The last two seasons had been wonderful for the Eudora High football team.
A pair of 9-2 seasons with trips to the Class 4A state quarterfinals treated the town to the type of football it hadn't seen in years. But after four seasons, coach Aaron Barnett decided to move on to 6A Topeka Washburn Rural, leaving some to wonder if those two seasons could be duplicated.
Enter Gregg Webb.
The former Claflin coach came in with a sparkling record :quot; 151-24 record in 16 seasons, including five state titles :quot; and took up right where Barnett left off, leading the Cardinals to an 11-2 season and a spot in the state semifinals.
Needless to say, the town loved every bit of it.
"The community was so great," Webb said. "They would come up to me on the street and wish us the best of luck. In those situations, you do get to sit back and say, 'Yeah, this is fun.'"
Eudora's season ended with a 21-14 loss to Fort Scott in the semis, but its dominance among area teams was more than enough reason to place three Cardinals :quot; seniors Joe Born, Dustin Moyer and Andrew Pyle :quot; on the Journal-World's All-Area team, and to name Webb as the J-W's coach of the year.
Joining them are Baldwin's Brian Lauridsen and Micah Mason, Mill Valley's Eric Pingleton and Brandon Smith, Santa Fe Trail's Shane Miles and Daniel Squires, Ottawa's Lee Baldwin, Perry-Lecompton's Noah Rees and Tonganoxie's Luke McCarty.
That's an extra running back, so consider it the 12 best players in the area :quot; although one might consider just taking Eudora's starting 11 and calling it good.
The Cardinals averaged more than 30 points a game and rolled up nearly 300 yards rushing a game this season. They twice blanked opponents, and held six other teams to less than eight points. Pyle rushed for more than 2,000 yards for the second straight season.
It all adds up to quite a season.
Yet, Webb's team wanted more, even if the town and the school was happy with the season.
"Our administration did not put any pressure on us at all," Webb said. "I put the pressure on us, because I want to win every game.
"You win and you want to win again. You win a game and then you go back and look at the tape and you start finding mistakes."
One of the few times Eudora did make mistakes was a 33-32 loss to Baldwin on Oct. 11. The Bulldogs won on a last-minute pass, and ended the Cardinals' shot at an undefeated season.
"That loss really put a huge dose of doubt into our world," Webb said. "I'm not sure we ever did recover from that. If we win that game, we'd have been so confident the rest of the season that some of those games later wouldn't have been so close."
By the time Eudora played Fort Scott, the Cardinals were ready for their best game of the year. Even with a loss, it was a game that signaled to Webb he'd come to the right place.
"What makes these players special is when we decided to step up and play with the big boys," he said. "We stepped up to that challenge."
Lee Baldwin, Ottawa
Baldwin benefited from the Cyclones' wide-open offense, catching 62 passes for 840 yards and six touchdowns. A big target :quot; 6-foot-1, 155 pounds :quot; for quarterback Gabe Sheffield, Baldwin caught 65 percent of the balls that were thrown to him, or nearly half of Sheffield's passes. As Ottawa's No. 1 receiver, it was more remarkable that he wasn't double teamed from the start of the season. An All-Huron Valley selection, Baldwin's also a good cornerback, intercepting two passes and making 41 tackles.
Joe Born, Eudora
On an 11-2 Cardinal squad that reached the 4A state semifinals, there was no better player on the team than Born. An All-Frontier League guard and defensive end, the senior is a relentless defensive end and guard, no matter the situation. A tad undersized at 5-9 and 225 pounds, he makes up for that with effort. Eudora rushed for more than 4,000 yards this season, and Born was a big reason why.
"What separates him is it's how hard you're willing to play, and he plays as hard as he can" Webb said. "Joe gets out of himself as much as he can. It's his desire and it's his intensity. But he's also got great skill. He's got great feet and he's got great knowledge of the game."
Brian Lauridsen, Baldwin
"He always called himself the slow guy," Bulldogs coach Mike Berg said. "He ended up being one of the four fastest guys on the team."
The senior is 6-2, 210 pounds, and he plays even bigger than that. He's effective carrying the ball (70 carries for 461 yards), but he's even better on defense. The All-Frontier League linebacker led the Bulldogs with 111 tackles :quot; though he wasn't always roaming the field at LB.
"He was huge for us," Berg said. "He probably played four or five different positions on defense. Where ever we thought the team was going to attack us, that's where we put him."
Micah Mason, Baldwin
Just looking at Mason, you almost feel sorry for would-be tacklers. The junior stands 6-feet, 210 pounds, and it's all muscle piled on for football. An All-Frontier League selection at running back the past two seasons, Mason had 212 carries for 1,447 yards this season, along with 20 touchdowns. He's picking up speed at linebacker too, combining his football instincts with his work ethic.
"Every play is full speed for Micah," coach Mike Berg said. "He's really fun to watch and really fun to coach.
