Free State probable starters
WR-Preston Randolph, 6-2, 185, Sr. LT-Grahm Saunders, 6-4, 245, Sr. LG-Doug Bittinger, 6-2, 225, Sr. C-Michael Lisher, 6-2, 245, Jr. RG-Josh Hill, 5-10, 220, Sr. RT-Matt Frantz, 6-4, 250, Sr. TE-Taylor Stuart, 6-1, 205, Sr.
QB-Camren Torneden, 5-7, 160, Jr. RB-Chucky Hunter, 5-9, 180, Sr. H-Back-Aundre Allen, 5-10, 155, Jr. WR-Matt Green, 5-10, 160, Sr.
PK-Cole Woolsey, 5-11, 170, Sr.
LE-Lisher. NG-Matt Ruder, 6-3, 200, Jr. RE-Saunders. OLB-Mitch Werts, 5-10, 190, Sr. LB-Eric Franz, 5-11, 190, Sr. LB-Stuart. OLB- Matt Cole, 5-8, 170, Soph. OLB-Keene Niemack, 5-11, 165, Jr.
CB-Torneden. CB-Cameron Schmidt, 6-2, 190, Sr. FS-Randolph.
P-Kirk Resseguie 6-2, 180, Jr.
Two years ago, Free State High's football team won 11 straight games before losing to Shawnee Mission West in the semifinals of the state playoffs.
Last year, the Firebirds were beaten just three times in 10 games.
But through three games this year, FSHS has lost twice, leaving the Firebirds with an unfamiliar feeling as they move forward.
"It's a little weird," senior linebacker Mitch Werts said. "But there's not really any panic with this team right now. The losses have come early in the season, and we still have plenty of time to work out the kinks."
The first opportunity comes at 7 tonight at the Olathe District Activities Complex, when the Firebirds (1-2) take on Olathe South (1-2).
The Falcons enter Week 4 averaging 43 plays per half. In a sport where 60 offensive snaps in a game is considered a lot, South's efficiency is off the charts.
Junior quarterback Tanner Dutton leads the league in touchdowns (4) and yards (553), and, as a team, the Falcons lead in passing yards per game (192.7). In addition, running back Jake Byrd is back to bolster the O-South ground game, and this year the Firebirds are much more aware of what he can do.
Byrd was relatively quiet in the Falcons' 34-27 season-opening victory last year. But in the playoff game, two months later, he tallied 230 total yards in a 46-29 victory that ended Free State's season.
"Jake Byrd was kind of a thorn in our side in the playoff game and early in the season," Free State coach Bob Lisher said.
Although the Firebirds will keep an extra set of eyes on Byrd tonight, they are not planning to change their defense to stop him.
"We're not going to do anything big," Werts said. "We might make some minor adjustments so we know where he is, but we're just going to play our game and not worry about what they do."
This week, that starts with defense.
Since moving junior Camren Torneden to quarterback in Week 2, the Free State offense has resembled the kind of attack Firebirds fans are used to seeing. Big-play strikes from seniors Chucky Hunter and Preston Randolph are always a possibility, and Torneden adds a similar game-breaking dimension under center.
"I think we've performed well enough offensively to win some games, and now we need to get our defense to do it," Lisher said. "And in certain situations they have. It's not an every-down thing. We just have to find a way to prevent the big plays. Our goal defensively is not to give up the big play, maybe bend a little bit but don't break."
Despite entering tonight with just one win in three tries, the Firebirds remain confident and are eager to get things back on the track.
"The thing is, it's a long season, and we have this time of the year to straighten things out so it doesn't affect us late in the year," Lisher said. "Everybody wants to win every game, there's no doubt. But sometimes you have to struggle early to figure out how to fix things."
For the Firebirds, there's no better way to end those early-season struggles than by exacting revenge on a team that had their number a season ago.
"Two of our three losses were to those guys last year," Lisher said. "And they're a very good football team again, so it's a good measuring stick for us to see where we are at this point. It's not going to make us or break us, but, obviously, we would like to get this one to get a little swagger back."