All-Area 2012: Super 11 at a glance
6-3, 190, sr., RB/DB/P/KR
Arguably no team has enjoyed a better one-season turnaround than the Norton Bluejays in 2012.
After the Bluejays finished 3-6 in 2011, then-junior Jacob Brooks knew he was probably going to step into a more prominant role in the Bluejays' running game this season.
His work during the offseason to prepare for that is a big reason he enjoyed so much success in 2012, according to his coach, Lucas Melvin.
"He did so many things well," Melvin said of Brooks. "He did a great job running the ball and kept getting better with it.
"His natural position is probably not a running back, but he adjusted to it well, and ran hard," Melvin added.
Brooks, who saw limited action in the run game as a junior, broke through for 1,162 yards and 11 TDs this season from his tailback slot, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He also caught 10 passes for 306 yards and four scores.
He helped Norton to a 7-3 record, Class 3A playoff appearance.
Throughout the season, Brooks stepped up big several times out of the backfield, but probably none bigger than the Bluejays' last two games. Brooks rushed for 199 yards and two scores in a 20-7 district win against Phillipsburg, a win that got Norton into the playoffs. Then, in a 21-19 loss to Salina-Sacred Heart, Brooks rushed for 207 yards and a score.
"He stepped up huge against Phillipsburg, a huge game at a huge time," Melvin said. "Really, the last two games. When we had to have a win, he stepped up. We played well enough to win at Sacred Heart, but didn't get it done."
On top of running the ball, Brooks also Norton's punter, averaged 36.5 yards per punt, and placed eight kicks inside the 20. He booted a 60-yarder in the loss to Sacred Heart. He also was a key to the return game.
"Defensively, he was a guy we could move to different places to help us out," Melvin said. "He was a threat on returns too. A lot of people kicked away from him."
He still managed 21.4 yards per kick return and 13 yards per punt return.
Brooks said earlier in the season his goal was to play college football, and it will probably become a reality. Melvin said Brooks has had offers and looks from several levels, but has yet to make a decision.
5-9, 195, Sr., RB/LB
Hays High Indians
Hays High School senior running back David Cardinal has been the Indians' go-to weapon for the past two seasons.
His numbers dipped from 1,464 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2011 to 1,055 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012, but some of that could be attributed to a more balanced offense and four new offensive linemen.
Nevertheless, Cardinal, a two-time Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, still was instrumental in Hays High's 7-3 season and back-to-back playoff berth, where the Indians fell to the eventual state champion for the second year in a row.
"I had a great career at Hays High," Cardinal said. "It's something I'll never forget. All my teammates, we came together. This year didn't end as well as we thought it would, but it was still great. I love all my teammates."
Cardinal, who was used heavily on offense, also was a skilled defensive player.
In fact, he started as a sophomore at cornerback, but in 2012, Hays High often only used him in special situations when the Indians needed to make a play to conserve him for offense.
As a result, he was named all-WAC first team as an "athlete."
However, it was his talent and hard-nosed running that earned him a spot on back-to-back Super 11 teams -- the lone member to repeat.
"There were some games where he would get it 25 to 30 times," said Hays High head coach Ryan Cornelsen. "... He just wanted to do something with it no matter how many times he got the ball."
Cardinal credited his offensive line for all of his success.
"It all goes back to the line," Cardinal said. "My line, they did a great job of blocking for me and opening up holes."
5-9, 177, Sr., RB/LB
Ness City Eagles
Coming off a season-ending foot injury, Ness City senior tailback/linebacker Garrett Flax spent much of his offseason rehabbing and making sure he felt confident making football plays on it.
"Coming off his injury, he was kind of slow at the beginning, but he pushed it in the weight room and pushed it in practice," said Ness City senior quarterback/cornerback Koltyn Ratliff. "He knew he needed to get back to where he was. He also was one of our main enforcers in practice and kept everybody going."
