CIK Season Preview: Defensive Linemen to watch

Northwest's Zac Daher is expected to be one of the state's top linemen in 2020
Northwest's Zac Daher is expected to be one of the state's top linemen in 2020(©Kelly Ross | Kelly Ross)
Published: Aug. 20, 2020 at 2:20 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) -

Catch It Kansas continues with its 2020 Positional Breakdown. Next up: Defensive Line, a very strong group of players. Players are listed at just one position.

1. Ethan Kremer/Cole Knappen, Mill Valley – Ethan Kremer is possibly the state’s best player. Recruiting-wise, He has multiple Division I offers, primarily from high-academic schools, though lacks a FBS offer. Kremer has started since he was a freshman on the defending 5A state champions. He set the single season school record with 11.5 sacks, along with 54 tackles, 17.5 for loss. Kremer is also a two-time wrestling champion and helped MV to its first team wrestling crown.

Cole Knappen (HM all-league, Emporia State, William Jewell offers) is also back for a loaded MV squad that will play two-time defending 6A champion Derby in Week 1, according to team information released Wednesday. Derby coach Brandon Clark and Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee are cousins and best friends. Mill Valley finished eighth in 5A in scoring defense with 17 points allowed.

MV opened 1-3 in the Eastern Kansas League, the state’s best conference, and then won nine straight. MV held every opponent under its scoring average in games when the opponent did not play Mill Valley. In the 5A title, Mill Valley limited Wichita Northwest to 31 points. NW averaged 53.3 points in all other contests. Last season, Applebee told me that the defensive line was “definitely a big reason” for the team’s success, and that Kremer “is right up there with some of the best” he’s ever coached. Applebee has won three state titles at MV.

2. Gaven Haselhorst/Gavin Nutting/Trey Adams, Hays High – The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Haselhorst is now ranked as the No. 10 player and top defensive lineman in Kansas, according to 247, the well-known recruiting service. Haselhorst, with elite quickness off the edge, had 113 tackles with 22 TFLs. He has committed to Kansas State. Nutting, a junior, started at nose guard as a freshman. Adams (6-6, 230) is impressive at defensive end. Hays was No. 22 in 5A in scoring defense at 29 points per game, though improved from ’18 and is expected to make a bigger jump this year. Notably, HHS will not play Wichita East in the season opener and Wichita Northwest later in the year because of the City League’s recent ruling to play just conference games because of COVID-19. Hays High was 4-6 last fall.

3. Damian Ilalio, Manhattan – A nose guard/defensive tackle with 5.5 sacks in 11 games, Ilalio has committed to Kansas State. Ilalio received multiple other high-profile offers before he received the K-State offer in late summer. Junior DaShawn Edwards delivered 5.5 sacks in 11 games, too. Ilalio is ranked No. 11 by 247 Sports. He was the Centennial League Defensive MVP and notably was highly impressive against Lawrence Free State’s Turner Corcoran, an All-American, Nebraska commit and consensus best player in Kansas last year.

4. Zac Daher/Nathan Carter/Nathan Hale, Wichita Northwest – The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Daher, with more than 15 Division I offers, and Carter are best friends. Each have tremendous work ethic and weight room numbers. Carter (6-2, 260) was a rare all-state honorable mention pick as a sophomore. Northwest’s defensive improvement under new coordinator Marc Marinelli was one of the leading storylines of the ’19 season. NW finished as 5A runner-up for the second straight year and was third in 5A with 13 points per game allowed. As of Wednesday night, the City League had elected to shorten its season and play just conference games. Daher delivered 50 tackles, 12.5 for loss, and Carter finished with 21 tackles, seven TFLs. Senior Nathan Hale also returns after four sacks and has three offers.

5. Frontenac line – Frontenac finished 10-1 under coach Mark Smith and was third in Class 3A with 7.7 points allowed a contest. The Raiders’ defensive line is stacked, led by junior Landon Dean (6-4, 230). Dean, a tight end/defensive end, already has offers from Eastern Michigan, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

6. Sterling Smithson, Blue Valley – The defensive tackle enjoyed a huge year with five sacks in 11 games. BV finished 8-4, advanced to the Class 6A semifinals, and was sixth in the classification at 20.1 points per contest. Two years ago, BV was 4-5 and averaged 22.7 points a game. Blue Valley had run a 4-2-5 for many years and switched to a three-front in ’19. Smithson (6-4, 305) has picked up offers with Akron, Illinois State, Washburn, and Missouri State, according to 247. Additionally, seniors Avion Jones, Smithson, Clayton Power were each honorable mention all-league.

