CIK Season Preview: Linebackers to Watch

Ashton Ngo returns in 2020 to lead a stout Andover defense
Ashton Ngo returns in 2020 to lead a stout Andover defense(©Kelly Ross | Kelly Ross)
Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 2:00 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) -

1. Branden Martin, K.C. Piper – Martin led Kansas in tackles for a second straight year and again collected first team all-state by multiple publications. He delivered 169 tackles, 19 TFLs, five sacks, with four forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions. K.C. Piper, located in Kansas City, Kan., was voted to not have a season after other KCK schools in Wyandotte County were not going to play because of coronavirus concerns. However, the school board recently ruled that Piper could play. The Pirates finished 4-6 and were No. 18 in 32-team Class 4A in scoring defense. However, Piper has a high number of returners, including all of its rushing yards back, led by La’James White (1,969 all-purpose yards). Eight of the top-nine tacklers also return. Martin could be a rare Kansas player to reach 500 career tackles. He has 346 stops and 42 tackles for loss in his career. Martin’s teammate, Darius McNeal, delivered 106 tackles.

2. Gavin Meyers, Hays High – The 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior inside linebacker has offers from Colorado, Kansas State and Kansas. He is ranked fourth in the state in the class of 2022, according to 247 Sports, a recruiting industry leader. Meyers is behind Blue Valley North’s Dasan McCullough, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Jalen Marshall and Lansing’s Caden Crawford in the recruiting rankings. Meyers has more than 150 career tackles in his career. Marshall and Crawford have already been listed on previous CIK lists.

3. Jack Hileman, Derby LBs – The 5-foot-7 Hileman paced Derby in tackles last year and had 79 entering the state championship game. In the state semifinals against Topeka, Hileman delivered a 32-yard pick-six on the game’s first drive. Hileman had double-digit tackles for loss under first-year defensive coordinator Austin Wuthrich. Derby won its second straight 6A state title. The Panthers were easily No. 1 in 6A in scoring defense with 11.9 points allowed a contest. Additionally, Derby returns seniors Luke Stewart and Coleson Syring at outside linebacker. Those two players combined for more than 120 tackles and 23 TFLs. Derby has four state titles in the last five years. The Panthers face defending 5A champion Mill Valley in the first round. MV coach Joel Applebee and Derby coach Brandon Clark are cousins and best friends.

4. Drew Schmelzle, Sabetha – Schmelzle has picked up FBS offers from Tulane and Akron. He delivered 88 tackles, second-most for the Bluejays.

5. Anthony Hays, Garden Plain – Hays was the Central Plains League defensive MVP with 68 tackles, two sacks and a pair of interceptions. Garden Plain was ninth in 2A with 15.3 points allowed a contest. Hays also starts on the offensive line where he earned first team unanimous all-league, too.

6. Hayden Robb, Perry-Lecompton – Robb has a chance for a rare 500 career tackle career and is among a loaded Kaw team. P-L, the defending state runner-up, was No. 12 in 3A in scoring defense with 17.4 points allowed a contest. Robb, Ryan Besler and Thad Metcalfe were top-3 for the Kaws in tackles with 155, 122 and 118, respectively. All three return.

7. Will DeVader, Topeka Hayden – The senior delivered 106 tackles, 3 TFLs, eight sacks for Topeka Hayden. The Wildcats finished 10-2 in Class 3A with both losses to Perry-Lecompton. Hayden was fifth in 3A scoring defense at 9.5 points allowed a contest.

8. Jack Kincaid, Bishop Miege/top EKL – Kincaid was second team Eastern Kansas League. Junior Jake Welsh was an honorable mention all-league selection. As well, Blue Valley North senior Nikko Taylor and Blue Valley Northwest Blane Deppe were both honorable mention all-league. Miege looks to win its state record seventh consecutive state championship.

9. Jacob Younkman, Wichita Northwest – Younkman, another excellent player for Wichita Northwest, has earned an offer from FCS Valparaiso. As a sophomore, he delivered 53 tackles, 21.5 for loss. Last year, he finished with 73 stops, 27 for loss. Wichita Northwest is back-to-back 5A runner-up and had its best scoring defense since ’05. The Grizzlies were No. 1 in 5A offense and third in defense.

