Varsity Football

#VKFB18: See the top 20 high school football players in the Wichita area

Northwest football will travel to Bishop Carroll in the Grizzlies season opener Aug. 31.
Northwest football will travel to Bishop Carroll in the Grizzlies season opener Aug. 31. Correspondent

With plenty of state championship-caliber teams ready to hit the field in 2018, Wichita also has its share of star players. Here are the Wichita Eagle’s top 20 players entering the 2018 high school season.

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Maize South’s Nolan Veenis (84) hauls in a pass against Buhler in the fourth quarter as they try to mount a final drive. Maize South came up short and lost to Buhler 17-14 at Maize South Friday. (Sept. 22, 2017) Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

Maize South lost four All-AVCTL III First Team selections from a year ago. After leading the team with 485 receiving yards, Veenis (at 6-foot-4) will be huge to the Mavericks’ success in 2018 coming off a promising 9-2 season. But the Mavs will move up into a stacked AVCTL II this season. Veenis and running back Corey Minks will be two of the most important pieces to keeping up with the pace of the new league.

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With All-Class selection Dalton Cross gone, many will point to a big gap in the Valley Center lineup on both sides of the ball. Wilson will be among those looking to fill the void. Wilson was a state qualifier in the Class 5A 100-meter dash, and that speed will be on display in 2018. After snagging 815 yards and six touchdowns, Wilson will be a constant threat with the ball in his hands.

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Goddard High School foootball running back Ben Bannister
Goddard made it to the Class 5A semifinals in 2017. This season, the Lions will drop to 4A. Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

Goddard lost a lot — more than most, sending 10 players to college football. Bannister returns, and he will be important so the Lions don’t lose a step. With two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks, Bannister’s poise in the backfield will be huge, especially early in the season. An All-AVCTL II First Team selection a year ago, Bannister finished with 1,029 yards on only 125 carries with six touchdowns.

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Maize QB Caleb Grill scrambles against Heights in the second quarter during the second round of the 5A playoff at Maize High Friday. (Nov. 3, 2017) Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

The South Dakota State basketball commit is returning to the field. Grill’s athleticism is wildly obvious on the court, and that will need to translate for the Eagles to have success in 2018. After losing three All-AVCTL I selections from the offense, Maize’s standouts will look much different from those who got them to a 9-2 record last season. Grill will be partially responsible for making that happen.

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Andale’s Mason Fairchild commits to South Dakota. @Fairchild_Mason/Twitter

Like brother, like brother, Mason Fairchild will try to follow Grant’s path to an all-state selection. Having lost a lot of key pieces to the offense that got Andale to the Class 4A-Division I title game, Fairchild’s leadership on defense will be important to give the offense time to jell early in the season. Fairchild is verbally committed to South Dakota.

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Heights quarterback K’Vonte Baker heads upfield in the first half against Kapaun. Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

Baker is still around, and he is still shaking defenders. One of the most elusive players in the Wichita area, Baker has the ability to transform a game on a single play. Playing from the quarterback position, Baker will be called upon to keep the ship steady as the Falcons hit bumps in coach Dominick Dingle’s first year. Baker finished with 1,113 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

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Derby Panthers football linebacker Cade Lindsey
Maize’s Deriq Doty (83) makes a reception against Derby’s Cade Lindsey, right, during the second quarter at Derby High Friday. (Sept. 15, 2017) Fernando Salazar The Wichita Eagle

Picking one player is almost impossible on a Derby defense that could be the best in Kansas. Lindsey’s speed off the edge will likely be a game-changer for the Panthers. With a successful wrestling background, Lindsey has speed, a strong lower body and quick hands that gave blockers fits last season on his way to an All-AVCTL I First Team pick. Derby’s linebacking crew will be the Panthers’ strength in 2018.

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Hesston Swathers football running back Parker Roth
Hesston running back Parker Roth (44) goes airborne against Hoisington. Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

One of the keys to the Swathers’ Class 3A sectional appearance last season, Roth finished the season with 1,895 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. He earned All-Class First Team honors. Hesston finished 8-4 but rode a six-game win streak into the sectional. If the Swathers keep that momentum in 2018, Roth will mostly be why.

McPherson Bullpups football quarterback Kyler Hoppes

Hoppes is one of the truest pocket passers in Kansas. He finished the 2017 season with 1,936 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, including one that went for 93 yards. Although the Bullpups can tear it up on the ground, Hoppes’ arm gives them an added dimension few teams in the Wichita area can brag about. He earned All-AVCTL III honors last season.

Pratt Greenbacks football running back Travis Theis

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Pratt’s Travis Theis looks for a hole. @Travis_Theis5

Theis might be the best player you never heard of. Playing in the Central Kansas League west of Wichita, Theis finished the 2017 season with 1,691 yards, averaging 187.5 yards per game, with 25 touchdowns. Pratt lost its last two games of the season and missed the playoffs despite a 7-2 record. If Theis gets into the postseason in 2018, watch out.

