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CIK 2021 Season Preview: Linebackers to Watch

Hays High's Gavin Meyers
Hays High's Gavin Meyers(Everett J Royer | Everett Royer)
Published: Aug. 22, 2021 at 5:31 PM CDT
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Catch It Kansas continues its 2021 Positional Breakdowns. Next up: Linebacker. This grouping is traditionally very deep, and that is the case again this year. The Western Athletic Conference, Mid-Continent League, AVCTL Division 3 and Class 3A all have a lot of returning linebackers. Plus, Wichita East and Northwest rank among the state’s best at this position.

1.Gavin Meyers/Dalton Dale/Jaren Kanak, Hays High/WAC – Hays High senior Gavin Meyers is ranked as Kansas’ best linebacker after he was No. 2 on this list entering 2020. Meyers has been a FBS recruit for nearly two years. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Meyers is ranked No. 5 in the Kansas Class of 2022, per 247, a recruiting leader. Meyers should become Hays High’s all-time leading tackler in 2021. Meyers has offers from Colorado, Buffalo, Akron, Air Force and Nebraska, per 247. Dalton Dale delivered an exceptional ‘20-21 school year. He finished with more than 70 tackles, had a strong wrestling season and then a first team all-state baseball season for the Indians, the third-place team in Class 5A. HHS had a huge improvement with defensive coordinator Layton Hickel. Two seasons ago, the Indians allowed 29 points a game, No. 22 in 5A. HHS finished fourth in 5A defense last season at 16 points permitted a contest. Last year, Meyers delivered 87 tackles, 13 for loss, three sacks, two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles. Dale finished with 75 tackles, four TFLs, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries. Kanak, a Clemson commit, will likely be Hays High’s starting quarterback and can play defense in an expected hybrid role.

Also in the WAC, Garden City’s Joel Bellows posted 99 stops, third-most in KS among returners, per MaxPreps. GC has struggled the last two seasons, though was still seventh in 6A with 20.3 points allowed a contest. That was a big improvement after 32.8 ppa allowed in 2019.

2. Tobi Osunsnami, Wichita East – This summer, Wichita East coach Ene Akpan shared the career arc of Wichita East’s Tobi Osunsnami, recruited as a linebacker and listed as an Athlete on his Twitter page. Akpan called him “very, very athletic,” though Osunsnami was playing offensive tackle in Little League. Osunsnami first played quarterback and running back as a freshman before he had a broken collarbone early in the year. Last year, WE was crowded at running back, and Osunsnami moved to linebacker. One practice, East’s free safety didn’t show up. Osunsnami went back to free safety.

Akpan kept Osunsnami there. Akpan called him “flying to the ball,” and “long, physical.” Against predominantly run teams, Osunsnami played up in the box. The 6-2, 210-pound Osunsnami is ranked No. 9 in the Class of 2022 and has committed to Kansas State. He delivered 44 tackles and one interception. East paced 6A with just 11.8 points allowed a game.

3. Ty Weber, Washburn Rural – Washburn Rural’s Ty Weber delivered 116 tackles in 10 games, first among Kansas 11-man players, per MaxPreps. Washburn Rural finished 4-6. A junior this year, the 6-3, 230-pound Weber has some interest from Kansas State and South Dakota. He is among the top 2023 recruits.

4. Chandler Goodnight, Andover – Chandler Goodnight earned a DePauw football scholarship offer on Aug. 12. New Andover linebacker coach Taylor Counts posted via Twitter that Goodnight has posted three huge statistical seasons. Freshman year, Goodnight posted 87 tackles and a school record 11 sacks. His sophomore season, Goodnight posted 79 tackles and six sacks. Last year, Goodnight posted 85 tackles and eight sacks. The 5-11, 210-pound outside linebacker has a 4.3 GPA. Andover has been exceptional on defense the last two years. In ‘19, the Trojans were fifth in 5A in scoring defense with 15.3 points allowed a game. Last year, Andover finished third with 13.8 ppa, trailing only Kapaun and Wichita Northwest.