"A lot of it's because of the hard work he's done in the offseason. He's probably the strongest kid, pound-for-pound, that I've ever coached. A lot of it's natural ability, but it's his work ethic that's kept him healthy."
Luke McCarty, Tonganoxie
The Chieftains' top lineman, McCarty also blossomed into one of the Kaw Valley League's best defensive linemen as well. A 6-2, 235-pound junior, McCarty played with nagging injuries toward the end of the season, but still managed first-team offensive all-league honors, and honorable mention defensive honors for the 5-5 Chieftains. The best part? With his size and smarts, McCarty promises to be even better next year.
"He's a super-smart kid," Chieftains coach Mark Elston said. "He knows every position on the field and he makes everybody else around him better.
"He did really well for us on the defensive line, especially during district play. He just did a phenomenal job for us."
Shane Miles, Santa Fe Trail
When you've got an arm like Miles's, you use it. Just ask Chargers coach Bob Von Stein. Two years ago, SFT switched from a run-based, Wing-T offense to a pro-style offense, which paid big results this season. The 6-3, 184-pound senior threw for 1,427 yards and 16 touchdowns, completing 62 percent of his passes, as SFT narrowly missed a playoff birth in one of 4A's toughest districts. No playoffs didn't keep Miles from receiving the most offensive votes for the Kaw Valley All-League team though.
"We felt like that was the best thing to do was to take advantage of his talent," Von Stein said. "And I think it showed. He's cool under pressure, throws a nice ball, easy to catch."
Dustin Moyer, Eudora
He's got the tools :quot; strength and speed :quot; and unlike others that may not use those gifts, Moyer :quot; at 6-2, 215 pounds :quot; often puts them to use. A two-time All-Frontier League selection at guard and defensive end and a repeat all-area selection, the senior intends on playing football in college, where he'll probably excel.
"What Dustin brings is such a fire," Webb said. "He loves the game and he loves to play. He wants to hit and he wants to be hit. He's a gifted athlete. He jumps real well, he's got speed, he's got strength. At the next level, he will be a great defensive end for some school."
Eric Pingleton, Mill Valley
A three-time All-Kaw Valley selection at linebacker, Pingleton was an easy choice. With his size :quot; 6-3 and 200 pounds :quot; and speed, he's a guided missile to wherever the ball goes. He had 139 total tackles this season, the Jaguars' next closest didn't even have 70. He received the most votes from Kaw Valley coaches among linebackers.
"What we're trying to do as coaches is to keep him from having to deal with too many blockers," coach George Radell said. "Like all linebackers, he's got to be able to shed a few blockers, which he does. He's actually played for us all four years. Over the course of his high school career, he's accomplished a great deal."
Andrew Pyle, Eudora
There's no player in Kansas who's rushed for more yards than Pyle the past two seasons. He passed the 2,000 yard mark again this year, rushing for 2,053 yards on nearly 400 carries. For someone who stands only 5-10 and 175 pounds, it's no less remarkable that Pyle can rack up those kinds of numbers with some of the hits he took throughout the season. A repeat all-area selection and two-time All-Frontier League running back, teams often keyed on him :quot; it usually didn't make a difference.
"He's a great kid and a great leader. When he says something, the kids listen because he leads by example," Webb said. "He's also tough. He's not a very big kid and he took some shots against Fort Scott. But he was willing to do anything I asked him to do. He's one of those kids you want to do well for."
Noah Rees, Perry-Lecompton
Rees won't be the biggest guy on the field, standing just 5-10 and 175 pounds, but he may the fastest. Give him a seam, and he's gone. It showed when he exploded for 342 yards and five touchdowns against DeSoto. He ended the season with 1,472 yards on 239 carries and 14 TDs, much of it the result of serious offseason work in the weight room. The senior received first-team All-Kaw Valley honors on offense and second-team on defense.
"Going into this year we knew he was very capable of putting up some big numbers," coach Mike Paramore said. "As coaches, we feel like he's a threat every time he touches the ball."
Brandon Smith, Mill Valley
When the Jaguars wanted to run the ball, they usually ran behind Smith. And with good reason. When the Jags rolled up big numbers, the 6-1, 209-pound junior was a big reason. An All-Kaw Valley selection on both sides of the ball, the team captain was dominant on defense too, lining up on the strong side and taking away any blockers that came near.
"He's arguably been our best lineman since he walked into this school," Radell said. "And certainly he has been the last two years."
Dan Squires, Santa Fe Trail
Squires received the most defensive votes for the Kaw Valley All-League team. At 6-2 and 241 pounds, the senior had the speed and strength to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. A two-time All-Kaw Valley selection on defense, Squires also dominated on the offensive line, snagging all-league honors on that side of the ball for the 7-2 Chargers.
"He's improved a lot and worked hard in the weight room," Von Stein said. "He's a coaches' dream. He practices hard, he plays hard and he gives all he's got. Whatever superlative you can think of, it applies to Daniel."