7. Saili family, Jefferson West – Jeff West graduated Shrine Bowler Kauli Saili, though returns senior Pene and sophomore Danny. JW was the No. 1 scoring defense in 3A with 7.3 points allowed. Pene can play multiple positions on both sides of the ball. He recorded 20 TFLs, eight sacks and a pair of blocked punts. He was the 3A Defensive Player of the Year.

8. Sa’o Siavi’i/Cameron Penny/Jalen Marshall/Caden Reeves, St. Thomas Aquinas – Siavi’i delivered 8.5 sacks as a freshman for the Saints, and Aquinas went 10-1 and was No. 11 in 5A in scoring defense. Penny (6-1, 215) has posted 4.7 in the 40-yard dash and was HM all-league. Siavi’i was second team all-league, the only non-junior/senior selection to the Eastern Kansas League’s first or second team. Aquinas has plenty of other DL talent back, including junior Jalen Marshall and senior Caden Reeves (HM all-league). Caden (6-3, 260) has committed to Southern Illinois. Marshall holds multiple FBS offers.

9. Cayden Winter, Andale – Andale finished No. 2 in 3A in scoring defense, percentage points behind Jefferson West. Andale went 13-0 and captured the 3A state championship. Winter, with 35 tackles, collected first team all-league defense. He has posted 4.9 seconds in the 40 at 6-foot, 225 pounds.

10. Kyle Haas, Maize – An Oklahoma State wrestling commit and one of the state’s best athletes, Haas has started since he was a freshman. He was CIK’s No. 7 defensive lineman entering last season. Haas helped Maize go 10-2 and allow 14.4 points per game as a sophomore. Last season, the Eagles again went 10-2 and permitted 16.4 points a game, seventh-best in 5A.

11. Braden Rucker, Eureka – Last year, I talked with Eureka coach Jason Nichols in midseason and he noted the relatively unknown Rucker was a “D1 possibly” caliber player. Rucker started at left tackle and defensive end, and helped the Tornadoes win their district title since before 2003. Rucker has posted a 415 squat, 335 bench, and 280 clean. He (6-3, 245) benched 225 pounds 17 times at the Sharp Combine in July. Rucker has garnered interest from Division II schools, including MIAA.

12. Dane Whalen, Osage City – Whalen led Kansas in tackles for loss with 30.5, according to MaxPreps. Whalen, known for his quickness, also won the first OC wrestling championship in state history when he picked up the 220 title at 3-2-1A. The senior will be a four-year starter.

13. St. Francis line – St. Francis is loaded across the board and likely the Eight-Man, Division II favorite after Division I runner-up last fall. A significant amount of success hinges with line play with its great tandem of Jesse Baxter, Colton Neitzel and Adam Krien. Baxter and Krein were first team all-state KPreps. St. Francis went 12-1 and also narrowly beat rival Hoxie.

In the state final loss and Hoxie game, SF had one of the three key linemen hurt. St. Francis carries under 20 players and staying healthy will be key. Credit also goes to Scott “Hoagie” Carmichael, the line coach. He has served in multiple roles with SF in the last 38 years. Notably, Krein had 81 tackles, 26 TFLs and 15.5 sacks.

14. Dylan Gillespie/Alec Younggren, Sunflower League – Gillespie and Younggren were both first team all-Sunflower League selections from Lawrence and Olathe South, respectively. Younggren, an outstanding wrestler, is 6-3, 225. In addition, Olathe West senior Kobe Poindexter was second team all-Sunflower League.

15. Bishop Miege DLs – Senior Angel Franco and junior Collin Williams were both honorable mention all-Eastern Kansas League. Miege has won six straight state titles and will go for a record seventh consecutive this fall.

16. Kolby Talbot, Axtell – Talbot delivered 133 tackles, 20 for loss, 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles en route to first team all-state by KPreps. Talbot was the top defensive player for Axtell, the Eight-Man, Division II runner-up to Osborne. Talbot is among the top-10 players in all of eight man returning.