5. Drew Charbonneau, Wichita Collegiate – Last fall, Wichita Collegiate coach Troy Black told me that Drew Charbonneau is the Spartans’ defensive signal caller and “one of our top defensive players.” Charbonneau enjoyed a big year and helped the Spartans improve from 6-4 to 10-2 and advance to the Class 3A state semifinals. Collegiate had both losses to Andale, the eventual 3A state titlist. Charbonneau collected first team all-league, and linebacker Sam Agustin was second team.

In the season’s first 10 games, Charbonneau paced Collegiate with 93 tackles and was among the team leaders with five tackles for loss and three sacks. Agustin missed four of the year’s first 10 contests. He recorded 28 stops in the six games he played. Two seasons ago, Collegiate allowed 20 points a contest. The Spartans finished No. 14 in 3A with 17.6 points per game. Charbonneau is listed at 5-10, 200 for 2021. He has started since his freshman year. Offensively, Charbonneau has played several positions, including fullback and offensive tackle.

6. Matthew Rodriguez, Southeast of Saline – Last year, CIK wrote a game feature on Southeast of Saline’s Matthew Rodriguez, who was highly impressive in a road district win versus Colby. Coach Mitch Gebhardt told me that Rodriguez “is your typical middle linebacker” and sets the “tone for our defense playing physically.” Rodriguez, a finalist for 2020 3A Defensive Player of the Year, is probably the best 3A returning defensive player this season. SES went 9-1 and was second in 3A in scoring defense with just 7.3 points allowed a contest. A two-time 3-2-1A state wrestling runner-up, Rodriguez paced the Trojans with 95 tackles, 20 for loss. Two years ago, he led with 94 tackles and five sacks.

Southeast of Saline's Matthew Rodriguez
Southeast of Saline's Matthew Rodriguez(Everett J Royer | Everett Royer)

7. Cody Hawks, Goddard-Eisenhower – Goddard-Eisenhower senior Cody Hawks delivered 90 tackles in 2019 and has 174 stops in his career. The 6-1, 220-pound Hawks benched 315, squatted 465 and cleaned 300. Hawks has posted 4.59 in the 40-yard dash and 4.30 in the pro agility. Eisenhower was No. 16 in 5A scoring defense.

8. Nathan Fury, Kapaun – Junior linebacker Nathan Fury was a key playmaker for KMC’s big turnaround and No. 1 scoring defense in 5A. Fury was the Class 5A wrestling runner-up.

9. Logan Spexarth, Andale – Andale enters this fall with a back-to-back Class 3A state champions and has a current 25-game winning streak, longest in Kansas. Logan Spexarth was a second team all-league. He is among 3A’s top returning players. Andale paced the Indians with 6.5 points allowed a contest.

10. Darius Diaz/Jerome Ragin/Zach Morford, Wichita Northwest – Coach Steve Martin told CIK this summer that he would “put our linebacking corps up against anybody.” Darius Diaz was first team all-league. Jerome Ragin was second team all-conference at Wichita West in 2020 and transferred to Northwest. Zach Morford was an honorable mention all-league selection. Jacob King is at outside linebacker/safety. Northwest has impressively been top-3 in 5A scoring defense the last two years.

11. Jake Sasse/Jacob Kirchhoff, Smith Center – Four linebackers made this list in 2020 and ‘21: Hays High’s Gavin Meyers, Southeast of Saline’s Matt Rodriguez, Russell’s Jesse Whitmer and Smith Center’s Jacob Sasse, now a junior. Smith Center will be a preseason top-three Class 1A squad. Sasse was a first team all-Mid-Continent League, and Jacob Kirchhoff, a senior this fall, was an honorable mention all-MCL pick. SC has long enjoyed superb defenses with coordinator Brock Hutchinson. Smith Center finished fourth in 1A with 11.5 points allowed a contest. In the three previous years, SC was first (6.0 points allowed/game), first (8.4) and third (9.6) in 1A scoring defense. Smith Center head coach Darren Sasse, Hutchinson and longtime assistant Mike Rogers are all SC graduates. All three played college football. All three have had at least one son earn all-state honors for the Redmen. Jake led Smith Center with 158 carries for 821 yards. The top-three tacklers return with junior Bentley Montgomery (90), Sasse (79) and Kirchhoff (78).

