CIK Season Preview: Elias, Bah, Mucker return to keep 5A loaded at the running back position

Game between Goddard and Kapaun at Goddard on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022.
Game between Goddard and Kapaun at Goddard on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022.(Selena Favela | Selena Favela)
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 10:14 PM CDT
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Mill Valley moved to Class 6A for most sports, but the Class 5A football teams still have to contend with the Jaguars. Mill Valley won a fourth-straight football championship last year, and with a healthy group of returners in 2023, the Jaguars will look to extend their historic run to a fifth title.

Mill Valley returns eight players on the offensive side. Quarterback Hayden Jay is not included in that group. Jay threw for 1,500 yards and rushed for 500 more, helping the Jags to 31 touchdowns in his final season. Mill Valley returns plenty up front, including all-state senior Gus Hawkins. Senior Tristan Baker returns to the backfield after rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 20 scores. The Jags also lose leading receiver Hayes Miller to graduation.

The Jaguar defense takes some bigger lumps to graduation but should still be formidable. Mill Valley blanked six of its 13 opponents last year and held three more opponents to seven points or fewer. The Jags loaded the all-state list at the end of the season. Junior Jayden Woods and senior Truman Griffith return to lead the way.

The biggest loss to graduation in all of Kansas likely comes in Maize. The Eagles have played for back-to-back state titles with losses to Mill Valley, but the Avery Johnson era has come to a close. Johnson threw for nearly 2,800 yards with 29 touchdowns and three interceptions last year, and he ran for another 817 yards and 20 scores. Graduation took a further toll with the losses of Daeshaun Carter and Tayveon Williams, who added 1,500 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground. Bryce Cohoon and Justin Stephens accounted for 1,500 yards in the air.

Junior Bryson Hayes will help fill in the gap after catching 19 passes for 582 yards and eight touchdowns last year. Some experience on the offensive line will also help. The Maize defense bent more than it broke in 2022, but will also have to hit the reset button this fall with the loss of seven key contributors.

To get to the state title game, the Eagles had to end a historic run from Hays. The Indians won a school-record 10 games, losing only to Maize and Class 6A champion Manhattan. Tony Crough returns for a sixth season on the sideline but has to replace 12 all-league players.

“It’s a standard that the classes in front of us have set,” Crough said. “The expectations and the bar they set are pretty nice to look at. These kids are itching, trying not to let them down. They’re trying to make their own way with their own team, but at the same time, trying to make the guys in front of them proud.”

Crough loses premiere athletes in quarterback Kyreese Groen and wideout Keamonie Archie. He does return one of the state’s top running backs in senior Malik Bah. Even battling some injuries and playing in the equivalent of just six games, Bah rushed for better than 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns last fall, and also doubled as the Indians’ leading returner with 206 receiving yards. Seniors Kaiden Bunger at 245 pounds, and Will Linenberger at 270 pounds, return up front.

Substate game between Maize and Hays on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.
Substate game between Maize and Hays on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022.(Selena Favela | Selena Favela)

“I know we’re biased, but he is the best back in the state,” Crough said. “The kid is unreal. He’s going to have to be the guy we all expect him to be, that we saw some last year and the year before. There won’t be any secrets. We’re going to go into every game with everybody prepared to shut him down. I told him and the whole team that that’s going to be everybody’s game plan and we can’t let it work. I think he’s good enough it’s going to be tough to shut him down.”

The big losses in Maize and Hays could leave the door wide open for Bishop Carroll to make a run. The Golden Eagles finished at 7-3 last year, including a loss to Derby and Hutchinson early in the playoffs. Carroll gets back a crucial piece in Air Force-commit Jackson King, who split 2,200 yards between the air and ground with 22 touchdowns.

Senior Thomas Gorges finished with 505 yards rushing yards last year, and speedy senior Luke Holthusen returns after catching 26 passes for 259 yards. The Golden Eagles will be without Tate Blasi, who just missed 1,000 receiving yards last year, but DI commit Hank Purvis on the offensive line will assist the potent ground attack.

