Varsity Kansas

#VK17FB Secondary stars: The Top 10 defensive backs for 2017

The Wichita Eagle

Other Top 10 lists: QB | RB | WR | OL | DL | LB

Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

1. Ian McSwain and Cole Caraway, Goddard seniors

  • 5-foot-10, 170 pounds | 5-foot-8, 170 pounds
  • All-5A pick in 2016 | Honorable mention All-5A pick in 2016

Goddard’s secondary might as well be called “The No Fly Zone” with McSwain and Caraway patrolling the field at safety. McSwain earned All-Class 5A honors after intercepting seven passes last season and knocking down 10 more passes, while Caraway intercepted three passes and the duo combined for 135 tackles. Goddard lost some key pieces from a defense that it rode all the way to the 5A championship game, but McSwain and Caraway have both raised their leadership entering their senior years and coach Scott Vang believes both of these ball hawks are in store for an even better season.

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Fred Solis Correspondent

2. Tyler White, Jack Wagner, Tristen Knoblauch, Maize South seniors

  • 5-foot-10, 165 pounds | 6-foot-2, 185 pounds | 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
  • All-4A I pick in 2016 | Honorable mention All-4A I picks in 2016

It’s impossible to choose just one from Maize South’s secondary, as the Mavericks return three standouts for their senior seasons in White, Wagner, and Knoblauch. White is the area’s top lock-down specialist at corner, as he intercepted six passes last season and came up with 36 tackles. Wagner and Knoblauch are the team’s safeties that are excellent in pass defense, but also in coming up to support the team’s run defense. Wagner was the team’s second leading tackler with 100 wrapups and added three interceptions, while Knoblauch added 68 tackles. With all three returning this season, Maize South should have one of the best secondaries in Class 4A I this season.

Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

3. Dalton Cross, Valley Center senior

  • 5-foot-11, 175 pounds
  • Honorable mention All-Class 5A pick in 2016

Cross is one of three three-year starters returning for their senior season at Valley Center, as he will be one of the team’s unquestioned senior leaders. Cross made a name for himself last seaseon after intercepting five passes and earning first-team all-league honors in a rugged AV-CTL II, as well honorable mention honors in Class 5A. Last season Cross served as Valley Center’s lockdown cornerback in a senior-laden defense, but this season coach Caleb Smith is shifting him to safety to help fill a need. With the team’s leading tackler in Tyler Boone moving to linebacker, Cross will now be the team’s top tackler in the secondary.

4. Neal Bever, Sedgwick senior

  • 5-foot-11, 160 pounds
  • Honorable mention All-Class 3A pick in 2016

Opponents never learned to stop trying Bever at cornerback last season, as the Maize transfer made a splashy debut at Sedgwick with a school-record 11 interceptions in his junior season. Sedgwick is loaded with talent returning this season and Bever will be one of the team’s most important two-way players, but his impact was felt most on the defensive side of the ball last season. Even if teams stop throwing Bever’s way this season, he will have already done his job by limiting the options for the other team.

Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

5. Colton Lumpkins, Maize senior

  • 5-foot-9, 170 pounds
  • Honorable mention All-Class 5A pick in 2016

Lumpkins became Maize’s shut-down cornerback last season, intercepting a team-high three passes and knocking down a team-high six passes as a junior. Maize coach Gary Guzman feels confident that Lumpkins can limit whatever wide receiver he comes across, as he will once again be asked to cover the other team’s top weapon. Lumpkins also has a nose for the ball, as he came up with 51 tackles — 38 of which being solo — last season. If Maize is going to repeat its success from last season, it needs Lumpkins and safety Jalen Johnson to to step up and deliver big seasons for the Eagles.

6. Javon Davis, Derby senior

  • 5-foot-9, 165 pounds

Davis didn’t receive as much playing time as he would have elsewhere last season, but that’s because Derby boasted two seniors who were some of the best in the state. But Davis did get some valuable experience and coach Brandon Clark is already excited about what the senior will do now that it is his turn to shine. Derby has virtually every starting position to replace and all four in the secondary, but Clark isn’t as worried because of the talent level that is stepping into those places. Expect Davis to be the next great Derby lock-down specialist on the outside.

Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

7. Clay Wesbrooks, Augusta senior

  • 6-foot-1, 165 pounds
  • Honorable mention All-Class 4A I pick in 2016

Nobody was better than Wesbrooks at the start of the 2016 season, as he led Class 4A I in interceptions through the first half of the season. He finished with six interceptions during Augusta’s 6-4 season and returns as one of the top cornerbacks in 4A I this season for an Augusta defense that is once again expected to be stingy. Wesbrooks has the size to compete with the taller receivers in the air and the speed to hang with anybody, which comes in handy on special teams and makes him a dangerous returner. Augusta coach Jason Filbeck believes this might be the best team he’s had in his four season at Augusta and a secondary that includes Wesbrooks and Coban Honey is one of the reasons why.

8. Jake Burke, Chaparral junior

  • 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
  • Honorable mention All-Class 3A pick in 2016

On a senior-heavy team, Burke was one of the only sophomores to make a major impact for the Roadrunners during their impressive run in the postseason. From his free safety position, Burke produced 65 tackles, nine pass deflections, and a team-high five interceptions. Burke has grown another inch and added another 10 pounds, making him an even more imposing presence in the middle of the field. Chaparral coach Justin Burke is confident Jake Burke will be a two-way force for Chaparral for the next two seasons.

Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

9. Luke Evans, Bishop Carroll senior

  • 6-foot-1, 175 pounds
  • Second team All-City League pick in 2016

If Carroll’s defense is to experience a turnaround from last season, then Evans will be a major part of that leading the team’s secondary. He has the size of a linebacker, but delivers his hard hits coming out of the safety position and is expected to be the secondary’s quarterback in his senior season. Last season Evans came through with 54 tackles and three interceptions to earn second team all-league honors. Carroll returns seven defensive starters and has bigger expectations for this season, as Evans’ production level is expected to rise in his final season for the Golden Eagles playing alongside returning corners Jacob Buchanan and Ben Berenson.

Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

10. Keshawn Howell, Heights senior

  • 6-foot-1, 175 pounds

The Heights defense is expected to have one of the best front seven’s in the state this season. So if the Falcons are going to neutralize the running game this season, that means the team’s secondary will be crucial in just how dominant this defense can be. Coach Terry Harrison is excited to see the senior season for Howell, who he thinks is well on his way to turning into a shutdown cornerback for the Falcons this season. Howell is one of two starters returning for Heights in the secondary and must elevate his game as the team’s leader in the secondary. If he has a big season, then Heights’ defense could become of the best in the state.

Next five: Clark Schoonover, Andover Central senior; Warren Dietz, Newton senior; Jalen Johnson, Maize senior; Trenton Jones, Conway Springs senior; Brett Nelson, Mulvane senior.