Smith Center's Jake Sasse
Smith Center's Jake Sasse(Everett J Royer | Everett Royer)

12. Jesse Whitmer, Russell/MCL – Whitmer was ranked as the No. 33 linebacker for all classes on CIK’s 2020 Linebacker list. He paced Russell with 78 tackles in 2020, for 9.8 a game. Whitmer has remarkably led the Broncos in tackles every year. He had 84 and 79 in his first two seasons. Russell has historically struggled, though Whitmer is an elite tackler.

A year ago, Norton coach Lucas Melvin told CIK that Jonah Ruder won a close quarterback battle over Sean Anderson. Then, Anderson switched primarily to defense and finished with 95 tackles. Incredibly, the Mid-Continent League returns nearly all of its top linebackers. Many have been listed at places for CIK Positional Rankings. All four first team MCL linebackers return: Oakley’s Jonathan Temaat and Christian Koch, Jake Sasse and Ben Hansen. Three of the four second teamers return: Anderson, TMP’s Bryce Seib and Plainville’s Kyle Werner. All four honorable mentions return: Ellis’ Mason Gottschalk, Kirchhoff, Norton’s Silas Jones and Whitmer.

13. Hayden Essex, Blue Valley schools – Blue Valley senior Hayden Essex was a first team all-league BV selection. Blue Valley Northwest, which returns basically all of its key returners, brings back two second teamers: Drew Kaufman and Joe Samyn and two honorable mentions: Drew Ranalio and Carson Rockey, both seniors. Blue Valley North senior Ty Farrington was second team, along with Blue Valley Southwest’s Aidan Morgan.

14. Sequoia Robinson, Manhattan – A 2020 first team all-Centennial League selection, Manhattan’s Sequoia Robinson had 45 tackles and 8.5 TFLs. Robinson has received significant junior college interest.

15. Southeast Kansas – Columbus senior Trent Smith leads a talented group of SEK linebackers. Smith, Frontenac’s Justice Compton and Girard’s Brecken Trolke were first team all-conference players.

16. Luke Simpson, Salina South – As a sophomore last fall, Salina South’s Luke Simpson paced the Cougars with 69 stops. He was a second team AVCTL Division I selection, the lone first or second all-conference linebacker back. South returns three of its top-five tacklers.

17. Jake McClure, Gardner-Edgerton – Gardner-Edgerton’s Jake McClure earned first team honors in the Sunflower League. He was the only one of the top-4 first or second team selections back in the conference.

18. Keaton Loop, Haven – Haven posted an 8-3 record and was one of the top 2020 turnarounds. The Wildcats enjoyed the best season in school history. Senior Keaton Loop (6-0, 250) is Haven’s top returning player. Loop is a returning first team all-league selection for Haven co-coaches Drew Thalmann and Thomas Cooprider. Loop finished with 65.5 tackles (36 solo), nine tackles for loss, two sacks and a pair of pass breakups. Thalmann told me that Loop was a “big hitter that set the tone for us defensively.” Loop was unanimous first team all-district.

19. ACVTL D3 – Every single of the second team all-league selections are back: McPherson senior Aiden Hoover, Buhler senior Tanner Tustian, El Dorado junior Jalen Rice and Augusta senior Holt Williams. Three of those four teams ranked in the top-five in 4A in scoring defense. McPherson ranked second at 16.3, Buhler was third at 16.6 and El Dorado stood fifth at 17.6. Augusta was 18th at 25.6 points allowed a contest in 32-team Class 4A. Hoover delivered 45 tackles, third-best on the squad.

