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1. Derby (13-0)
Derby must replace 10 starters from a defense that was dominant in completing a back-to-back Class 6A title sweep last season. But the Panthers have proven capable of reloading, having won three of the last four 6A titles. Derby should once again have a potent offense with Brody Kooser (running back), Michael Littleton (wide receiver), and Evan Clark (tackle) returning.
2. St. Thomas Aquinas (8-4)
Aquinas has reached at least the 5A semifinals in the three seasons since Randy Dreiling has taken over the program. After reaching the semifinals last season with a predominantly underclassmen team, Aquinas returns 18 starters from a team that looks poised to compete for the 5A championship out of the Eastern Kansas League.
3. Bishop Miege (12-1)
Miege has won the last three 4A I championships and it will once again be the preseason favorite to win the title this season. Despite losing a handful of all-class players, Miege returns 10 starters and will feature some of the top players in the state like Carter Putz (quarterback), Joe Watskey (linebacker), Brison Cobbins (running back), and Dylan Downing (linebacker).
4. Shawnee Mission East (10-2)
Few programs have been as consistently good as SM East in recent history in the postseason. The Lancers won the title in 2014, played for the title in 2013, and reached the semifinals last season. SM East must replace the majority of its offensive production, but returns Milton Braasch at running back and might have its strongest defense yet with seven returning starters.
5. Mill Valley (9-4)
Many counted Mill Valley out last season after graduating the majority of its production from its 2015 championship team. The Jaguars caught fire in the postseason and prevailed with a one-point victory in double overtime over Goddard to go back-to-back. Mill Valley once again will have to reload, as it returns just eight starters from last year’s team.
6. Blue Valley (12-1)
Blue Valley has reached the last two 6A championship games, but has lost to Derby both times. The Tigers will be playing in honor of coach Eric Driskell, who died in February from a brain aneurysm. Allen Terrell takes over the program, which will have just five returning starters from last season.
7. Wichita Heights (9-2)
Heights reached the quarterfinals last season with mostly underclassmen. The Falcons return 13 starters, including defensive standouts in Dalen Williams, Ja’Veon Johnson, Austin McCartney, Keshawn Howell, and Caleb Washington. Throw in the eletric playmaking ability of junior quarterback K’Vonte Baker and Heights has the potential to compete for its first title since 2010.
8. Goddard (11-2)
After winning 11 games in the previous three seasons, Goddard won 11 games in 2016 and lost by one point in double overtime in the state championship game against Mill Valley. The Lions return nine starters and plenty of top-end talent, including Blake Sullivan (quarterback), A.J. Vang (offensive lineman), Ian McSwain (defensive back), Cole Caraway (defensive back), and Justin Amaro (linebacker).
9. Lawrence Free State (9-3)
Free State made a spirited postseason run last season as the No. 6 seed, reaching the semifinals before bowing out to the eventual champion, Derby. The Firebirds return eight starters and many of their top back-ups, as senior Gage Foster is expected to shift to quarterback with Jax Dineen filling in at running back.
10. Buhler (11-2)
Buhler finished 11-2 last season and reached the 4A I championship game, losing to Miege. The Crusaders look to be even stronger this season with 16 starters returning, including all-state in Dalton Brown (running back), Brendan Webb (defensive end), Braden Lock (linebacker), Dalton Smyres (receiver), and Lawson Schultz (defensive tackle).