Coach: Dusty Trail, first season
League: City League
Last season: 7-3
Returning starters: 14
Schedule: Aug. 31, at Northwest; Sept. 8, at Salina South; Sept. 15, West; Sept. 21, at East (at South); Sept. 29, at Derby; Oct. 6, South; Oct. 13, at Heights; Oct. 20, Kapaun.
Projected record: 6-2
Top returning players
Three keys to the season
1. Howell, who made his first varsity start late in his sophomore season, returns after undergoing offseason surgery on a broken left foot. He sustained the injury in a Week 5 loss to Derby, but continued to play. He and his top target, Cundiff, are among seven returning offensive starters.
2. The Eagles gave up 40 or more points three times last season, but have a defensive leader in Robben and an experienced secondary. Evans has started the last two seasons, senior Jacob Buchanan played safety and senior Ben Berenson offers position flexibility.
3. Carroll has been challenged by injuries to key players in recent seasons, but has often featured the depth to overcome them. Trail said depth development has been and will continue to be important as he takes over for Alan Schuckman.
Five questions with coach Dusty Trail
1. In your first summer at the helm, what has the focus been for you?
“Expectations around here are going to be the same no matter who the coach is. We’ve got a lot of young talent that is returning this year and that’s obviously created a lot of excitement around here as well. We’re really looking forward to this season. Most of the coaches around here have been here for a long time and not much has changed as far as how the program is run. I think there’s a lot of excitement right now. Some of the coachse have taken on new roles and that’s injected some excitement and renewed some passion and excited the players as well. We understand the legacy that has been entrusted to us and we’re going to put the work in to try to keep it going and make it even better.”
2. How is the offense looking?
“We’ve got a lot returning on the offensive side. We’ve got a few holes to fill, but we got Clay Cundiff coming back and then Thomas Helten, so we’ve got two big targets to throw to. Of course Braden (Howell) is back with just a wealth of knowledge of the offense and having all of those guys is going to be a big plus. Braden is going to put us ahead knowledge-wise compared to where we started out last year. They’ve put a lot of work in the offseason, not only physically but also mentally. The offense is going to be wide open and fast. We’ve got Desmond Smith coming back and is looking good and then Jackson Nichols is back and had some starting experience from last year. There’s a lot of guys to get excited about and we feel really good about our offense.”
3. What can having two big targets like Cundiff and Helten do for an offense?
“Anytime you have big targets with soft hands that can catch the ball in traffic and go up and win those 50-50 balls, that’s obviously going to excite you from a passing standpoint. But we also know that to be successful then we’re going to have to be able to run the football. You never know what the weather is going to be like in the fall in Kansas, so to be consistently successful you have to be able to do a variety of things effectively. We know we’re going to have to be able to run the football. It’s tough to replace a guy like Adam (Theis) that was able to make people miss and run through contact, but that’s what we got to do is try to replicate that this year.”
4. How is the defense looking?
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that got a lot of experience last year. Again, from a knowledge standpoint, we’re ahead of where we were last year. Riggs (Robben) has always been a big guy for us and he’s been working on his mobility and speed and improved a lot. We’re looking for big things from him at the linebacker position. And then we’ve got Isaiah Carter on the defensive line. We’re looking for him to produce for us and be able to put pressure quarterback and use his athleticism and run plays down. And then most of our secondary is returning and that’s a big help from the communications standpoint and making sure everybody is on the same page with our coverage. We’re excited about where our defense is at right now.”
5. What has to happen for this team to make a run in the playoffs?
“We have to come together as a team and be able to fill the holes where we need some helps and of course develop our good, young talent. Even though they might not start, we’re going to need to have solid backups. We’re going to run into injuries and we’re going to have to put guys out there and we want good, quality guys to take that place. For the last several years, we’ve had that next-man-up mentality and that’s the way it’s got to be. We’ve got to get our guys together on the same page and really develop that depth that’s going to allow us to elevate us to the level we want to be at.”