10. Koy Kenny, Ulysses – Kenny, known for his intelligence and film study, delivered more than 95 tackles, 38 for loss for the Tigers. He is the middle of three children and only son of former Ulysses coach Jason Kenny, who tragically passed two years ago. Kenny is a four-year starter.

11. Brandon Bowles, Maize South – Bowles picked up first team all-state 5A by multiple publications. He finished with 112 tackles and two interceptions. Bowles has 192 tackles in the last two years. Maize South is 6-4 and 10-1 in the past two falls. Last year, Maize South permitted just 12.1 points per game, second-best in 5A. The Mavericks are expected to again be a top contender in 5A.

12. Ian Keylon/Jake Laurie, Blue Valley Southwest – Keylon, a senior, delivered six sacks in seven games. He also led BVSW with 86 tackles, nine for loss for a 3-8 squad. That included 18 tackles, four for loss against Blue Valley. Both Keylon and Laurie, a junior, were honorable mention all-league. BVSW has significant returners, including its quarterback. Keylon is also among the state’s leading lacrosse players.

13. Ashton Ngo, Andover – Andover was fifth in 5A scoring defense at 15.3 points allowed a game. The versatile Ngo played some quarterback after injuries and is an excellent long snapper. He delivered 88 tackles, 18 for loss. Ngo has an offer from FCS Monmouth.

14. Kolten Jegen, Mill Valley – Senior Kolton Jegen was second team all-Eastern Kansas League and delivered 88 tackles, also second-most among Mill Valley. MV is the defending 5A state champion and is expected to be the preseason No. 1 team in 5A. Mill Valley returns its QB, top WRs and two of the state’s best linemen with Ethan Kremer and Cole Knappen. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Jegen runs 4.8 in the 40-yard dash and has posted a 495-pound squat. Jegen has an offer from Quincy.

15. Alden Knedler, Dodge City – Knedler, the Western Athletic Conference defensive player of the year for 9-1 Dodge City, was first team all-state 6A. He was the only junior linebacker named first team all-state in 6A. He collected 81 tackles, five for loss and picked off four passes. Knedler rushed for 773 yards. Knedler has an offer from Division I St. Thomas.

16. Kendall Norrod, Maize – Norrod, a senior and honorable mention all-state 5A, helped Maize to a 10-2 mark and No. 4 defense in the classification at 16.4 points per contest. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Norrod was first team all-league and carries a 3.9 GPA. He had 96 tackles, three forced fumbles and an interception.

17. Brycen Labertew, McPherson – McPherson, which has never reached a state title, has played in the state semifinals the last three years. The Bullpups went 11-1 and easily paced 4A in scoring defense at 8.3 points allowed a contest, well ahead of second place Buhler at 12.3 points per game. Labertew was second among the Bullpups in tackles with 74, first among returners. As well, senior Jayton Alexander delivered 69 stops, third-most on the squad.

18. Caden Parthemer, Andale – Andale was second in 3A with 7.31 points allowed a contest, percentage points behind Jefferson West for the top scoring defense. The Indians finished 13-0 and won the 3A state title. He made over 35 tackles.

19. Trevor Zarybnicky, Wheatland-Grinnell – The 6-foot-2, 233-pound Zarybnicky helped Wheatland-Grinnell capture a district title and post an 8-2 record, the best season since Grainfield and Grinnell consolidated in the mid-2000s.  Wheatland-Grinnell plays host to Axtell in a key season-opening Eight-Man, Division II contest. Both teams are expected to rank in the top-10 in the classification, and Axtell is the defending runner-up. Zarybnicky easily paced the Thunderhawks with 95 tackles and also led with 6.5 for loss. He has 242 tackles and 7.5 sacks in his career. W-G returns its top-six tacklers, along with junior quarterback Trey Vincent and his brother, sophomore Jett, the state interception leader last fall. W-G allowed 168 points last season after 421 two years ago.

20. Konnor Pfeifer, Ellis – A senior, Pfeifer delivered 150 tackles, along with 868 rushing yards and 10 TDs. He was first team 1A all-state and is a two-time all-state wrestler with fourth and fifth place showings the last two winters. Ellis has won either three or four games in the last four falls and has one winning season since 2009. Ty Cass is in his second year as head coach after he previously coached Ellis youth football. All but 63 of the team’s rushing yards return, along with two of the top-three tacklers. Junior Mason Gottschalk is also back following 88 tackles, seven for loss. Pfeifer has recorded 274 tackles in his career.

