The senior class from Sedgwick County has a chance to join an elite group of Colorado high school athletes, as they aim to complete their careers with four consecutive state titles in 8-man. The Cougars are the unanimous preseason #1 team in the CHSAANow polls, garnering all 11 first place votes.
Chris Michel has seen this group of seniors lose only one game in their careers, as the Cougars have gone 38-1 while winning the past three state championships. That lone loss came to an out of state opponent. He’ll have to replace several key pieces from that run, including at quarterback and receiver. Ethan Walter, who served as the back-up QB last season, will assume the lead role at that spot, while Terrence Heath and Dalton Carlson are the most likely options to replace Cade McKinley at wideout. McKinley led the team with 45 catches for over 900 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. The rest of the squad had a total of 38 catches.
There will be plenty of experience returning in the offensive backfield, with reigning player of the year, Layne Green, back for his senior year, along with Beau Parker, who also started last season as a sophomore. The duo combined for close to 2500 on the ground, with 37 touchdowns. Defense should be a strength, as usual, with four of the top five tacklers (Carlson, Parker, Green, Walter) returning.
West Grand starts 2018 in the same spot it finished 2017, #2 right behind Sedgwick County. The Mustangs will look to take things one step further than last season, as they try to earn their first state title in 8-man and their third overall. The 42 points scored by Sedgwick County in the championship game last season were more than a third of the total points allowed by the Mustangs for the entire campaign.
Back for their final season will be the duo of Hugh Wheatley and Luis Dominguez, who combined for more than 2000 rushing yards last year. Dominguez could see a shift to quarterback, as last year’s starter, Brady Gore, graduated. Gore posted more than 1000 yards passing, averaging better than 26 yards per completion. Both of the top outside receiving threats are also gone, so new weapons will need to be found there.
The Mustangs had three players record more than 100 tackles last year. Only Jordan Knight (102) returns from that group. Dominguez was high on the charts with 74 tackles, while also leading the team with six interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The pass rush should still be solid for coach Chris Brown, with Marcos Ramirez (seven sacks) and second team all-stater Austin Stauffer (five sacks) back as seniors.
Caliche (#3) finished the regular season fourth in the Plains Division and entered the postseason with a losing record. The Buffs knocked off Hoehne in the opening round before falling to Holly in the quarterfinals. Paul Zink will have a familiar face returning to the backfield, as his son Adam, a first team all-state performer is back for his senior year. As a junior, the younger Zink rushed for 2442 yards and 26 touchdowns and also threw for 368 yards. His rushing total was almost 1900 yards more than the #2 man on the team, Josh Kokes, who also returns.
Zink also shouldered a lot of the load on defense, leading the way with 142 tackles. Dylan Huss finished second on the unit with 94 stops as a sophomore. Traevonn Walton topped the Buffs with six sacks and seven fumble recoveries, while Tyler Torres had a team-high three interceptions. Both will be seniors this season.
After getting bumped in the opening round of the postseason, Hoehne opens the year ranked fourth in the polls, and the Farmers will be participating in a new conference. With realignment, several members of the former Southern division have joined forces with the remaining teams in the Southeast to form the Arkansas Valley division. It rivals the Plains for depth, as five of the seven members reached the playoffs last year. Three open the season ranked in the top-10 and a fourth garnered votes.
The Farmers edged Fowler for the Southern division crown with a 34-26 OT win last season, but they lost a number of key players from that squad, including dual threat QB Jacob Yates. Yates nearly rushed for 1000 yards while also passing for more than 700. No one else attempted a pass last season and only Gavin Barker (1-2) has thrown a pass at the varsity level. However, the Farmers are traditionally a run-heavy team, and they do return last year’s leader in that area, Trystan Moltrer, who finished with 1174 yards and 13 scores. Kyle Rowe, fourth on the team with 542 yards and six touchdowns is also back.
The top two tacklers are gone from last season, but second team all-stater Dalton Hudson (85 tackles) finished third despite missing a game. Moltrer, Rowe, and Shane Montoya (second team all-state) all finished with 50 or more tackles, with Moltrer snagging a team leading six interceptions and Rowe leading with four sacks and three fumble recoveries. One more to keep an eye on is Frederico Orozco, who showed a knack for finding the ball carrier, recording 35 tackles in just four games.
Holly lost an overtime contest at Springfield last year and it cost the Wildcats the Southeast division title. They would go on to reach the semifinals before being eliminated by Sedgwick County. Dayne Eaton’s squad brings back many of the top performers from last year, including first team all-stater Gus Dominguez and second teamer Erick Chapparo. The Wildcats will have a big hole to fill with the graduation of Robert Gutierrez, who led the team in rushing and tackles, while also finishing third in receiving. They are now part of the Ark Valley division.
Dominguez was the team’s leading receiver with 38 balls for 766 yards and nine touchdowns, while Chapparo was second on the team in rushing with 500 yards, despite missing time to an injury. Senior quarterback Kobe Davis threw for over 1700 yards with 20 touchdowns last year and enters this season with more than 3000 career yards and 36 TDs. Andy Ramos, Jarett Rushton, and William Kennedy have all been favored targets and all return this year.
