This past offseason generated significant buzz around the Hays High football program.
Senior defensive end Gaven Haselhorst committed to Kansas State this past summer, and junior linebacker Gavin Meyers and junior receiver Jaren Kanak are continuing to receive FBS Division I interest, with both players holding multiple D-I offers. Other Hays High players appear primed for breakout years in 2020.
Now, the Indians are looking to prove the hype around the program.
"I think that’s something we’re trying to rally around," Hays High coach Tony Crough said. "We’re a four-win team (in 2019). There’s a lot of people looking at us thinking we have some nice parts, and we’re looking at it, too, like we have some nice parts. But can we put it all together? It remains to be seen.
"So that’s kind of what we’re thinking, ’Let’s go out and prove it,’ and see if we’re as good as people keep saying we might be."
The Indians will get their first chance to prove it on Thursday, facing Goddard-Eisenhower at Goddard District Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
It will be a rematch of last year’s Class 5A first-round playoff game, in which the Indians won 31-6 for the program’s first playoff win since 1995.
"We keep saying the same thing, it’s time to make a big step," said Crough, who is entering his third season as HHS coach. "... Lot of these kids have been on the field a bunch. We’re asking a lot of sophomores to help us again, but a lot of these kids have good experience, and it’s time for them to put up or shut up."
Dylan Dreiling is back at quarterback for the Indians after throwing for 987 yards and nine touchdowns and rushing for 568 yards and three TDs last year. Dreiling has committed to play baseball at the University of Tennessee.
"We were hard as heck on Dylan last year; you’ve got a Division I, probably a professional athlete some day," Crough said. "But you would’ve taken that season as a sophomore quarterback, 5A, 6A, almost anywhere in the state. We’re expecting him to be a junior (this year). He looked like a first-year sophomore quarterback last year."
Junior running back Roy Moroni is a candidate for a breakout season for the Indians’ offense after showing flashes last year.
"Roy, you saw brilliance against Garden City and some plays here and there," Crough said. "Sophomores, typically, they’ll give you a couple good plays and they’ll give you a bunch of bad plays. He’s got to stack up a bunch of good plays this year, and I think he’s going to."
Crough feels great about his receiving corps, headlined by Kanak, a 6-2, 195-pound speedster who has offers from Kansas and Kansas State. Crough’s also expecting Carson Kieffer and Jordan Dale to be key weapons.
"I would put our receiving corps against a bunch of the state," Crough said. "We’ve got some weapons."
Other players in the mix at receiver are Miles Keller, Dalyn Schwarz and Kyler Beckman. Bryce Salmans is expected to see time at tight end and H-back.
The Indians will have some inexperience on the offensive line. Senior Remington Cox and juniors Karson Russell and Gavin Nutting are projected starters while Ashton Thomas, Quinton McGuire, Grayson Walburn and Keegan McCoy are expected to be in the mix.
"We’ve got three guys coming back that have played on (the O-line), but Nutting only played about half the time on it last year," Crough said. "We’re going to be counting on some young guys and some seniors and a junior that flipped over from defense. It’s going to be a growth process. We’re expecting them to get better every day. We think it’s a bunch of tough kids. We can go to battle with them."
At the defensive end spots, Haselhorst (6-1, 230 pounds) had 114 tackles and three sacks last while Trey Adams (6-6, 250) had 80 tackles and four sacks last year as a junior.
"Haselhorst, he’s a creature, and Trey Adams is so dang good, so long and disruptive," Crough said.
Nutting and Carson Spray are projected to start at the defensive tackle spots.
Gavin Meyers will help anchor the defense at linebacker. He led the Indians in tackles last year with 121 and has offers from Kansas State, Nebraska and Colorado.
"We’ve seen what Gavin can do; he’s great," Crough said. "And I’m really excited for Dalton Dale (at linebacker). I think he’s going to have a breakout season."
Logan Casper is also expected to see time at linebacker.
Senior safety Tucker Veach is coming off a breakout year as a junior and was one of the Indians’ most valuable players last year, Crough said. He had 94 tackles and six interceptions.
"He works and that kid plays so intense," Crough said. "He’s so smart. Last year on the defense we had a lot of great players, but Tucker .... he held it all together. He is a really, really good football player."
Other players in the secondary include Wyatt Crain, Bill Scott, Remy Stull, Hunter Harris and Brett Orth.
Crough is hoping his team’s experience pays dividends, but noted the Indians will also be young in a few spots.
"We’ve got all those experienced kids out there, but we still look around and go, ’That sophomore’s going to play, and that sophomore’s going to play, that sophomore’s going to help us,’" Crough said.
"We’re going to be a lot more experienced than we have been. There’s still some really young ones coming in, but I think we’ll able to plug those holes better with all the other experience around them, bringing them along."
Fan seating for Thursday’s game will be limited to 25% capacity at Goddard District Stadium.