Goddard, Wichita East brawl in high school football season-opener
Before every Goddard football game and after every practice, senior linebacker Dhimani Butler asks the team a simple yet communal question.
“Who’s got my back?”
Thursday night, in Goddard’s 2019 season-opener against Wichita East, the answer was, “everyone.”
With about 8:30 left in the third quarter, Goddard junior quarterback Kyler Semrad tucked the ball on third and long. He angled toward the Lions’ sideline to his left. Wichita East defensive back Chase Kletecka met him there.
But he was too late.
Semrad was out of bounds by about a half yard, and Kletecka delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit that sent Semrad flying into the sideline. A pack of Lions soon pounced.
Senior tight end Blake Mitchell was first. He ran behind Kletecka and shoved him down before East senior running back Norman Massey tried to retaliate.
Massey pushed Mitchell, but a Goddard assistant coach was the only one on the ground afterward. Soon, Goddard’s Nallel Kapten, Kaeden Hoefer, Logan Davidson and Tyler Harvey were in the middle.
Semrad disappeared behind the mob.
After Goddard’s 34-22 win in which Semrad threw for four touchdowns, Lion coach Tommy Beason said he could sense a tense energy in the stadium ahead of the game and throughout the first half.
“The fuse had been lit,” he said. “I was just waiting to see when the bomb was going to go off. I didn’t know where. I didn’t know when. But when I saw our guy get rocked, I thought, ‘That was it.’ “
Semrad has played in 17 games at Goddard. In those 17 games, he has gone 14-3 and reached a state championship game. He is among the best quarterbacks in Kansas.
As a freshman, Semrad was thrown in the fire to replace Blake Sullivan. Before moving on to Fort Hays State, Sullivan became an icon at Goddard. He was a three-year starter and led the Lions to a title game appearance and semifinal finish.
He finished his career with more than 4,000 passing yards and 3,000 more rushing.
By the time Semrad completes his career in 2020, he will likely have a similar resume.
“We treat Kyler like he’s made of glass, but we know he’s not,” Beason said. “We know his potential. Our team is a different team when he’s on the field. It’s not because we couldn’t find another quarterback. It’s not because I’m down on our younger quarterbacks.
“But if you’re going to have a guy be the staple figure in your offense and you build it around him, when you lose him, that kills you as a team.”
Semrad first earned varsity experience Oct. 6 at Arkansas City. Sullivan was injured on a punt, and Semrad was tasked with seeing through a 44-21 victory. During the fourth quarter, he took a moment for himself, he said.
“I looked around at the atmosphere and thought, ‘I’m really playing in a varsity game as a freshman,’ ” Semrad said. “I had guys around me that took me in and helped me.”
A week later, Sullivan was still out, and Semrad got the start against Valley Center. He led the Lions to a 57-7 win.
Weeks after, Goddard entered the Class 5A sectional round against crosstown rival Eisenhower. Sullivan missed the entire second half with a shoulder injury.
Semrad inherited a 14-7 lead and went on to throw two touchdowns to seal a 28-13 win and spot in the state semifinals against Bishop Carroll.
A year later, Semrad was a contender for Goddard’s starting job with Sullivan gone, but it wasn’t a guarantee. Jared Mocaby transferred back to be with the Lions from Derby.
Semrad earned the starting job, and though Goddard was doubted and struggled offensively at times, he led the Lions to a runner-up finish in Class 4A, falling 69-31 to Bishop Miege.
“It all surprised me,” Semrad said. “Going into the year, I thought it was going to be a rebuilding year. Our senior class really just got things going. It worked.”
When Semrad came in against Ark City as a freshman, reciever Kaeden hoefer was a sophomore in his first varsity season. He said he was worried when he saw Sullivan go down.
“But once I got the hang of Kyler throwing it, I really saw how good he was,” said Hoefer, who caught two of Semrad’s touchdowns Thursday. “He could spin it even as a freshman.”
The Lions have had time to reflect on how far they have come in the past three years. Now the find themselves as one of the favorites in Class 4A, looking to topple Miege off its five-year run of titles.
Beason said it starts with Semrad, a player who was shoved in the fire and came out in iron. Thursday was just an example of how far the Lions will go to protect him.
“I can be prideful that our dudes stuck up for him,” Beason said. “I’m not happy that it got as chaotic as it got there. I’m not happy there were guys tossed. But I do appreciate his teammates having his back.”