20. Class 3A level: Riley County’s Zak Zeller finished with 104 tackles, second among returning Kansas 11-man players, per MaxPreps. Sabetha’s Thadd Menold earned first team All-Big 7 inside linebacker with 75 tackles, second-best on the squad. Chapman senior Tate Milton is a returning first team all-league pick. He delivered 68 tackles. Concordia’s Keyan Miller had 64 stops.

21. Ashton Barkdull, Andover Central – A standout two-way player at running back/linebacker, Ashton Barkdull is another top player back for Andover Central. AC is a preseason top-five team in Class 4A. Barkdull paced the Jaguars with 803 rushing yards and delivered six rushing touchdowns. He led AC with 60 tackles and was among the leaders with 8.5 tackles for loss. The Jaguars were fourth in 4A with 17.6 points permitted. Andover Central is a legit Class 4A favorite.

22. Colby Schreiner, Kingman – Kingman had back-to-back 3-6 seasons before a 6-3 mark in 2020. The Eagles had their best year since 2014. Coach Tanner Hageman and defensive coordinator Dusty Beam led Kingman to the improvement. Kingman improved its scoring defense from 18.7 points allowed a contest in ‘19 and 13.4 permitted last winter. Linebacker Colby Schreiner delivered more than 60 tackles. He finished state runner-up in Class 3-2-1A wrestling in ‘20 and third this winter. Schreiner was a second team all-league selection.

23. Logan Warren, Conway Springs – Conway Springs senior Logan Warren led the Cardinals with 67 tackles. CS returned four of the top-five tacklers from a 9-2 season. Conway Springs was ninth in 1A with 14.3 points allowed a contest.

24. Central Kansas League – The CKL returns three all-league linebackers: Smoky Valley’s Haven Lysell-Stewart, Larned’s Logan Erway and Hillsboro’s Tristan Rathbone. Lysell-Stewart and Erway were both second team selections, and Rathbone was honorable mention. Erway was unanimous first team all-district linebacker. Rathbone had 95 tackles, Erway finished with 84. Lysell-Stewart delivered 70 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss, both easily team-highs.

Last season, new defensive coordinator Craig Amrein, the former head coach at Ellis, installed the 2-4 defense for HC. The Ringnecks went through substantial injuries and still finished No. 17 in Division I with 29.8 points allowed a contest. Conner Dinkel paced Hill City with 103 tackles. The Ringnecks return nearly every key player after an injury-riddled season. HC returns five of its top-six tacklers. Also in the same district and league, Hoxie’s Derek Johnson finished with 104 tackles. A junior, Johnson is a two-time state wrestling champion.

25. Owen Herd, Coldwater-South Central/8-Man LBs – Herd and Burlingame’s Trever Quaney are probably the best two returning eight-man linemen. SC recorded straight trips to the Eight-Man, Division I quarterfinals before a Round of 16 defeat to Wheatland-Grinnell. Last season, the Timberwolves dropped to Eight-Man, Division II and still finished 7-3. SC was seventh in Division II with 18.7 points allowed a game. Herd posted 61 tackles, third-best on the squad, and easily led with 14 TFLs. The 6-2, 203-pound Herd is listed as a fullback/offensive and middle linebacker. In his career, Herd has 197 careers and 48.5 for loss.

Argonia-Attica has enjoyed a 63-23 record, two state runner-ups and zero losing records in eight football seasons since the schools formed a football co-operative agreement. Last year, the Titans enjoyed a four-win improvement to 9-2 in Eight-Man, Division I. Adam Blanchat recorded 91 tackles. A-A finished No. 20 out of 48 Division I teams in scoring defense. Other top-eight man returning linebackers are Hartford’s Shayden Shull and Triplains-Brewster’s Cayde Welsh (87 tackles).

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