Kpreps 2023 Potential Breakout Teams

Artwork by Ryan Boler,
By: Conor Nicholl for
Aug 29, 2023

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This is the tenth annual Kpreps Potential Breakout Team. Every year, Kpreps normally selects one to three teams from classification to breakout, or improve by at least three victories.

Last year, Kpreps identified 21 Potential Breakout Teams, at least one in each class. Those squads collectively went 86-103 (45.5 percent) in 2021. Last season, they improved to 139-75 (65 percent). The group included: 6-man’s Cheylin (plus-six to state semifinalist), Wichita County (plus-7 to Eight-Man, Division I state champion); St. Marys (plus-7 to 1A state titlist), Scott City (plus-4) and Great Bend (0-9 to 7-3).

Plus, Council Grove hosted the first playoff game in school history, and Russell won its first postseason contest since 1979. Of the 21 teams, 14 improved, four won fewer games, and three won the same. In the football history from 2014-22, 94 Potential Breakout Teams have been identified. Of that group, 73 (78 percent) have improved, 11 stayed the same and 10 had a worse record.

Below is the 2023 Kpreps Potential Breakout Team list:

6A: Blue Valley North (1-8)

Blue Valley North won the 6A state title in 2017 and took state runner-up to Derby the next season. Those teams had QB Graham Mertz, the state’s best player and expected to be the University of Florida starter this fall. The Mustangs went 5-6 and 7-3 before Andy Sims left for a Missouri high school. North struggled to gain traction and posted 3-6 and 1-8 marks in the last two seasons.

Last year, Blue Valley North scored just 15.7 points a game while allowing 31 a contest. Drew Hudgins, the longtime Mill Valley defensive coordinator, took over the program this year. Hudgins and Andale’s Tim Fairchild are generally considered 1 and 1A for the best defensive coordinators in Kansas. Hudgins helped Mill Valley win six state titles and consistently led 5A in scoring defense.

Blue Valley North should be much improved on that side. The Mustangs lost 13 straight games before a 25-20 win versus St. James Academy in Week 8 last season. The Mustangs dropped games by 13, seven, 14 and three points. T.J. O’Neill, the first ever head coach at Olathe West, joins Hudgins staff, too. O’Neill is also from the Mill Valley tree. Senior QB Ben Baker is among key returners.

5A: Kapaun Mt. Carmel (5-5), Andover (3-6), Maize South (4-5), Liberal (3-6)

Class 5A has multiple teams that should make a sizable jump. A common trend was close losses and turnovers. Liberal has not posted a winning record since a 6-3 mark in 2017. The Redskins finished fourth in 5A in yards per play at 9.0, per the Sunflower Sports Solutions (S3) database. However, Liberal committed 17 turnovers and was minus-9 in turnover margin. Liberal was tied for fifth-worst turnover margin in 5A, a number that should improve this fall.

Liberal coach Bryan Luetters previously led a big turnaround with Meade that culminated in a 13-0 season and Eight-Man, Division I title in 2021. Senior Brooks Kappelman is the reigning WAC baseball player of the year. In football, he completed 53 percent of passes for 1,460 yards with 15 scores against seven interceptions. The backups, though, threw four picks in 22 pass attempts. Senior Zayden Martinez is back after 10 receiving scores. Liberal has not won more than seven games in a season since 2004.

Andover had 19 turnovers and was minus-13 in turnover margin, last in 5A. Liberal had 16.6 yards per point, an inefficient offense. Andover was 14 yards per point. By contrast, Hays High, a top-five 5A team, had 10 yards per point.

Kapaun Mt. Carmel is preseason top-3 in 5A and should make a big jump with the return of 2,000-yard back Omari Elias and QB Dylan Hamilton. Kapaun was eighth in 5A in offense at 37 points a contest. KMC lost games by 10, five and two points (on a last-second field goal) last year. The Crusaders easily beat Wichita Heights and Goddard, teams that were at least .500 when not playing KMC.

Maize South finished 4-5 and is traditionally strong on defense. The Mavericks allowed 32.3 points per game. The previous year, Maize South allowed 29.3 a contest. In 2020, Maize South gave up 25.7 per game. This is a loaded team for 14th-year coach Brent Pfeifer, the only coach in program history. Junior Tate McNew threw for 2,240 yards, Sammy Dresie had 1,063 receiving yards, and Brady Rapp is back after 95 tackles. Last year marked the program’s first under .500 season since 2010. The Mavs were 1-2 in games decided by 14 points or fewer.


4A: Buhler (4-5), Tonganoxie (4-5)

Buhler finished No. 12 in 4A scoring defense with 23.2 points allowed a contest. Every team that finished above them in scoring defense won at least seven games in 2022. Buhler has a history of bouncing back after a rare down year under longtime coach Steve Warner. In 2020, Buhler was 6-4. The next year produced a four-win improvement.

In 2018, Buhler was 5-5, and then hopped to 8-3 the following year. Last fall marked the first under .500 season since Warner took over in 2006. Buhler had a limited senior class and fought injuries throughout 2022. Quarterback Jeffrey Neil returns after 1,257 passing yards. This should be a much-improved Crusader team this fall.