Flax battled back from the injury and showed he was still a tremendous player, rushing for 1,152 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also was fourth on his team in tackles with 83.
"It just took snaps, getting on the field, carrying the ball, taking hits, taking shots and gaining that trust and the belief in his ability to do that in a game situation," said Ness City head coach Chris Bamberger.
However, it was Flax's diverse skill attributes that merited his Super 11 selection. He wasn't only a tremendous offensive and defensive player for the Eagles. He also was one of the area's top returners.
Flax had 20 punt returns for 535 yards, averaging 26.8 yards per return, and five kick returns for 151 yards -- a 30.2 yards-per-return average.
"He was obviously exceptionally shifty," Bamberger said. "He had good speed, and he knew how to read his blocks. When those kids set up a nice block for him, he was able to capitalize on it every time."
Bamberger said Flax loved football and wasn't afraid to show it, always getting fired up and firing up his teammates.
"He would get excited, jump around and get crazy," Bamberger said. "... The kids could kind of feed off that emotion from him."
6-0, 200, Sr., FB/LB
Ness City Eagles
Ness City senior fullback/linebacker Dalton Gantz was one of several Eagles playmakers in 2012.
Alongside senior tailback Garrett Flax (1,152 yards), Gantz led Ness City in rushing with 1,155 yards and 23 touchdowns, both team highs. He also caught 16 passes for 289 yards, a team high, and two touchdowns.
On defense, he was solid, posting 90 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.
"He brings obviously a lot of athleticism and a lot of strength but also a lot of knowledge for the game," said Ness City head coach Chris Bamberger. "He's a real smart football player."
Gantz was a prolific part of the Eagles' offense and defense, but his most significant attribute was his clutch play.
In Ness City's most difficult match ups, that's when Gantz played his best.
Gantz ran for 177 yards and five touchdowns against Hoxie in Week 6 and posted a total of 202 yards and three touchdowns against Mankato-Rock Hills in the Eight-Man Division I state championship game.
Those were his best performances of the season, and they came in their closest games (Ness City won each by 32 points).
"When things got tough, he was always somebody you could rely on," Bamberger said.
Ness City quarterback Koltyn Ratliff said Gantz was more than just a playmaker, though.
He was a leader.
"He pumps up the team when we need it," Ratliff said. "During practice, he fires everybody up."
6-3, 205, Sr., FB/LB
La Crosse Leopards
La Crosse has been one of Kansas' top programs since the mid-90s, including double-digit win seasons in six of the last seven seasons. The Leopards have had multiple standouts, including lineman Mike Powell and quarterbacks/running backs Marshall Musil, Joey and Jeremy Garcia, Marcus Moeder and Tayler Stull.
However, longtime observers of Leopard football and fourth-year coach Jon Webster -- a La Crosse High School graduate -- put senior fullback/linebacker Kip Keeley in the mix among the best Leopards.
"He is probably as good as a lot of kids that we have had come through our program," Webster said.
Keeley, who first started midway through his freshman year, held multiple roles for a La Crosse squad that went 11-1 and lost to Meade in the Class 2-1A sub-state championship game. He finished with 124 carries for 1,047 yards and 16 scores and caught 28 passes for 516 yards and five TDs.
"He had great hands," Webster said. "He was so big that he was a matchup problem when we flexed him out. We did it on purpose. We put him on a single-receiver side."
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Keeley led the Leopards in total offense, total offensive scores, receptions, receiving yards, reception TDs and by a large margin in tackles (96).
No other Leopard was within 24 tackles of Keeley, an intelligent player who was given more freedom defensively than any player in Webster's tenure. Keeley also started at punter and averaged 32.4 yards a kick.
"The second half of the season, we started letting Kip call some blitzes," Webster said. "Probably half of them were for him, probably half of them were for Levi (Morss) or Marshall (Jay). ... We would give him the front that we wanted, and then he would take over the stunts and the blitzes."
