"This year--we're gonna win at state. They're no doubt about in my mind."
"I hope we're gonna win it. Our whole team just needs to work harder and be better than last year."
The two quotes come from Zeke Howell and Dhimani Butler, two senior leaders for the Goddard Lions entering 2019. And to say the Lions have confidence entering their 2019 campaign would be an understatement. And why not; when you see who the Lions return from a team that made it to the state title game a year ago.
"It's really a testament to our community and our program," says head coach Tommy Beason, "I think our kids buy into what we're selling, they really enjoy being Goddard Lions and they'll do anything we ask them to do."
The Lions boast 14 returning starters from last year's state runner-up, 7 on each side of the ball. Starting with the defense, Howell returns after leading the state of Kansas in sacks last year with 18.
"It's just a lot of hard work, keep pushing yourself to the limit," said Howell, "I think I can get that amount [in 2019], if not more."
Howell leads a defense that allowed just 12 points per game before falling to Bishop MIege in the state title game last year.
"We really take a lot of pride in our defense here at Goddard, we want to stay focused and we want to stay fast," said Beason. "We're not overly complicated but we're complicated enough, and if the kids execute well, we should be really good."
Naleel Kapten will lead the secondary after picking off five passes, part of 35 forced turnovers by the Lion defense in 2018. Then there's Dhimani Butler. One of the best athletes in the state, he finished with 106 tackles, 14 of those for loss. He expects to play both ways with an expanded role at running back.
The same goes for other key returnees such as Kaeden Hoefer and Carter Morrow. Both Hoefer and Morrow totaled 70+ tackles while combining for just under 700 receiving yards last year.
The Lions also bring back the guy responsible for delivering the ball to those two and leading pass catcher Blake MItchell (597 yards, 6 TDs) in junior QB Kyler Semrad. A lot was asked of the underclassman last year, having to replace all-state quarterback Blake Sullivan, and the then-sophomore delivered to the tune of nearly 2,000 passing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Coach Beason can see that Semrad is ready to take that next step in his development as a signal caller.
"The biggest step that Kyler is ready to take this year is his leadership," said Beason, "his capacity to really run the offense and own the offense and make it less about me calling plays, and more about him executing with his teammates."
Semrad and the rest of the Lions will get the entire state started with a Thursday night home contest against Wichita East on the 5th of September, the start of what they hope is a return trip to Topeka for the 4A State Championship game.
2019 GODDARD SCHEDULE
9/5 - vs Wichita East
9/13 - @ Arkansas City
9/20 - @ Andover Central
9/27 - vs Eisenhower
10/4 - @ Maize
10/11 - vs Valley Center
10/18 - vs Maize South
10/25 - @ Andover