21. Jake Sasse, Smith Center – The son of Smith Center coach Darren Sasse, Jake Sasse enjoyed a huge freshman season with 87 stops. He is the only one of the top-five tacklers back for the Redmen, which have played in three straight state title games. SC was third in 1A scoring defense at 9.7 points allowed a contest.

22. Kannon Keller, St. Mary’s Colgan – Colgan bumps up to Class 2A and was a first team all-league linebacker. Keller finished with 80 tackles, six for loss. Colgan went 7-4 and allowed 16.8 points per contest, eighth-best in Class 1A. Also in southeast Kansas, Columbus junior Gabe Martin will be a three-year starter.

23. Hunter Schroeder, Concordia – Schroeder and Chas Carlgren play next to each other on the Panther defense. However, Carlgren suffered a season-ending knee injury in August and will miss the year. Both players are seniors. Carlgren delivered 109 tackles, 14.5 for loss, and Schroeder was second with 63 stops, 10 for loss. Schroeder paced the Panthers with 169 tackles for 1,103 yards.

24. Andrew Schwinn, Maur Hill – Schwinn finished with 113 tackles and helped Maur Hill to a 6-3 record. The Ravens permitted just 13.8 points allowed a contest, fifth-best in 2A and tops for the school in the last 26 years. Also out in eastern Kansas, Valley Heights’ Evan Haines and Olpe’s Ted Skalsky are among key returners.

25. Hunter Sharp, Valley Center – Sharp, also a senior and honorable mention all-state 5A selection, paced the Hornets with 110 tackles. VC senior Tate Schurle is also back after 77 stops.

26. Brody Hillman, Cheney – Hillman led the Cheney defense and blocked multiple punts. Hillman was among the best Central Plains League defensive players. Cheney went 9-3 and advanced to the state semifinals, the best finish in school history.

27. Riggs Martin, Hugoton – Hugoton quietly posted a strong defense with 16.8 points allowed a contest. The Eagles finished 4-5. The senior middle linebacker/tight end is 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.

28. Matthew Rodriguez, Southeast of Saline – SES was 12th in 2A with 17.3 points allowed a contest and bumps to 3A this season. He easily led the Trojans with 94 tackles, 20 for loss. He also recovered three fumbles and helped Southeast force 30 turnovers and finish plus-18 in turnover margin.

29. Braden Huff, Canton-Galva – Huff was the leader for the Canton-Galva defense that finished 13-0 and won the Eight-Man, Division I state championship. Huff finished with 87.5 tackles, 11.5 TFLs and three interceptions. C-G allowed just 97 points all season, 7.5 per game.

30. Drew Stutesman, Madison – Madison finished 11-1 and Eight-Man, Division I state semifinalist. Stutesman, a starter since his freshman year, was first team all-state KPreps with 70.5 tackles, seven INTs, seven PBUs, three forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

31. Blake Goodman, Argonia-Attica/Clifton-Clyde’s Douglas Koch/Axtell’s George Valle – All three are top eight-man players. Argonia-Attica went 5-5 and returns its top-three players, led by a huge season from Goodman, a senior this fall. He delivered 175 tackles as a junior after 45 combined in his first two years. C-C went 9-1, while Volle helped Axtell to an Eight-Man, Division II state runner-up finish. Valle finished with 74.5 tackles, 11 for loss.

32. Joshua Ball, Hoisington – Ball is one of several key players back for the Cardinals with four sacks. Ball helped Hoisington finish as state semifinalist each of the past two falls. Hoisington allowed 13.1 points per contest, third-best in 2A. Ball is a 5-foot-9, 180-pound middle linebacker.

33. Jesse Whitmer, Russell – Whitmer, a junior, led with 94 rushes for 444 yards and by far led the Broncos with 84 tackles. Whitmer also paced the Broncos with 79 stops as a freshman.

34. Riley Eveland, Wamego – Eveland has started the last two years in the middle for Wamego. The Red Raiders finished 6-3 and allowed just over 20 points a contest.

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