featured now-Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton and the Bullpups had to play that game without Kinnamon, who injured a shoulder against Buhler and was done for the year. Cody Starkel stepped in admirably, as the Bullpups struck through the air and no doubt that caught the Indians off guard.
MHS went on to lose to unheralded Mulvane in the first round of the playoffs, but all things considered, Young went out in style.
I don’t expect the MHS program to slip at all under new head coach Jace Pavlovich, considering he’s been the team’s defensive coordinator for nine years, all of which resulted in playoff trips. In only one year did MHS not win a league championship, that coming two years ago when Buhler interrupted the streak.
That being said, I think this is a Bullpup team that is the most mystifying in the last 10 years. MHS was so senior-dominated last year, and while the JV and freshmen teams were highly successful, a lot of those players now being thrust into the starting lineup don’t have a lot of game snaps and are going to learn on the fly.
It’s been a long time since MHS has been so green at quarterback and running back. Just look at the QBs of the last 10 years — Tucker Hawkinson, Kolin Walk, Joel Piper, Tyler Matthews and Kyler Kinnamon. It’s an unprecedented run and now Casen Hoover hopes to join them. Hoover, a junior, is relatively unknown since he missed nearly all of his sophomore season due to injury. However, I’ve been impressed watching him during the preseason, as he has good speed and a decent arm. He makes good reads and is accurate with the short ball. I think he can be a good game manager and won’t turn it over often.
A couple of years ago MHS was unsettled at running back, but out of necessity TJ Stites was moved there against Winfield in Week 5 and as they say, the rest is history. He made 100-yard games commonplace and wound up rushing for more than 1,000.
That’s kind of the story this season. Noah Jirgens is getting the first chance and certainly has the physical makeup. His whole thing will be hitting the holes with authority and reading his blocks since he doesn’t have a lot of varsity carries. Klayton Goering is a more physical runner, but that would take away from his linebacking play. Tyson Stites is a sophomore who in time is going to be a heck of a back, as he kind of reminds me of, well, TJ Stites. Go figure.
I like Spenser Wine at wide receiver, he’s a good-sized target. I expect a lot of bubble screens coming his way, hoping he can turn five-yard gains into 50.
The other receivers are unproven, but there’s no shortage of candidates. It’s a group that should get better as the year goes along.
The offensive line could be the team’s barometer. There’s no question it’s as physically imposing as any group I’ve seen here except maybe for 2012. If the front five can play with fire and aggressiveness, it can dominate. Salina South’s powerful defense will be an acid test, but there’s no shortage of physical tools to work with.
Defensively, the onus is on speed. I think this has a chance to be one of the faster defenses the Bullpups have had. They’re not overly large, but a common thread is their lateral movement. A player who has come out of nowhere to me is noseguard Karsten Hardeman, who really clogs up the middle and forces teams to block him with two players.
Probably my biggest concern is the secondary, as there’s not a lot of experience and depth. That will definitely come into play Friday, since Salina South has arguably the best 1-2 receiving duo in the state in Dylan Becker (who scored three times last year) and Jacob Marcotte. South has so many weapons that it keeps the defenders with their heads on swivels.
All that being said, I’m predicting 5-4 — 4-1 in league play. The tweener game is Abilene, a team that always has the offense to stay with the Bullpups, but isn’t as strong defensively. All signs point toward the Cowboys being 6-0 when they invade McPherson Stadium in Week 7. It will be a matter of shutting down quarterback Harley Hazlett, one of the best in the state.