Area high schools started practicing with the pigskin on Monday, and the first games of the season are only two weeks away.
How is your favorite team going to stack up this year?
Here’s a look at the Golden Belt’s three largest schools.
GREAT BEND — The Panthers started out great last year with a 5-1 record, but fell on hard times in Class 5A district play, losing three straight. Great Bend head coach Bo Black has fashioned an excellent 78-42 record as he begins his 13th year. Some might have forgotten over the years ,but when Coach Black took over, Great Bend’s football program had been in miserable shape. That said, Black’s Panthers have made only one playoff appearance in the last four seasons. Part of the reason would be the resurgence of rival Hays High under Ryan Cornelsen. Hays is 3-1 under Cornelsen vs. the Panthers.
27 seniors are gone but there are 10 returning lettermen from 2012’s 5-4 squad, and they will be bolstered by a fine junior varsity team that fashioned a 7-1 record. Last year a struggling offense kept a great defense on the field too much. The young players will have to step up and mature early if the Panthers are to improve on last years’ record.
Obviously a “Key Game” is Oct. 18 at Hays but perhaps just as important is the Sept. 13 game at home with an always tough Ulysses Tigers team. That game could be a “make or break” game in the confidence department for this young ball club. A solid outing in that game will go a long way in determining the season for Great Bend.
LARNED — The good news is Larned doesn’t have a long losing streak anymore.
The bad news is the Indians still haven’t had a winning season since coach Todd Wilson’s last year way back in 1998!
Keyed by three straight wins to open the 2012 season under new Indians head coach A.B. Stokes, the Tribe sputtered down the stretch and finished 3-6. This is the final year of the Mid Central Activities Association and, surprise, surprise, the Indians just might have the guns to win the league championship! Most of the “skill position” players return as there are six returning starters on offense and six on the defensive side of the ball. Just under 60 players reported this week which is a HUGE turnaround for the Larned program.
Coach Stokes appears to be turning the corner with the Indian program and has his sights set on a winning season. This team will go as far as the offensive and defensive lines take them. The Indians will score a lot of points!
The “Key Game” for Larned will be Oct. 4 at Cimarron. Though it is a non-league tussle it is a “hump” that the Tribe must get over. They’ve lost two straight cliffhangers to the Blue Jays and a win would signal a turnaround season for the Indians.
HOISINGTON — A gritty Cardinals team fashioned a 5-5 record in 2012 , and may be hard pressed to duplicate that effort under 3rd year coach Jason Ingram. Only four returning starters on offense and four on defense will be tackling a tough schedule with Great Bend, 2A powerhouse La Crosse, 3A bully Phillipsburg and defending 3A State Champ Scott City on the schedule.
Toss in always-tough Thomas More Prep and a resurgent Larned and you’ve got the makings of a brutal run .
Coach Ingram says “The key is how our freshmen and sophmores step up.” That tells us that the Cards are going to be playing a lot of young players. If they mature early it could make for an interesting season.
The “Key Game” for the Cardinals is Oct. 11 when they host an improved Larned. A win in that one would go a long way towards a decent year for Hoisington.
Charles Tabler is a contributing writer from Larned.