17. Hunter Engle, Madison/other key 8-man – Engle is among the Bulldogs’ leaders and among eight-man’s top-10 players. Engle helped Madison reach the state semifinals last year, and the Bulldogs have significant returners for coach Alex McMillian. Engle delivered 45 tackles, seven sacks, five passes broken up, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries and picked up first team all-state by multiple publications. Additionally, Madison returns standout junior linebacker Drew Stutesman (70 tackles). Also notable eight-man first team all-state DEs are Caldwell’s Trey Strnad and Clifton-Clyde’s Jarik Weiche.

18. Tra Barrientes, Sylvan-Lucas – Barrientes, the center/nose guard, is the defending 3-2-1A state wrestling champion at 285 pounds. S-L quietly put together an excellent defense with a 6-4 mark and 16.3 points allowed per game. Two years ago, S-L went 6-4 and delivered 25.6 points permitted a game.

19. Kenny Fehrman, Wellington – Fehrman, a two-time all-state wrestler, has helped Wellington allow under 23 points a contest in each of his three high school seasons. Fehrman is one of the state’s strongest players and tied for first in the bench press at the Sharp Combine in July. He and Clearwater senior Sean Harris were both second team all-conference interior defensive line.

20. Peyton Rathbun, Plainville - Overshadowed some publicly by QB Jordan Finnesy (Washburn signing), and Jared Casey (KU), Rathbun delivered an outstanding season with 94 tackles, 15 for loss and seven sacks en route to first team all-state 1A. Plainville was sixth in the classification with 16 points allowed a contest. Plainville coach Grant Stephenson told me Rathbun is “fast and physical” and has continued in the mold of his older brother, Jaron.

21. Ryan George, Goddard Eisenhower – George, a senior tackle/end delivered 9.5 sacks, while senior middle linebacker Seth Volker had four sacks. Eisenhower finished 5-4, though finished sixth in 5A with 15.9 points per contest. The Tigers forced 20 turnovers last year. Eisenhower returned its top-three tacklers and five of the top-six.

22. Dallas Bond, Tonganoxie – Bond helped Tonganoxie finish 10-1 and win double-digit games for the first time in school history, according to the Kansas Football History database. Bond collected first team all-league with eight sacks. He is also a standout receiver with 660 yards. The Chieftains is fifth in 4A with 14.6 points per game.

23. Nick Brooker, Lyndon – Lyndon returns a high number of key players, including Booker, who delivered 7.5 sacks in just six games. Senior Beau Baker, mentioned at other positions in CIK’s preseason look, had 47 tackles, seven for loss. Lyndon went 7-2 and was No. 11 in 1A in scoring defense. Brooker was honorable mention all league.

24. Gavin Sproul, Norton – Sproul enjoyed a massive season for the 2A runner-up Bluejays. He delivered 79 tackles with 21 tackles for loss. In his career, Sproul has 147 tackles, 32 TFLs. He has received interest from Fort Hays.

25. Brennan Walker, Beloit – Coach Brad Gober has delivered several strong seasons, especially on defense, since he took over the Trojans before the ’18 season. Beloit graduated a large senior class, and Walker, a wide receiver/defensive end, had four sacks in 11 contests. Beloit went 7-4 and allowed 17.7 points a game, in the top-15 in the 48-team 3A.

26. Hagan Booi, Colby – A former state wrestling runner-up, Booi, a defensive end, helped Colby to its best record since ’84 with a 9-1 mark. The Eagles ranked seventh in 3A with 13.2 points allowed a contest. The GWAC also includes Scott City senior Gabe Bowers and Holcomb senior Oz Perez. The conference had multiple elite defenses. Scott City was sixth in 3A in scoring defense (11.1 points allowed) and Hugoton (16.8) was 11th.

27. Taviahn Mack, Arkansas City – AC is a back-to-back quarterfinalist as Mack, in his sophomore season, recorded 41 tackles, 19 TFLs and four sacks en route to first team all-league.

28. Brayden Dillow, Chanute – I spoke with Chanute coach Clete Frazell in early ’19 and he was pleased with Dillow’s weight room work. One of the stronger 4A players, Dillow helped Chanute to a 9-2 mark and No. 8 scoring defense at 17.1 points allowed a game. Chanute was 4-5 in ’18 and allowed 27.6 points per contest.

Copyright 2020 Catch it Kansas. All rights reserved.

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