It's been a long time since Kansas fans have been this excited for the football season to begin.
Kansas is the preseason favorite to win District 2A-8 after making the playoffs for the first time in six years last season.
“We definitely ended a long dry spell,” said fifth-year coach Eddie Barnwell.
The Comets have the majority of their club returning after finishing 7-4 and losing in the opening round to Lincoln Christian.
“This is the first time since I've been here that expectations are this high because of the season we had last year,” Barnwell said. “We think we got a chance to be pretty good.”
Among the returning starters are sophomore quarterback Logan Blaine, who had to take over last season when starter Austin Hunt's football career was ended with a back injury.
“He had to grow up in a hurry and he did,” Barnwell said. “The rest of our team has so much confidence in him.”
Blaine will be passing the ball to 6-1 senior wide receiver Johnny Lewis, a player Barnwell calls one of the best athletes in the district.
The Comets' leading tackler last season, linebacker Casey Armbrister, is back to spearhead the defense. Armbrister also will see some time at running back this season.
“He is just an awfully good football player,” Barnwell said.
For the first time since Barnwell has been the head coach, the Comets appear as good as anyone in the district heading into the season.
“We are just really high on our kids right now,” he said. “We kind of snuck up on some people last year but I don't think we will again.”
COMMERCE IN THE HUNT AGAIN
Commerce football fans always expect to see their team in the district title chase, and this year is no exception.
The Tigers finished 8-4 last season before losing in the second round of the playoffs to Vian. Commerce finished second in the district to Adair, which was reassigned to a new district this season.
Second-year coach Steve Moss has seven starters returning on offense and eight on defense, and the Tigers should be even better this season.
D.C. Chance, last year's leading rusher, returns at fullback along with senior running back Parker Morgan. Both rushed for more than 900 yards last season.
Defensive tackle Jowa Zamarippa anchors the defensive line at 5-11, 270 pounds. Just a sophomore, Zamarippa bench presses 375 pounds, squats around 450 pounds and dead lifts 550 pounds, Moss said.
“He is quick and very strong,” Moss said. “I am glad he lives at Commerce.”
Moss was the offensive coordinator at Commerce for 10 years before getting the head job. He knows what the expectations are as the Tigers have won seven district titles while he has been on the coaching staff.
The hurdle for Commerce is getting past the third round of the playoffs. The Tigers have made the playoffs each of the last 10 years but are 0-7 in third-round games.
This year's team appears to be another Tiger squad that could make a deep playoff run.
COLCORD IS A DARK HORSE
Colcord was the hard-luck team in the district last season, going 7-3 but not making the playoffs.
“We lost the three important ones (Wyandotte, Kansas and Adair) and finished fifth in the district,” head coach Terrill Denny said. “It was very disappointing.”
Denny was the special teams coach at Colcord last season but takes over as head coach after Bud Simmons stepped down.
Colord will be led this season by dual threat senior quarterback Austin Gilbert, who rushed for 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Gilbert also passed for 850 yards and 10 scores.
“We are real excited about the year he is going to have,” Denny said.
Gilbert is one of just five seniors on the team.
“If we have a perceived weakness, it will just be depth and youth,” Denny said. “We expect to play a lot of young guys, a lot of sophomores and a couple of freshmen.”
Still, Denny thinks Cordell can be as good or better than last year.
“I think we have a chance to make a playoff run,” he said. “We are dark horse. Nobody expects a whole lot from us. We kind of like that.”
SALINA GETS HEALTHY
Salina suffered through a 2-8 season last year after going 8-4 and making the playoffs the previous season.
“That was a pretty nasty taste,” coach Kyle Fowler said of last year's struggles. “It was tough for everybody involved.”
Injuries decimated Salina last season, but the Wildcats return seven starters on both offense and defense, including senior running back Brett Kearns and lineman Jake Tolbert.
Kearns was lost for six games last season with a knee injury.
With a strong senior class healthy again, Fowler thinks this year's club could return Salina to the playoffs. But the Wildcats can't avoid another year of injuries.
“We are pretty thin depth-wise,” Fowler said.
District 2A-8 Coaches' Poll
1. Kansas (7-4)
2. Commerce (8-4)
3. Colcord (7-3)
4. Wyandotte (9-3)
5. Salina (2-8)
6. Quapaw (2-8)
7. Hulbert (4-6)
8. Ketchum (1-9)
Note: Last season's record in parentheses.