Last year, the Free State High football team turned in the best season in the school's 10-year history.
Led by Ryan Murphy, a dynamic, do-it-all type of quarterback, Free State rolled through the Sunflower League season unbeaten, won 11 games overall and came within one game of playing for a state championship.
But there was life before Murphy. And there will be life after him, as well.
It's Craig Rosenstengle's job to make sure of that.
"Craig's got it. He's going to be all right," said Murphy of his successor at Free State. "He's got a better arm than I did."
Golden arm and all, the guy they call "Rosie" is much more than just a pocket passer. At 6-foot-2, his vision in the backfield gives him a chance to stand tall and fire away. He likes doing that. But he also likes to run. And with a 40-yard-dash time of 4.7 seconds, he figures to surprise his fair share of would-be tacklers this season.
"I'm a pretty good passer, and I can run a little bit," Rosenstengle said. "Ryan was just such a phenomenal quarterback, and we are different players. I don't have blistering speed like Ryan, but I like to carry the ball. I can't really repeat some of those moves he made. He set the bar high, but I kind of like that. I want to keep it there."
Free State coach Bob Lisher is hoping Rosenstengle can do just that. Based on the work he has put in and the accolades he has racked up this summer, Free State's newest signal-caller appears to be poised for a strong senior year.
"His speed is greatly improved, his strength is greatly improved and his arm strength is, too," Lisher said. "He's been working really hard all summer. I think he's ready."
Along with joining his teammates at morning weightlifting sessions this summer, Rosenstengle fine-tuned his footwork and mechanics at a quarterbacks camp at Kansas State University. Also this summer, the Firebirds held their own camp and traveled to Missouri State's team camp, as well, where Rosenstengle was voted the camp's most valuable quarterback. In addition, last year's JV quarterback has spent time working with more than 20 receivers at seven-on-seven drills and extra sessions throughout the summer months.
"We've just been trying to get on the same page and get the routes and the timing down," Rosenstengle said. "My main job this year is to run the offense and get the ball where it needs to go."
Rosenstengle's journey to the top of Free State's quarterback mountain has been long and unique. As a sophomore, he saw action in a handful of varsity games, stepping in whenever Murphy was injured or the game was out of reach.
"I was really nervous when I went in there as a sophomore," Rosenstengle said. "But I'm pretty calm now."
His junior season undoubtedly helped him settle down. While the lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan made a few more appearances at quarterback as a junior - even throwing a touchdown pass to Murphy during the 62-27 blowout of Topeka High - his main contribution came on the other end of the connection as a wide receiver. Last year, Rosenstengle caught 34 passes for 735 yards, proving to be one of Murphy's go-to targets during the Firebirds' dream season.
Although four of the team's five offensive linemen will be new this season, and two of the top receivers from the '06 squad will play elsewhere (junior Chucky Hunter likely will move to tailback), Rosenstengle hardly can contain his excitement as he counts down the days until the first practice on Aug. 13.
"I've waited my turn for two years, and I'm really excited about playing my natural position," he said. "It's a little different knowing you're the starter and working with the first team. You have to be the leader now. But I like that. It just comes with playing the position."
Lisher said he didn't expect the offense to change much with Rosenstengle in the lineup. And since his new quarterback has been there and done that, he's banking on Rosenstengle's steady presence to help pull the team through the early adjustment period that appears inevitable.
"I think the experience factor is going to be huge for him," Lisher said. "He's used to being on the field. He's been under the lights on Friday nights as a receiver and he's had to recognize coverages. That's what he has to do at quarterback, too. I think we'll be able to do pretty much the same things."
Rosenstengle's goals for this season are simple and have nothing to do with completion percentages or touchdown ratios. He wants to win. And he's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that.
"We set our goals high," Rosenstengle said. "We want to win district, we want to win league and we'll let the chips fall where they may when the playoffs roll around. I want to get back where we were last season so bad. That feeling was just awesome."
Although his benchmarks focus on the end of the season, Rosenstengle remains focused on the present - the first meeting, the first practice, the first game, the first victory.
As for his football future, Rosenstengle hopes to play college ball somewhere and says he already has received interest from several schools. He recognizes that this is a big year for him. As if following in Murphy's footsteps wasn't enough pressure, Rosengstengle's putting his future on the line, as well. And he's handling it all with poise and his signature smile.
"A lot rides on this season," Rosenstengle said. "No one's seen me play quarterback, people don't have film on me. But you can't control who comes to watch the games or what happens with other teams. You can only control what you do and how you play. When I get chances, I have to make the most of them."