Coach: Terry Harrison, fifth season, 31-13
League: City League
Last season: 9-2, lost in 5A quarterfinals
Returning starters: 13
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Schedule: Sept. 1, at Olathe North; Sept. 8, at Northwest; Sept. 15, Dodge City; Sept. 21, Southeast; Sept. 29, North; Oct. 6, at Kapaun; Oct. 13, Carroll; Oct. 19, at South.
Projected record: 8-0
Top returning players
Three keys to the season
1. The front seven on defense has a chance to be dominant with Williams and McCartney as expert pass rushers on the line and Johnson, Caleb Washington and Aevodric Gilkey returning at linebacker. “We’re really excited about what we can do with those guys,” Harrison said. “We have a lot of athleticism on our line, and we’re definitely going to lean on those guys.”
2. The flexbone offense will once again feature a variety of explosive athletes in the option attack. Baker is an electric quarterback with the ball in his hands, while Scott will likely be used more heavily at fullback, and Braxton Kirkendoll adds more speed.
3. Heights returns 15 players with starting experience from a nine-win team that reached the 5A quarterfinals and won a share of the City League title. Now the Falcons want to make a deeper run in the playoffs. “We’re approaching this season like a clean slate, and we’re going to have to prove ourselves all over again,” Harrison said. “We have a lot of returning experience, and we had one of the best summers we’ve ever had, but no one cares about what we did last year.”
Five questions with coach Terry Harrison
1. With so much returning from last year’s successful team, how high are expectations for you guys this year?
“It’s obviously an exciting time, but at the same time we’ve been telling our kids to live by the motto that you can’t win last this year’s games from last year’s touchdowns. We’re approaching it like a new season with new goals and new leadership has to emerge. It’s always awesome to return so much experience and we’ve had one of the best summers we’ve ever had, but no one cares about last year. It’s a new season and they’re going to be challenged along the way. It’s going to come down to how we respond.”
2. How is the offense looking?
“Obviously when you have a player the caliber of K’Vonte (Baker) back, that’s always exciting. He’s going to make things happen. But we have some good kids around him. I think Dejuan (Scott) is going to have a really good season for us. We’re going to do a better job of featuring him maybe a little bit more than we have. He had a great wrestling year and he’s just a freakazoid in the weight room. We’re excited to see what this season looks like for him. And then we’ve got kids like Armaad Hubbard and Braxton Kirkendoll, who is going to change our offense with his ability to catch the ball and run routes like he can run them. That’s going to allow us to be able to put the ball in the air and bring another dimension to our attack.”
3. What makes the flexbone so dangerous for Heights?
“Football is not a complicated game. The offense has 11 pieces and the defense has 11 pieces and what everybody is trying to do is isolate their best players on a defender and put them on 1-on-1 situations. That’s what we do with K’Vonte and Dejuan and Braxton. We want to put those guys in 1-on-1 situations with the defense and we believe we’re going to win those more often than not. We’re trying to do what everybody else does, just in our own way. Plus you have a kid like K’Vonte and he’s going to create big plays from nothing. His improv stuff is just unbelievable.”
4. How good can this defense be?
“We’re definitely excited about what we have coming back and they’re not fun to practice against. Dalen Williams has a lot of buzz coming back on the defensive line and then you have Ja’Veon Johnson, who if he has a season like he did last year he could wind up the leading tackler in Heights history. We’re excited about that possibility. Austin McCartney on the d-line is going to be touhg. Caleb Washington has started for us since he was a sophomore. Hagen Henderson is a transfer from Circle and he’s going to be a big piece of our line. He’s a really strong, athletic kid. We’ve definitely got some athleticism up front and we’re going to lean on them. And then we have a returning corner in Keshawn Howell, who is really, really good and has the ability to take over the game. Then we’ve got Rashawn Mayes, Jamir Johnson, and Deante Edwards all back. Our secondary is going to be a lot better. We want our front-7 to force the other team to put the ball in the air.”
5. What has to happen for Heights to make a title run this season?
“We feel really good about the kids we have and how hard they’ve been working this entire summer. But it’s going to come down to whow they respond in the middle of the game. You can return as much talent as you want, but it’s going to come down to how they deal with adversity. Things aren’t always going to go according to plan, so how we respond to adversity this season will determine a lot for us.”