West looks to continue streak in Division I all-star game
By NICK McQUEEN
After participating in arguably the most dominant state championship run in Kansas eight-man football history, three Ness City Eagles will take their game to next level this fall.
Dalton Gantz, Blake McVicker and Garrett Flax all will compete at the 11-man college level for Garden City Community College.
First things first, though, the trio will put on the pads one last time for their head coach in the eight-man ranks.
The three, along with Hoxie's Brandon Salmans and Steven Yergey-Dible from the area, are competing Saturday in the Eight-Man Division I All-Star game in Beloit.
The team, coached by Ness City third-year head coach Chris Bamberger, gathered Tuesday in Beloit and has gone through practice in preparation for Saturday's 1 p.m. kick at Trojan Stadium in Beloit.
"Things have gone fairly smooth," Bamberger said of this week. "What we've put in, the kids have picked up pretty well, and things are starting to tighten up.
"The weather has been really cooperative," he added. "It's been nice and cool, and the kids are getting along realy well."
The East team is coached by Lebo's Troy McArthur.
Twenty of the best graduated seniors suit up for each team.
Gantz, Flax, McVicker, Salmans and Yergey-Dible compete for the Division I West team, which now has won the last four meetings in the series. The last win for the East came in 2008. Last season, the West earned a blowout victory, 36-0.
"It's been nice for me as a new coach to be able to talk with these veteran coaches, and hear how they attack and break things down," Bamberger said. "See some different angles and things like that."
Little Rivers' Paul Dold and Pretty Prairie's C.T. Young are assistants for Bamberger, the HDN All-Area Coach of the Year in 2012.
While Bamberger said the East squad's roster boasts a lot of size, this year's West team will counter with its versatility, much like his 13-0 Eagles did in the fall.
Gantz and McVicker, HDN All-Area selections, will start on defense. Gantz, a linebacker who won numerous district and state awards and the nod for the Kansas Shrine Bowl roster in July, might also see some snaps out of the backfield -- along with fellow Eagle Flax. Flax, another HDN All-Area selection, will see time at tailback as well as be the team's primary return specialist. Gantz and Flax were each 1,000-yard-plus rushers for the Eagles, while Flax had nearly 700 yards and seven TDs in the return game.
McVicker, the HDN Defensive Player of the Year, had 113 tackles in the fall and 10 tackles for loss (9.5 sacks).
"We're going to be versatile," Bamberger said of his West team. "We're athletic and we'll be able to do some different things offensively."
The West will go with Lincoln's Dayton Walter (1,028 passing, 401 rushing yards) at quarterback with Solomon's Blayne Nielson, Salmans and Montezuma-South Gray's Caleb Watts helping pave the way on the front line. Salmans, also headed to Garden City Community College, was the top lineman for a Hoxie team that finished 7-3 with one loss coming to Bamberger's Eagles.
"They're not big, but they do move well," Bamberger said. "Hoping for good things from that bunch up there."
Minneola's dynamic QB/RB Matt McClaren also figures to be in the mix. McClaren rushed for 2,172 yards and 39 touchdowns, and threw for 280 yards and three scores for a Minneola team that finished 8-2 in a season that ended with a 50-14 loss to Ness City.
"He's an exciting player," Bamberger said of McClaren, who was injured in the Ness City game, and played sparingly. "He has the ability to run the ball and can throw it. When the ball is in his hands, you're excited because you know he's going to make something happen."
Bamberger also has a versatile option in Yergey-Dible, a player Bamberger said could fill several roles Saturday -- namely at fullback, linebacker and on special teams.
The teams have participated in various activities in Beloit this week, along with practice. The event is in its 25th season, and split to Division I and Division II in 2001. The West owns an 8-4 advantage since the split.
"They first day or two, you could already see the kids start to gel and have fun together," Bamberger said. "They've really gotten comfortable, and you can tell they're having a lot of fun together. That's fun to see those bonds be created. That's what these events are about."