CIK Season Previews: Top heavy Class 4A adds Aquinas to the mix

Game between Mulvane and McPherson at Mulvane on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.
Game between Mulvane and McPherson at Mulvane on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.(Selena Favela)
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 3:36 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) - Graduations make the prep football landscape an ever changing one. So, too, do classification changes. This year Class 4A picks up just two new teams, but one of those teams is St. Thomas Aquinas. The Saints have made the Class 5A semifinals for the past eight seasons, reaching the championship game three times and winning it all in 2018. Aquinas will now be the team to beat in Class 4A.

To make matters worse for the class, eighth-year coach Randy Dreiling gets back 14 returning starters at Aquinas. Senior Sean Carroll becomes one of the top backs in 4A after rushing for more than 1,600 yards in 2021. Quarterback Maxwell Ford was poised for a big senior season but will do that for a new Missouri school.

Class 4A has been dominated by private schools from the east for nearly a decade. Bishop Miege won 4A, Div. I titles from 2014-17, then continued the run in the new 4A class in 2018 and 2019. Miege lost in the semifinals in 2020 and 2021, both times to a St. James Academy team that enters the season as back-to-back reigning champs.

Miege returns one of the top quarterbacks in the class in senior Mac Armstrong, who threw for better than 2,600 yards last year. The Stags defense will also be loaded in 2022. St. James may have had an even better quarterback in Jackson House, but the senior transferred to Louisiana after throwing for nearly 1,900 yards last year. House was also a threat on the ground, and the Thunder also lose leading rusher Tiave Watts to graduation.

McPherson made four-straight semifinal games before coming up short last year. The Bullpups should remain a contender in 2022 after a 7-3 year with two losses to Mulvane and another to Buhler. Senior quarterback Hunter Alvord threw for more than 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Senior Jaytin Gumm surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground. That pair gets plenty of protection up front with three returning starters. Alvord does lose his favorite two targets in Trey Buckbee and Jayden Dukes, but 10 Pups caught passes last year and many return.

Andover Central played St. James in last year’s title game. The Jags were hit hard by graduation, losing quarterback Kai Kunz and running back Ashton Barkdull. Kunz threw for nearly 1,900 yards, and the pair combined for another 1,900 yards on the ground. Jackson Rees is also gone after rushing for 400-plus yards. The offensive line also loses some key pieces.

Buhler is usually in the mix late in the season, and the Crusaders lost to Andover Central in the state semifinals last year to finish at 10-2, with both losses coming against the Jags. Like Central, Buhler loses many key skill players to graduation to leave room at the quarterback, running back, and tight end spots.

Few turnarounds last season were as big as the one in Mulvane. The Wildcats won just one game in 2020 but made it all the way to the state semifinals in 2021. Quarterback Mason Ellis and wideout Hunter Seier played a big role in that turnaround, and both are gone to graduation. Senior Julien Myers returns in the back field with plenty of protection up front.

Augusta finished with a winning 6-4 season, including a playoff win against El Dorado. The Orioles also lost to talented teams from Buhler, McPherson, and Wamego. Yet another returning offensive line in the classification will protect returning junior Gavin Kiser at quarterback. Kiser gets back a favorite target in 6-5 senior Kaden McDaniel.

Arkansas City dealt with as much adversity as a team can last year, resulting in a 3-6 record and a playoff forfeit to McPherson. The Bulldogs beat a winless 5A team in Goddard, then picked up a marquee 24-17 win against 5A power Maize in week four. Quarterback Gabe Welch went down with a season-ending injury, then the team dealt with an unexpected death just days before the playoffs. Welch put up nearly 900 yards in the air before his injury and returns to lead a healthy group of returners. Senior Wyatt Bahm returns in the backfield, and Welch and Bahm have a host of experience blocking in front of them.

Along with Aquinas, the classification picks up Kansas City’s Schlagle High School for the next two years. The Stallions went winless in 2021 and did not play in 2020. Great Bend and Lansing move back up a classification to 5A.