6-1, 205, sr., FB/DB
Thunder Ridge Longhorns
At one point during the preseason, Thunder Ridge football coach Jerry Voorhees thought about possibly moving Trevor Lowe from fullback to tailback.
It was a short notion.
After all, "no one could step in and do the fullback job the way he could," Voorhees said.
Keeping Lowe at the fullback position, mixed with a mid-season improvement of sophomore tailback Trent Rietzke proved a winning combination as Lowe fueled the Longhorns back to a the Eight-Man Division II state championship game.
"At the beginning of the season, I really didn't know how we were going to be," said Lowe, who was one of only two returning players who had seen time on the offense as a junior. "We lost six guys from (the title team) that were really good.
"It was exciting to get back to the state championship game," he added.
Lowe, whose success really started late in the season of a 2011 state championhip with teams keying in on former Longhorn Joel Struckhoff, made the most of his opportunity as the focal point of this year's team. He rushed for 1,597 yards with 25 touchdowns, helping Thunder Ridge back to the title game after it suffered a season-opening 62-16 blowout at the hands of Rock Hills.
"We knew they were going to be good, but after that (loss) really didn't know how our season was going to be."
Still, Lowe and the Longhorns reeled off 12 straight wins by an average margin of 40 points. Thunder Ridge eventually fell to state power Baileyville-B&B 28-6 in the title game.
Much of Thunder Ridge's success hinged on Lowe's performance and leadership.
"He really helped (junior quarterback Garrett Krueger) get the timing down and they really worked well together," Voorhees said. "He blocked well for us and was really good in our passing game, plus he ran the ball so darn hard."
Lowe said he wasn't sure if college football was an option at this point, but is not ruling it out.
6-0, 170, Sr., QB/LB
Weskan enjoyed the biggest turnaround of any area team this season when it went from seven wins combined in the last four years to an 8-2 record this fall. The key reason for the change was senior quarterback/defensive end Sam McKinney, who delivered some of Kansas' best passing numbers.
The Coyotes' leader, McKinney completed 69 of 138 passes for 1,402 yards with a 30/2 TD/INT ratio. Junior end Hayden Walker was McKinney's favorite target and hauled in 37 passes for 937 yards and 20 scores. Similar to Kansas State University's Collin Klein, McKinney was a bigger quarterback who ran a zone-read option effectively.
"He is tough, and he is willing to run like a fullback when he needs to and step back and throw when he needs to," Weskan coach Marc Cowles said.
Weskan reached the playoffs for the first time since it advanced to the second round in 2005. McKinney also rushed 99 times for 334 yards and nine scores and collected 47 tackles with four sacks. He collected first team Eight-Man Division II, District 6 honors at quarterback and honorable mention at defensive end.
5-10, 177, Sr., G/DE
Ness City Eagles
Ness City had the most dominant defense this season in eight-man football.
The Eagles allowed just 70 points in 13 games en route to their first state championship, and Ness City senior defense end Blake McVicker was their best player in 2012.
McVicker tallied a team-high 111 tackles, despite playing in one of the most difficult positions to amass tackles -- the defensive line.
"He created a lot of mismatches with guys, because he could match them athletically, but he was strong enough and, technique-wise, he was on point, so it was tough to block him in most situations," said Ness City head coach Chris Bamberger.
He also led the team with 8.5 sacks and nine quarterback hurries. His speed, strength and skill made him a constant threat to opposing offenses.
"I got serious last year in the weight room during basketball season, and with (defensive line coach Dave) Kempke pushing me constantly in the off-season. Everything just seemed to click this year," McVicker said.
Senior cornerback Koltyn Ratliff said McVicker's play was a significant reason why Ness City finished with 21 interception (In fact, McVicker had two of his own despite playing defensive end).
However, McVicker was more than just a defensive stud. He also played left guard and helped power a running game that amassed 3,437 yards and 62 touchdowns.
McVicker's favorite moments on offense didn't come when he was blocking, though. Ness City would run a guard-pass play where he would actually go out for a pass.
