Coach: Gary Guzman, seventh season, 27-29
League: AV-CTL I
Last season: 7-3
Returning starters: 10
Schedule: Sept. 1, at Newton; Sept. 8, Eisenhower; Sept. 15, at Derby; Sept. 22, Salina South; Sept. 29, Arkansas City; Oct. 6, Campus; Oct. 13, at Salina Central; Oct. 20, Hutchinson.
Projected record: 5-3
Top returning players
Three keys to the season
1. Dalyn Johnson was an all-Class 5A selection at running back after posting more than 1,700 yards and 30 touchdowns. After accounting for more than half of the team’s offense last season, Johnson is expected to once again be leaned on heavily to lead the Eagles.
2. After winning one game in 2015, Maize saw a resurgence last season with a 7-3 season and a playoff victory. The biggest challenge to sustaining that success will be replacing all five starters on the offensive line and acclimate junior Caleb Grill into his starting role as the team’s quarterback with last season’s quarterback, Payne, shifting to the slot receiver.
3. The team’s defense will be its strength with seven returning starters. The Eagles will have standouts at each level of their defense with Espinoza (six sacks) on the line, Jalen Johnson (11 tackles for losses) at linebacker, and Lumpkins (three interceptions) in the secondary.
Five questions with coach Gary Guzman
1. After finishing winless in 2015, you rebounded with seven wins last season. How do you keep that momentum going?
“You don’t want to come off of a very good season and then go back downhill from there. We’re working very hard to try to match what we did last year or improve on it and that’s our goal. We’ll see because the competition is going to be really good. I think the teams in our league that were down last year are going to be much better in the Salina’s. It’s very unusual for them to have a down year and I guarantee you that’s not going to happen again. We still have Derby and Hutch, and then Campus is going to be good too. It’s going to be hard to repeat what we did last year, but it’s not impossible.”
2. Having a running back like Dalyn Johnson returning, what does that allow you guys to do?
“Day Day brings a lot of experience back and he’s coming off a great year with 30 touchdowns and over 1,500 rushing yards for us. I know he wants to repeat that and we expect him to make things happen for us with the ball in his hands. We have to replace our entire offensive line, so he might not get the blocking he did last year, at least not initially with some of our new guys getting comfortable. But they’re going to work hard and they know we’re relying on them to take care of our quarterback and running back. But Day Day has to step up and make things happen on his own. Sometimes he might not get the blocking, but good running backs can make things happen on their own.”
3. How is the rest of the offense looking?
“We moved Caleb Grill to quarterback and I feel really good with having Caleb back there. Then we moved Brayden Payne to wide receiver and he’s going to give us a weapon we can use and then we still have that possibility of going to Brayden if we need to. But he can catch and we’ll try to get the ball in his hands. We feel good about our other three wideouts too, so we feel good about our skill guys. But it’s going to come down to our line and if they’re able to give us enough time to throw the ball and if they’re able to create those lanes for Day Day.”
4. With over half of the defense returning, how is that side looking?
“We feel very good about how our defense is looking. We definitely feel like we’re going to be better defensively than we were a year ago. We have a lot of returning kids and once you get one or two years of experience behind you, then you’re a better football player. You’re not making the mistakes you made a year ago. So we expect our defense to step up and make some plays for us and create some turnovers and get off the field quicker than they did a year ago.”
5. What is this team’s X-Factor to repeat last year’s run and go even further?
“Our defense is going to have to be solid. They have to play well and get off the field and give our offense some opportunities. I think the offense has to move the football and stay on the field as long as possible and then put some points up on the board. We’re going to have to be good in all three phases of the game. We believe special teams are a very important part of the game and we’re going to spend a lot of time on it. It’s all about winning the field position battle and we’re hoping that our special teams will give us some good field position this season.”