The Bulldogs had a resurgent season in head coach Jon Wiemers’ first year at the helm. Arkansas City’s 5-4 record marked the first winning season in a long time. With a taste of success and a reason to believe in Wiemers’ message, the Bulldogs are hungry for more.
Coach: Jon Wiemers (5-4 with Arkansas City)
2011 Recap: 5-4 overall, 3-2 in the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Division II, 1-2 in districts.
In his first season with Ark City, Wiemers wanted to get his team to believe that through hard work, winning football games was possible. They got the message, shooting out of the gate on a four-game winning streak to start the season, two more wins than the team picked up the year before, and the same amount the team won in all of 2009. The Bulldogs dropped the first two district games, putting the playoffs out of reach, but came back with a win against Andover to secure both winning records on the year, and in the league.
2012 District: at Andover Central, at Kapaun Mt. Carmel, Wichita West
Last season the Ark City offense relied heavily on running back Justin Spencer and receiver Keegan Murphy. Both of those players have graduated, but the Bulldogs return a huge core group from last year to keep the ball rolling.
Starting on the offensive line, Ark City is bringing back a strong experienced group that paved the way for an offense that scored more than 25 points per game last season. Seniors Clayton Swanson and Matt McGrew are the old guard up front and junior Jaylin Lolar provides an experienced body that will be tough to move. As starters last season, these three were part of a group that made it possible for the Bulldogs to run for a patriotic 1776 yards last season.
Returning at quarterback is senior Riley Dowler. Last season Dowler had a solid season in the passing game, completing passes just short of .500 percent of the time for 688 yards. Dowler threw 7 touchdowns last year providing a legitimate threat through the air. On the ground, Dowler was the team’s second leading rusher with 467 yards.
Although last year’s leading receiver in Murphy is gone, Dowler will not be without targets this year. Seniors Kade Kanelakos and Kacy Ternes return to the passing game and are ready for their turn to shine. Last season Kanelakos caught 6 passes for 81 yards and Ternes had 5 catches for 60 yards. Dylan Cox is a returning senior tight end who can catch passes as well as help out in the running game. Cox caught 2 passes last season for 17 yards.
Spencer leaves a hole at running back, but junior Tyler Tracy will make a switch in positions to fill the need. A fullback last season, Tracy will trade throwing lead blocks for carrying the ball as a tailback this season.
The number of returning defensive players for the Bulldogs is not quite as robust as the offense. But if there is one area Ark City will have strength in returners, it is at linebacker.
The Bulldogs are set in the middle of their defense with three returning seniors to the position. Clayton Swanson, Dylan Cox, and Kade Kanelakos all bring sizable bodies and experienced brains to the table. This trio figures to be the heart and soul of the Ark City defense and is looking to improve on the 28.7 points the Bulldogs gave up per game last year.
In front of the linebackers, Ark City is losing three defensive linemen from last season. But senior Marcus Banks is a good player to bring back to the front line. At defensive end, Banks is a tall and athletic player who can protect the edge, and set the example for the younger players coming into the starting lineup for the first time.
In the secondary, the Bulldogs are losing three players as well. But free safety Tyler Southerland leaves the unit with a senior leader whose length will be hard for opposing quarterbacks to deal with.
As productive as Ark City’s offense was last season, its defense turned many games into shootouts. The Bulldogs will be counting on young players to step up defensively to improve this unit. If young players can answer the call and make this defense better, there is no reason why Ark City won’t be able to continue winning games and keep moving the program forward.
Odds and Ends:
One of the hardest jobs for a new coach in a struggling program is convincing a group of players who have had either little or no success that it truly is possible to win games. In his first year, Wiemers broke down that wall as the team saw tangible results right out of the gate.
Maybe one of the most important wins early in the new Wiemers era came right from the start in Week 1. Down 20-0 at halftime to Valley Center, it would have been easy for the Bulldogs to quit, go home and weigh the cute slogans about belief with the bad loss they had received, and simply stop trying. Instead, Ark City fought back and scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to complete the comeback and win 21-20.
The team followed that up with a 38-7 drubbing of rival Winfield. As the confidence grew, the Bulldogs won another close one against Goddard 33-27, and absolutely thumped Coffeyville 63-6 to go from nearly losing to the Hornets, to winning four in a row.
The hard part, providing a taste of success and a reason to believe, is over. Now that the Bulldogs know what they are capable of, the question becomes how hard will they work to maximize that capability, in order for the program to take another step forward in 2012.