Varsity Kansas

Returners increase East’s expectations

East's Elijah Shelite
East's Elijah Shelite The Wichita Eagle

The faces on the football field at East are a familiar sight to coach Brian Byers. Not only did much of the team show up for summer workouts, many were the same ones playing on Friday nights a year ago.

“We’ve got a lot of kids coming back with a lot of experience,” the Blue Aces’ fifth-year coach said. “I’m optimistic about this year.”

Starting running back Deonta Thomas returns for his senior year and is “all ready to go,” according to Byers, after offseason knee surgery. A pair of juniors, Calil Burnett and Andrue Hisken, will also carry the ball. Burnett will enter just his third season of competitive football.

“Last year you could see he was starting to get a feel for making cuts and finding holes,” Byers said.

Alec Schilling, who saw experience at quarterback a year ago, takes over the starting job, while senior defensive end Carlos Brown said the defense returns stronger as well.

“Defensively we’re still in the same 3-4, but we’re way more dominant this year,” he said. “This is one of the best teams we’ve had in the years I’ve been here.”

Byers said the names returning aren’t nearly as important as the group itself.

“It’s not so much who’s coming back, it’s the chemistry of the guys coming back,” he said. “Are they on the same page and moving in the same direction? That’s what has me optimistic.”

The program’s overall direction is another reason for optimism. The Blue Aces posted a winning record last year (5-4) for the first time since 2008, thanks to four wins over the first five games. Improving in the win column for a third consecutive season is possible barring injuries.

“And that’s something we’ve always had to think about at our school,” Byers said. “With the kids we put out there at the start of the season we can play with anybody. But we don’t have the depth to lose two, three, four key guys.”

Thomas, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament at a wrestling meet last season, said his doctor has cleared him for full contact and doesn’t expect him to miss any playing time. The 6-foot, 220-pound senior spent the offseason regaining strength and confidence in his knee.

“I think it’s actually given me a little boost, because I knew I had to work harder to get back,” he said. “It’s good now. I’m ready.”

EAST BLUE ACES

Coach: Brian Byers, seventh season, 25-28

League: City League

Last season: 5-4

Last five seasons: 19-25

Projected 2013 playoff team? No

Top skill players

Player Ht. Wt. Pos Yr.
Deonta Thomas 6-0 220 RB Sr.
Calil Burnett 5-10 170 RB Jr.
Willie Edwards 6-1 175 WR Jr.
Traevon McGarity 6-3 190 WR Sr.

Top linemen

Player Ht. Wt. Pos Yr.
Teryn Brown 6-2 235 OL Sr.
Griffin Nuss 6-0 260 OL Jr.
Logan Bartlett 6-3 295 OL Sr.

2012 results

Opponent Score
North W,39-12
West W,27-22
Northwest L,44-13
South W,34-7
Kapaun W,14-7
Garden City L,34-13
Heights L,42-27
Derby L,48-6
Southeast W,20-12 (OT)

2013 schedule

Date Opponent
Sept. 6 North (at Heights)
Sept. 13 West (at NW)
Sept. 20 Northwest (at South)
Sept. 27 South (at South)
Oct. 3 Kapaun (at South)
Oct. 11 at Garden City
Oct. 17 at Heights
Oct. 25 Derby (at South)
Nov. 1 Southeast (at South)

Carlos Brown on his team

What East does well: “What makes this team better is we have younger talent coming up and we have last year’s talent coming back. We’re all on the same page as one another.”

What has to improve: “We had to have a wake-up call from some of the guys about coming together, about doing it and not just saying it. After that, everybody asks me how I think we’ll do, and I’ve been saying I expect us to make the playoffs.”

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