The Swathers came up just short in the second round of the playoffs last season. This year, Hesston will look to new leaders to gear up for another shot at a playoff run.
Coach: Marc Marinelli (3rd year head coach, 3rd year at Hesston. 16-6 overall record)
2011 Recap: 8-3 overall, 4-0 in CKL South (League Champion), 2-1 in District.
Hesston’s only loss in the Central Kansas League came to fierce rival Hillsboro. The Swathers finished second in the district and lost a tough game in the regional playoff round to Ulysses 26-19.
Returning Starters: Offensive 5, Defensive 6
Returning Lettermen: 17
2012 District: El Dorado, Maize South, Circle
Hesston graduated three dynamic offensive weapons in quarterback Trevor Pauls, running back Kyle Perry, and receiver Eyan Roth. But the Swathers are looking forward to handing the reigns to the next wave of threats.
Wyatt McKinney steps into the quarterback roll to run the Hesston offense. The junior brings a 6-foot-6 frame to the position which gives him the height to see over the line, and the size to be tough to bring down. Junior running back Ryan Schadler has the speed to be a scoring threat every time he touches the ball. Marcos Duran will be a senior fullback to lead the way, and senior John Birch brings a bruising 6-foot-2, 215-pound battering ram out of the backfield as well. Sophomore Justin Smith will lead a deep group of receivers and Chance Gehrer is a threat to make plays as a tight end.
The new group of Hesston playmakers will need a solid offensive line to move the line of scrimmage, and the Swathers have a solid experienced core. Seniors Brian Medina, Clayton Spencer, and Shawn Davis give Hesston a good start to an offensive line that will power the offense. However, the Swathers will need some younger players to fill some vital spots up front.
Hesston will look to John Birch to lead the defense in 2012. The senior moves to linebacker after playing on the defensive line last season. But the size Birch brings to the table does not come at the expense of speed and athleticism. Birch stands to have a big year punishing ball carriers in space. The Swathers have plenty of other talent at linebacker as well. Senior Marcos Duran, and junior Merek Barber round out a tough corps of linebackers, with sophomore Christian Graber providing yet another linebacker.
Up front, Hesston has a trio of seniors who will stack the defensive line. Chance Gehrer and Clayton Spencer give the Swathers a senior at each defensive end. Brian Medina provides a senior presence on the interior line. As with Hesston’s offensive line, the Swathers will need to have some younger players willing to step into big varsity roles to add depth to the defensive line.
In the secondary, Hesston has some talented younger players who will give the Swathers a solid last line of defense. Ryan Schadler and Keith Crittenden are the elders at safety as juniors. Grant Raleigh is a sophomore defensive back Hesston can look to. Schadler and Crittenden are both juniors, but have the skill to make up for their lack of age. Playing on a varsity team as a sophomore can be daunting, but don’t expect Raleigh to be blinded in the stadium lights. In Hesston’s final game of the season last year, Raleigh was brought in as a quarterback after an injury, and was charged with leading a comeback in the playoffs. Raleigh fell just short in the comeback attempt, but threw a touchdown pass as a freshman in a playoff game.
Odds and Ends:
Hesston has had no problems navigating the CKL South Division, winning the league in its first two years of existence. A three-peat will depend upon the younger players’ ability to jump into mix and deliver quality contributions to the team.
This season, the Swathers are starting the year with a brutal pair of games that have the ability to set a very distinct tone early. While Hesston has dominated the South Division, Halstead has done the same thing in the North. Two North Division championships have been great for the Dragons, but the inability to beat the Swathers does not sit well. This season, the rivals will open the season with the annual Harvey County H-Town showdown. Last year, Hesston dispatched Halstead 38-23 with the Swathers bringing an experienced core of skill players to the field, and Halstead fielding a new crop of talent. This year the roles will be reversed, with Halstead bringing experience at the skill positions and Hesston replacing key seniors.
In Week 2, Hesston will either be carrying the momentum of beating a rival, or tasked with picking up the pieces against a tough opponent on the road in Nickerson. The Panthers are bringing back a ton of talent and will be looking to oust the Swathers as league champions, and avenge a 35-6 drubbing last year.
It may only take two games for Hesston to find an identity it can either build on, or have to find a way to change.