There was a time when winning the league title was just a mere formality for McPherson High’s football team.
Eight times in the last 10 years the Bullpups were the league champions after they had not won a championship in 28 years as coach Tom Young reversed the school’s fortunes when he arrived in 2006.
But there are some radical changes this year in AVCTL Division III, albeit for football only. The division has increased from six to seven teams and the door was ever-revolving in the offseason.
El Dorado is gone. Ditto for Rose Hill.
In their stead are Andover Central, Maize South and Circle, which prompted MHS coach Jace Pavlovich to point out the division is now “stacked.” Unfortunately for MHS, though, it won't be playing Andover Central, as the schedules just didn't work out.
Andover Central played for the Class 4A state championship last year. Maize South advanced to the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. Circle is at the other end of the spectrum, having gone winless.
The league season is certainly going to prepare the Bullpups well for district play. Few teams play as tough of a first two weeks as MHS as it hosts both Buhler and Maize South at McPherson Stadium. Those teams were a combined 18-4 last season.
I’ve seen a couple of preseason polls where the Bullpups have been No. 2 or 3. It’s pretty much set that Winfield and Circle will occupy spots 6 and 7, but the Top 5 will be a thing to behold.
It’s tough to go against Buhler, but the Crusaders must replace All-Staters Jace Williams, Dillon Engelland and Jaden Abernathy, a troika that left an indelible mark on the school's legacy. There’s still studs in Jake Burkhart, Jack Goertzen, Lawson Schultz and Brendan Webb, not to mention Williams’ successor at quarterback in Ethan White, a nifty operative whose dimensions are polar opposite than his predecessor.
The team people may be overlooking is Augusta. While they’re mostly tabbed for No. 5, the Orioles were resuscitated when Jason Filbeck took over as head coach after the Orioles were averaging little more than a win a season. They are 12-8 the last two years (they won only 12 games in the previous 12 seasons) and have some terrific returners, led by Division I recruit Dallin Marlnee, a linebacker who led the team in tackles last year and reportedly has been offered by Wyoming.
Even though quarterback Zach Barclay is gone, Chance Whitehead could be a dynamic presence. He has a lot of dash in his game and with top back Luke Dockers to hand off to, the Orioles should be able to put a lot of points on the board.
It’s a given that Andover Central and Maize South will be strong. They drop down from Division II and are used to playing tough schedules. They also have good numbers to work with.
A few years ago Division III was little more than a yawn for the Bullpups. But this season it's going to feel like playoff football every week.