Tonganoxie finished 4-5 with a defense that uncharacteristically allowed 30 points a contest. In 2021, the Chieftains were at 22 points allowed a game. In 2020, it was 17.7. Tonganoxie allowed 14 points per game in 2019. Junior quarterback Talon Langford returns after he threw for 1,040 yards with seven scores against nine interceptions. More than 97 percent of the rushing yards came from non-seniors.

Tonganoxie’s defense forced 17 turnovers; 16 came from non-seniors. Plus, Jackson McWilliams is an outstanding kicker, and Langford dropped 15 punts inside opponents’ 20-yard lines.

3A: Hugoton (6-3)

The Eagles were sixth in 3A scoring defense at 15 points allowed a contest, a huge drop after they allowed 31.2 two years ago. Jay Witt helped the Eagles to a two-win improvement last fall. Witt was part of longtime winning programs in Texas.

Trey O’Neil is a football assistant and led Hugoton to the 4A boys’ basketball championship. O’Neil has run all the weight room/track programs with Hugoton. Hugoton is a GWAC sleeper after one-score defeats to Scott City and Holcomb. Isaac Martin, also a key basketball player, returns after more than 1,400 yards of total offense.


2A: Thomas More Prep (4-5), Rossville (5-5)

Perhaps no team in Kansas had a bigger statistical gap between offense and defense last season than Thomas More Prep. The Monarchs finished ninth in 2A scoring defense at 14.9 points allowed a contest. However, the offense scored just 19.8 points a game and went multiple weeks without an offensive touchdown. TMP was the only one of the top-12 2A defenses to finish with a losing record.

The Monarchs brought in offensive-minded Grant Stephenson as the new head coach and retained T.J. Gottschalk, a TMP great, as the defensive coordinator.  Greg Schwartz is a capable assistant who has defensive experience, too. Stephenson quickly built Plainville into a consistent 1A top-five team. Carson Liles is expected to be much improved at quarterback.

Kendall Walker and Kolton Hagans are both four-year starters on the line. TMP lost four straight games by 14, 22, three and six. The 14-point loss was tied going into the fourth quarter, and the 22-point decision was closer than the score indicated.

Rossville was eighth in offense a year ago at 34.6 points a game. The Bulldawgs are just outside the top-5 in the 2A rankings and are expected to take a big jump. Four of Rossville’s five losses came against teams that reached at least the state semifinals. Quarterback Camden Horak returns after 2,000 yards of total offense, and Barrett Lietz is a standout lineman.

1A: Sterling (4-5)

Many coaches, including Inman’s Lance Sawyer, were high on Sterling this summer. The Black Bears enjoyed a three-win improvement last season and are projected for their first winning season since a 6-2 mark in 2017. Sterling basically brings everyone back, especially standout sophomore running back Zane Farney. He rushed for 1,204 yards and 12 scores as a freshman.


8M-I: Ell-Saline (6-3), Moundridge (5-4)

Ell-Saline ranked in the top-third in Eight-Man, Division I scoring defense in its first season after it again dropped back from 11-man football. Moundridge has new coach Tyler O’Connor, the former defensive coordinator at Canton-Galva. Moundridge was 3-0 on the road a year ago. The Wildcats permitted 33.3 points a contest. O’Connor built Canton-Galva’s defense into the best statistical unit in Division II.

Moundridge has not won more than five games since 2008. Ryder Dent delivered more than 100 tackles for Ell-Saline. Moundridge won 2A state basketball and has a host of dual-sport athletes, headlined by quarterback Henry Hecox. Ell-Saline beat Moundridge, 34-14, in the season opener last year.


8M-II: Hanover (5-5), Kinsley (4-5)

Both Hanover and Kinsley dealt with multiple injuries last season. In Kinsley’s case, a key player also moved just before 2022. Both squads bring basically everyone back for veteran coaches – Matt Heuer at Hanover and Corey Dunlap at Kinsley. Hanover is ranked fifth in the classification. Kinsley is looking for its first season with more than five wins since the early ‘90s.

Rieken Stallbaumer delivered more than 1,500 yards of total offense for Hanover. Kinsley returns quarterback Peyton Schmidt, all-purpose threat Conner Chamberlain, defensive back Cason Lemuz and a host of linemen.


6M: Northern Valley (7-3), Ingalls (7-3)

Northern Valley dealt with a bevy of injuries in 2022, returned the bulk of its key players and added Nolan Kinderknecht from WaKeeney. He moved back to Almena. Northern Valley is ranked third in the preseason and is a legitimate state contender.

Kenton and Gavin Thalheim, Jeremiah Hansen are top skill players, while Jason Cox, if healthy, is expected to break out on the line. The Huskies lost two games by one point to top-six teams. In both games, Northern Valley had key players hurt.

Many coaches were impressed with Ingalls’ growth last season. Layton Simon and Langston Northern (1,638 rushing yards) are key skill players.


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