Carroll won a 26-21 battle against Kapaun in the Holy War last year at Riverfront Stadium. The Crusaders will look to change that in 2023. Senior Omari Elias, at 200 pounds, will again be tough to tackle after piling up more than 2,300 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns last year. Senior quarterback Dylan Hamilton threw for nearly 800 yards, and he gets back a 6-4 target in senior Will Thengvall. In all, Kapaun returns 15 varsity players from last year’s squad that finished at a deceptive 5-5, with close losses against Carroll and St. James Academy.

Blue Valley Southwest was the other state semifinalist in 2022. After an 0-3 start to the season, the Timberwolves finished strong with three convincing playoff wins before a 63-0 loss to Mill Valley in substate. Southwest returns one of the top quarterbacks in all of Kansas in senior Dylan Dunn, who passed for 2,784 yards with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions last fall. Four of his five favorite targets return, including seniors Alex Parks, Emmitt Peters, Gage Ilges, and 6-2 senior Tate Everard. The Timberwolf ground attack takes a big hit with the loss of 900-yard rusher Parker Smith. Senior Trey Thomas returns as an all-state defensive back on that side of the ball.

After a 4-5 showing in 2021, Hutchinson returned to state prominence last fall with eight wins and just three losses to Derby and Maize (twice). Fourteen returning starters will keep the Salthawks relevant in 2023, especially with the big losses at some of the other powerhouses. Senior Zion Burgess rushed for 900 yards last season.

De Soto will be another team to watch in the classification this year. The Wildcats finished at 9-2 last year with losses to Washburn Rural and Blue Valley Southwest. The Wildcats get six starters back on offense and seven on defense. Senior quarterback Carson Miller put up better than 1,600 yards of total offense and 22 touchdowns last year.

Maize South had a rare losing season under Trent Pfeifer last year, but a tough 4-5 year included losses to Hutchinson, Maize, and Derby. All the key offensive pieces are back, including junior quarterback Tate McNew, who threw for 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns. Senior Braxton Bigley brings size to the backfield with 700-plus yards last year, and senior Sammy Dresie caught 69 passes for more than 1,000 yards. The Mavs should also benefit from 6-6 Darius Felton, a wideout transfer from Gillette, Wyo. Defensively, senior Brady Rapp returns after recording nearly 100 tackles a year ago.

After a 1-8 showing in 2020, Salina Central has made progress each season since, culminating in an 8-3 season last year with losses to Hays and Valley Center. The Mustangs lose 1,300-yard rusher Kenyon McMillan out of the backfield, but return senior Gunnar Gross under center. One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in Kansas this year, Gross threw for 1,700 yards and rushed for 1,100 more, combining for 36 touchdowns. Senior Hunter Mowery returns after pulling in 42 receptions for 638 yards and eight scores last fall.

Valley Center took down some of the area’s better programs last year to the tune of a 7-3 record. The Hornets will again have high expectations with seven starters back on both sides of the ball. Senior Dai’Mont Mucker rushed for nearly 1,900 yards with 18 touchdowns, and senior quarterback Hank Welu added 800 yards of offense, mostly in the air.

Hays High defeated Valley Center 28-6 at Lewis Field Stadium on Friday, November 4, 2022.
Hays High defeated Valley Center 28-6 at Lewis Field Stadium on Friday, November 4, 2022.(Everett J. Royer | (©Everett Royer, ))

One of the biggest turnarounds in the state last game came in Great Bend. With early losses to tough teams from McPherson and Hays, the Panthers bumped a losing streak to 19 games. Great Bend finished the season at 7-3 with a 40-35 loss to Salina Central in the playoffs. Quarterback Cayden Scheuerman played a big role in the turnaround with nearly 2,300 yards of total offense. He will be replaced by sophomore Daxton Minton this year, but the Panthers do return senior workhorse Cody Miller to the backfield after he rushed for 981 yards on 187 carries in 2022.

One of Valley Center’s three losses last year came at the hands of Goddard. The Lions finished at 5-4, but three of those losses came by a touchdown or less, including an early overtime loss to Andover. Goddard returns a large senior class to keep expectations high in 2023. Senior Micah Johnson rushed for more than 900 yards on 136 attempts, and senior Ashton Sell returns under center with more than 600 yards of total offense.