Alex Ramos, Brendyn Nordyke, and Chapparo all finished the season with 80+ tackles, with Ramos recording a team-best 13 sacks. Andy Ramos and Kennedy finished with 50 or more tackles, giving the Wildcats five of their top six in that category back this year. Dominguez posted a team-leading four interceptions and 17 passes defended.
Merino is the third of five Plains division teams to crack the top-10 in the initial poll, as the Rams come in at #6. The Rams were second in the division last season and were ousted in the opening round of the playoffs by Soroco.
Cade Conger returns after throwing for 1378 yards and running for another 417. Matt Frank was second in rush yards with 765, but the leader in that state, Remington Canfield (1098) is gone. Frank led the Rams in receiving with 31 catches, 587 yards, and five touchdowns. Conger will also have his third and fourth top receivers, Trent Elliot and Tye Barton, who combined for 27 catches.
Graduation took the leading tackler from the Rams, but the next five all return. Elliot tallied 113 tackles as a freshman and Barton was right on his heels with 112. Max Quint also broke triple digits, registering 109 stops. Frank (80), Joe Schwartz (69), Brandon Buckler (59), and Conger (51) provide plenty of experience to the unit.
The third member of the Ark Valley to make the preseason poll is Fowler (#7). The Grizzlies came up just short in their quest for a Southern division title last year, but rebounded to reach the quarterfinals. Their run was stopped by Sedgwick County.
Mark Van Sickle returns a very experienced squad, led by second team all-stater Quinton Flanscha, who finished with more than 1400 yards from scrimmage. Of that total 1182 came on the ground. Luke Bitter threw for 876 yards last year and also finished third in the running game. His top target, Zane Denton, returns as well.
Back to spearhead the defense will be senior Dylan Palomino, who registered 131 tackles and three fumble recoveries last season. Flanscha finished third with 75 tackles, and Denton, fifth with 62. Those two each had three interceptions to lead the team.
Sargent is expected to be the class of the Mountain division, as the Farmers begin the season ranked eighth. The Farmers rolled to a 6-0 mark in the old Southwest division and took a six-game winning streak into the playoffs. After a first round win over Gilpin County, Sargent was knocked out in the quarters by West Grand.
A new era will be ushered in as four-year starting quarterback Ryan Davis has departed, taking with him more than 7400 career yards of offense. Davis recorded more than 1000 yards passing and rushing each of the last two seasons. Also gone from the offense is Trevor Milne, who ran for nearly 900 yards a season ago. Frank Torrez and Cosme Cordova are the top guys back on the offensive side of things, as they combined for almost 800 yards on the ground.
The defense will also have a new look, with the top seven tacklers from last season gone. That leaves Torrez as the most experienced member on the unit. Torrez also made an impression on special teams, returning a kick for a touchdown. Cordova also accomplished that feat.
The last two spots in the poll are held by Plains division squads. After missing the playoffs with a losing record, Dayspring Christian begins 2018 ranked ninth, while Haxtun, who made the field, is 10th.
Mick Holmes returns for his third stint as head coach at Dayspring Christian and he inherits a team that went 1-4 in the division and 4-5 overall. It was the first losing season for the program since 2005. He’ll have some nice pieces to work with, starting with sophomore QB Christian Still, who threw for 1092 yards and 16 TDs last season. Two of the top three runners and most of the top receivers are gone, but Bryce Sugden and Markus Still have some experience.
The Eagles lost seven of their top nine defenders from last year, with only Sugden (52 tackles) and Austin McLean (30) returning. New specialists will be needed, as both the kicker and punter from last year are also gone.
Despite dropping three of their final four regular season games, Haxtun reached the playoffs as the third place finisher in the Plains. The Bulldogs were eliminated in the opening round by Holly, as they turned the ball over five times.
The Bulldogs return most of their key weapons on offense, including second team all-state performer Joey Gerk. As a junior, Gerk amassed 1318 all-purpose yards, leading the team with 36 receptions. Drew Coffin (932 passing, 632 rushing) and Braden Anderson (614 passing) shared duties throwing the ball and both are back as seniors.
Wyatt Buccelli showed versatility, finishing third with 368 rushing yards while leading the defense with 136 tackles, 54 more than the next man on the list, Anderson. The Bulldogs also received major contributions on defense by Gerk, Coffin, Marshall Davis, and Alex Bornhoft.
Leading the group of teams that collected votes, but not enough to crack the top-10 is Soroco. The Rams are expected to duel with West Grand in the Northwest division. They fell to the Mustangs 54-0 in the regular season and then again 38-28 in the semifinals. Once again, they’re likely to ride the legs of first team all-state performer Jace Logan, who ran for 3230 yards last year and has accumulated 5088 yards over the last two seasons.
Springfield won the Southeast title last year, behind a solid season from Beau Dukes, who earned second team all-state honors. He’s back as the Longhorns look to not only compete in the Ark Valley, but also improve on last year’s opening round exit from the playoffs.
Norwood will try to improve on a third place finish in what was the Southwest division a season ago. The Mavericks pushed West Grand in the opening round of the postseason, eventually falling 24-14. Akron returns most of its key pieces after enduring a disappointing campaign that saw the Rams finish last in the Plains in 2017. Byers is new to 8-man, having dropped from 1A this season. The Bulldogs have some good athletes, but they find themselves in the rugged Plains conference. Rangely was competitive in most of its games last year, but still finished 2-7. The Panthers were very young last year and they return everyone this season.