CIK Season Preview: Wichita Northwest poised for success in wide-open Class 6A field
For a while, Class 6A reflected some of the smaller classifications dominated by one or two teams. Derby made it to the state semifinals in 2022, but for a third-straight year, the classification saw a different state champion as Manhattan completed a perfect 13-0 season.
The Indians take some massive hits to graduation. Gone is quarterback Keenan Schartz, who threw for 1,500 yards and rushed for 1,200 more. Another 1,100-yard back in Deandre Aukland has graduated, as has Jason Sanchez after rushing for 607 yards. Manhattan does get back five on offense and six on defense. Much of the experience on offense is up front with all-league linemen Jacob Barnes, Andrew Kenney, and Jarrett Johnson. Junior Carter Aslin will likely take over for Schartz under center.
Gardner-Edgerton took Manhattan to two overtimes in the state title game to finish as runners-up with a 9-4 record. The Trailblazers return plenty of experience up front, and also get back a pair of running backs, including senior Dawson Kindler, who rushed for 1,500 yards and 30 touchdowns. Senior Dylan Butash is a handy second option with 705 yards and five scores last year. The Gardner defense takes a couple hits with the loss of all-state linemen Ozzy Poague and Dexter Carr.
Manhattan shocked the football world with an overtime win against Derby in week one last fall. The Indians won another 28-23 battle over the Panthers to advance to the state finals, and Derby also lost a 52-51 shootout to Avery Johnson and Maize in October.
Like Maize, the Panthers lose one of the most notable names in Kansas with the graduation of Dylan Edwards and his 1,900 yards and 32 touchdowns. Another 1,000-yard back is gone in Brock Zerger, who also threw for 1,100 yards. Braxton Clark will replace Zerger under center, and Derek Hubbard returns in the backfield after rushing for 475 yards on 50 attempts. Clark gets some help out wide with senior Colton Reudy, who caught 21 passes for 363 yards last year. Back in action this year is DeSaahn Brame, one of the premiere tight ends in Kansas. The Panther defense loses all-state lineman Samuel Same and linebacker Miles Wash.
Never too far from the top of its classification is Wichita Northwest. The Grizzlies opened the season with a loss to Bishop Carroll but otherwise lost only two games to unbeaten Manhattan. Even with a young roster, Northwest scored more than 52 points a game, surpassing 55 points in four of 11 games.
That young squad last year has left the Grizzlies loaded for 2023. Senior quarterback Jayce Glasper threw for 1,646 yards with 18 touchdowns and just three picks, and rushed for another 668 yards and nine scores. He’s joined by senior Cencere Thompson, who rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and 17 scores. The duo will be solid even with the loss of last year’s leading rusher LJ Phillips, who ran for nearly 1,500 yards. Seniors Michael Lopez, Jr., and Taccarri Brown return as the leading receivers after splitting 52 receptions for more than 1,100 yards last fall. Senior Jacob King returns after recording a team-high 59 tackles last season.
Blue Valley Northwest won the 6A crown in 2021 and finished at 6-4 last year after dealing with some big losses. The Huskies will again make some major replacements with the graduation of Connor White and Grant Stubblefield. White threw for more than 1,700 yards, and Stubblefield rushed for more than 1,400 yards.
Ene Akpan continues to build at Wichita East. The Blue Aces finished a second-straight six-win season last year and return one of the best skill sets in the classification. Senior DaeOnte Mitchell threw for nearly 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns last year. Senior Rayvelle Leak returns after rushing for 1,500 yards and 26 scores. Senior MJ White rounds out the trio with 897 yards on 43 receptions last year. LT Robinson and Ashton White also return as options for Mitchell. The offensive line also returns with a wealth of experience, and the Blue Ace defense has six of its 11 starters back.
Even with a pair of premiere athletes, Wichita Heights finished last year at a disappointing 4-5. DJ Dingle graduates after combining for more than 1,400 yards of total offense, and John Randle is gone after rushing for more than 1,200 yards. The Falcons return some key defensive pieces but the offense will require a near-total reset.
Wichita South finished last year at 3-6 but two of those wins came late in the year. The Titans hope to carry that momentum forward with the return of Karlan Ransom. Just a sophomore last year, Ransom still split 1,500 yards of offense and 12 touchdowns between his arms and legs. Ransom will have some nice experience in front of him.
North’s struggles were real last year as the Redhawks scored more than one touchdown in just two games and failed to score in two of nine games, all losses. The North defense allowed at least 24 points in eight of those nine games. But that young squad means there is plenty of returning experience in 2023. Senior DJ Fowler threw for more than 600 yards last year, and 6-0, 200-pound Deanthony Jones returns as the team’s leading rusher despite his sophomore status. Senior Ethan Braden returns at wideout. Senior Jayden Garnes returns with 43 tackles to lead the defense.
Wichita Southeast also struggled last year with a 1-8 showing. The Buffs snapped an 11-game skid in week one against North last fall but fell in the remainder of their games. Coach Margus Bagley gets back a talented junior class that includes Ronelle Slaughter and Micah Fiscus. Slaughter paced the offense last fall with 750 rushing yards and nine scores, and Fiscus threw for 650 yards and four touchdowns.
The Class 6A schools in the Western Athletic Conference head into rebuild mode. Garden City finished a 7-3 last year but loses years of experience at quarterback in Caleb Wiese. Zack Keosenpghet is gone after rushing for 1,000 yards, and speedster Jerry Arteaga is gone after combining for more than 1,000 yards as a back and receiver.
Dodge City will look to junior quarterback Alan Flores to get back on the winning side of things in 2023. Senior Daelyn Unzueta is a capable running back but the quick senior Tochi Okori, at 6-4, will be a valuable target out wide.
Washburn Rural in Topeka finished at 8-3 last year. The Blues lose some big pieces to graduation but do return senior Branton DeWeese, who threw for nearly 1,900 yards last year. The defense takes a big hit with the graduation of linebacker Ty Weber, one of the state’s best in 2022.
Lawrence finished last year at 6-4 and will look to stay competitive with senior Tyson Grammer returning after throwing for more than 1,500 yards last year. Across town, Lawrence Free State was hit hard by graduation after a 5-4 season but the team does get back dual-threat quarterback Wesley Edison who split 1,800 total yards of offense on the ground and in the air last fall.
Olathe South went from six wins in two seasons to a 7-3 showing under new coach Ron Litchfield last season. The Falcons return plenty of experience, including senior quarterback Bryce Noernberg, who threw for nearly 1,500 yards and rushed for nearly 500 more last year. Former Great Bend and Hays coach Bo Black had a rare losing season at Shawnee Mission Northwest. Junior Logan Morley returns under center after putting up nearly 1,100 yards of offense last year. Blue Valley finished at 5-5 last year but returns most of its defense. Kansas State-commit John Price returns as one of the top running backs in the state after rushing for more than 1,000 yards last fall.
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