As a result, he has the highest yards-per-catch of anyone on the team since he had two receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
"It gets boring blocking, but when that guard-pass thing came in, that's when it got exciting," McVicker said.
5-11, 195, Sr., RB/LB
La Crosse Leopards
Levi Morss started his career in the eight-man ranks at Rozel-Pawnee Heights. He never played 11-man football in a varsity contest until 2011. As a junior, he rushed 172 times for 1,302 yards and 17 scores. This season, Morss, long known for his speed, became a more powerful runner.
This fall, he finished with 169 carries for 1,641 yards and 18 scores. That included 19 carries for 356 yards and four scores in a 42-22 Week 4 victory against Plainville, a performance that garnered some national attention.
"His first couple games for us as a junior, he tried to run around people, because he could get away with doing that on the eight-man field, I think," fourth-year La Crosse coach Jon Webster said. "He could just get to the edge and go. Towards the end of the year last year and then this year, he really understood that you have to hit the hole and sometimes you have got to make your own hole. I think that really came through when we played Plainville."
Morss suffered an ankle injury late in the regular season and nearly all of Week 8 and all of Week 9. However, in three playoff contests, Morss rushed for 154, 122 and 110 yards and collected five total scores. Defensively, Morss recorded 43 tackles and two interceptions.
6-0, 235, Sr., C/DL
Hays High Indians
Senior Cade Sharp has been a force to be reckoned with as a three-year starter on both the offensive and defensive lines at Hays High.
Playing center and nose guard, Sharp, 6-feet tall and 230 pounds, served as an anchor for lines that graduated all of its starters from 2011.
"I tell everybody in my opinion he is a Division I football player in a Division II body," said Hays High head coach Ryan Cornelsen. "... He plays at that level."
But as a result, Sharp often faced double teams while on defense. Nevertheless, Sharp still managed to post 68 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and six sacks.
His tackles for loss were by far the most on his team.
"From last year to this year, I just got a lot faster," Sharp said. "If you think about it, on the defensive line, you are that much closer to the ball, so the faster you react, the faster that you can make the play."
Sharp's role was much more than just a playmaker and leader in 2012. As the only returning starter on the offensive and defensive lines, he had to mentor the new starters.
"I definitely had to step up and teach the younger kids how the offensive line works at Hays High, but they caught up fast," Sharp said. "At the end of the year, I didn't have to tell them what to do."
Something must have stuck, because even with four new starters, Hays High still led the Western Athletic Conference in rushing and scoring.
Cornelsen said Sharp is a smart player, and having him on the field is like having a coach on the field.
"He truly understands what we are trying to do," Cornelsen said.
5-11, 170, Sr., RB/DB
Otis-Bison coach Travis Starr had a long list of places where senior Dylan Wissman contributed for the 9-2 Cougars. Wissman rushed 246 times for 1,871 yards and 40 scores and caught 14 passes for 216 yards and two TDs. He started at outside linebacker and collected 76 tackles, five passes defended, two fumble recoveries, including one returned for a TD, and an interception.
He played on every special teams unit and was the starting punter, averaging 25 yards a punt on 24 kicks. Wissman also had 14 punt returns for 197 yards.
"He had some crazy durability," Starr said.
In addition, Wissman, who played significantly since he was a freshman and started since his sophomore year, helped the Cougars' younger players develop. It is believed Wissman was involved in more victories than any player in Otis-Bison history. The Cougars went 40-6 in the last four years after they were 12-24 in Starr's first four seasons.
"He had become a coach out there on the field for a lot of those guys," Starr said.
Wissman cleared at least 1,000 total yards for three straight seasons. He never had blazing speed, but had innate vision and plenty of experience at running back, a position he played since he was in youth football.
"Obviously, he had some ability, but not as much ability as I think others have had," Starr said. "The intelligence part is I think maybe what separates him that made him such a great football player."