Andover Trojans football quarterback Eli Fahnestock

Andover Trojans football quarterback Eli Fahnestock
Andover Trojans football quarterback Eli Fahnestock @FahnestockEli/Twitter

To this point, there might not be a quarterback with more potential in the Wichita area than Fahnestock. Goddard’s Kyler Semrad will have to win his position battle, but coach Cade Armstrong has his guy. Last season, Fahnestock threw for 1,610 yards. If he can improve his completion percentage and touchdown to interception ratio, Andover could have a great one.

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Goddard’s Kam’Ron Gonzalez wraps up a ball-carrier. @Kamro9/Twitter

From a leadership and production standpoint, Gonzalez is up there with best pure linebackers in the Wichita area. He finished second on the team with 84 tackles behind All-Class selection Justin Amaro. With Goddard dropping to new classification and losing a ton of weapons on offense, he and fellow linebacker Dhimani Butler will lead the way for the Lions.

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Mulvane’s Drew Ellis (2) celebrates with his teammates. @EllisDrew12/Twitter

Losing an All-AVCTL IV talent like Jayden Price will hurt. Ellis will make it seem easier for the Wildcats. Although much of Ellis’ production could be traced to Price, he has genuine talent that led him to 779 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Ellis will be used across the field. He also had 199 rushing yards and 138 passing yards in 2017. Moving on from retired coach Dave Fennewald will be different, but Ellis will make it easier.

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Wichita Northwest football linebacker Josh Carter
Northwest’s Josh Carter, right, stops Bishop Carroll’s Desmond Smith in the third quarter Thursday night at Northwest. Fred Solis Correspondent

In talking with coaches around the Wichita area, Carter’s name continues to come up as one of the area’s most relentless players. Carter doesn’t have the size to get him high-profile scholarship offers like two of his teammates, but his motor earned him All-Class honors in 2017. Carter finished with an unbelievable 143 tackles, including 12 for losses. His dog mentality will take the Grizzlies far in Class 5A.

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Eisenhower Tigers football offensive lineman Stu Habbart @Stubear72/Twitter

Habbart is a lineman coaches have to plan for. An All-Class selection in 2017, Habbart helped lead Eisenhower to a Class 5A sectional appearance. The Tigers are thought to make a jump from average to a serious contender in 2018, and running behind Habbart with the running back duo of Parker Wenzel and Justis Moore will be a good place to start.

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Campus’ Quinton Hicks intercepts a ball. @Jisaac_2016/Twitter

Campus coach Greg Slade said the Colts have about a handful of star players, and their success in 2018 will depend on getting those few to inspire the whole. That starts with Hicks. A South Dakota State commit, Hicks is one of the most high-profile players in Wichita. Campus finished the 2017 season 5-5 with a pair of wins of Hutchinson. They will look for more this season with Hicks leading the way.

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Kapaun Mt. Carmel football defenive back Scott Valentas.png @RealThomassEarl/Twitter

Valentas has plenty of talent, which got him to his commitment to Columbia, but his greatest asset might be his intelligence. A 4.0 student, Valentas has outstanding play recognition and understanding of the defense. Coach Dan Adelhardt can move him from safety to nickel corner to linebacker. Valentas knows his assignment. Kapaun led in every game in 2017. Valentas will be key to improving on last year’s 6-4 record.

Bishop Carroll football tight end Clay Cundiff

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Bishop Carroll football tight end Clay Cundiff could have a big game against Wichita Northwest on Friday night. Fred Solis Correspondent

Carroll lost more than a handful of pieces off its 2017 state-championship roster. The Golden Eagles will need to pin down a quarterback and find another All-Metro-type receiver. But coach Dusty Trail won’t touch the tight end spot. Cundiff broke his collarbone on senior night against Kapaun. That kept him off many All-State and All-League teams. The Kansas commit will try to change that in 2018 while providing Carroll with much-needed experience and leadership.

Wichita Northwest football defensive end Marcus Hicks

Northwest's Marcus Hicks
Wichita Northwest defensive end Marcus Hicks had a monster game against Bishop Carroll on Friday. Fred Solis Correspondent

Hicks and Hall (below) are a toss up. Committed to Oklahoma, Hicks is the most outstanding physical player in Kansas. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, he fills the jersey and the stat sheet. In 2017, Hicks finished third on the team with 63 tackles as a defensive end. He had 19.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. His size and strength alone are enough to overwhelm linemen, and it often takes two to stop him. Northwest finished a game shy of the Class 6A title game last season. If the Grizzlies want to improve on that, they will rely on one of their All-Class selections.

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Northwest's Breece Hall
Breece Hall, a Northwest junior running back. Fred Solis Correspondent

No one in Wichita impacts the game more consistently than No. 1. Hall finished his All-State season with 2,082 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns. He carried it 201 times and averaged 10.4 yards per touch. Those numbers and his jaw-dropping agility and ability to glide past defenders got him to his Iowa State commitment. But that won’t be enough for Hall or any of the Grizzlies. The loss to Derby in the Class 6A semifinals stung and will motivate Northwest in 5A. Hall definitely doesn’t have the strength or size of his defensive counterpart, but he makes plays that make the jaws drop.