CIK Season Preview: Class 1A title up for grabs with graduation, moves taking several top players

Conway Springs' Brayden Kunz
Conway Springs' Brayden Kunz(Selena Favela | Selena Favela)
Published: Aug. 20, 2023 at 5:46 PM CDT
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With back-to-back state championship appearances, and a state semifinal appearance in 2020, Inman has been perhaps the premiere team in Class 1A over the last three seasons. The Teutons were already taking some lumps to graduation before a series of events resulted in the loss of one of the classification’s best athletes in senior Tanner Heckel. Class 1A remains a little more wide open with Heckel’s transfer to 8-Man, Div. I Lyndon.

Inman was just seconds away from a state title in 2022 before St. Marys mounted a 99-yard drive and scored in the final seconds to take the crown 44-41. Teuton quarterback Josiah Buller graduated in May, as did standout receiver Harrison Brunk, who finished a remarkable season with 41 receptions for 1,060 yards and 15 touchdowns.

That left Heckel as one of the premiere players in Class 1A. When his mother’s coaching contract was not renewed at Inman, his future at the school turned on a dime. She accepted a job at Lyndon High School, and now Tanner will look to change that bracket later this fall. Heckel accounted for more than 1,000 yards of offense as a sophomore and totaled more than 400 yards of total offense in last year’s state championship game at quarterback.

Senior Kellen Schrag returns as Inman’s biggest threat on both sides of the ball. He rushed for 662 yards and nine touchdowns and recorded 120 tackles with eight sacks as a junior. The loss of Brunk and Heckel will also weigh heavily on the Teuton defense.

St. Marys lost a pair of early games to Rock Creek and Rossville before finishing at 11-2. The Bears were also hit hard by graduation with the loss of all-state quarterback Keller Hurla and all-state wideout Kason Gomez. Joshua Deiter will leave a big hole in the offensive line. Gone from the defensive side are all-staters Aba Huearacha and James Rezac, though senior Atticus Martin returns to the defensive line.

With at least seven wins in each of the last of the seven seasons, Conway Springs is always a factor in the classification. The Cardinals finished at just 7-4 last year but advanced all the way to the state semifinals before falling to Inman.

With the loss of Heckel at Inman, Cardinal senior Brayden Kunz emerges as perhaps the top returner in the class. As a junior, the 6-2, 205-pound running back rushed for nearly 2,300 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also earned all-state honors at linebacker after recording 85 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions.

Junior Cade Howell led the Cardinals in a limited passing attack last fall but could move to the backfield this season with sophomore Logan Osner moving under center. Junior Isaac Winter and senior Nathan Bernsten combined for nearly 600 rushing yards last year. Senior Gunner Williams returns as an all-state offensive lineman.

Centralia was sitting at 11-0 before a state semifinal loss to St. Marys. The Panthers lose all-state running back Trenton Talley on one side of the ball, and all-state defensive back Drew Gibbs on the other.

Darren Sasse posted a 79-15 record in the last eight seasons at Smith Center, including a trio of 12-1 runs that resulted in a Class 2-1A state championship in 2017, a Class 1A title in 2018, and a 1A runner-up finish in 2019. He has stepped down and longtime assistant coach Mike Rogers will take his place atop one of the premiere programs in state history.

The Redmen should remain a power football team with 6-foot, 200-pound senior Luke Franklin returning to the backfield. Smith Center rushed for more than 3,400 yards last season, and Franklin led that charge with 1,105 yards and 16 touchdowns on 147 attempts. Rogers will have to replace Bentley Montgomery and Jake Sasse, who split more than 1,800 yards on the ground. All-state offensive lineman Cauy Haresnape has also graduated.

St. Mary’s-Colgan emerges as one of the top threats in the classification after a 9-2 showing last fall, including a playoff loss to St. Marys. Senior Cooper Simmons earned all-state honors after rushing for more than 1,100 yards. Senior quarterback Tucker Harrell added more than 1,100 combined yards at quarterback. Harrell also shines as a defensive back for the Panthers.

After a season-opening loss to Troy, Wabaunsee rattled off nine consecutive wins before falling to Conway Springs in the playoffs. The Chargers return senior Wyatt Wurtz as one of the best two-way players in Class 1A. As a junior, Wurtz threw for 1,458 yards and rushed for nearly 600 more, combining for 32 touchdowns. He also grabbed five interceptions on the defensive side. Wurtz will be without his favorite two targets, who combined for 993 yards last year. Senior Zach Frank also returns after rushing for 486 yards and nine scores.

Olpe can never be counted out after an 8-3 season last year and state titles the two previous seasons. But the Eagles do lose all-state defensive players Garrett Cole and Blake Redeker to graduation.

Other players to watch this season include Jayhawk Linn senior Gus Grote at wideout, and Medicine Lodge senior Harlem Miller, an all-state pick on the offensive line. Syracuse senior Roy Aguilar and Northeast-Arma senior Braden Young return as all-state players on the defensive side.