Many believed Free State High wouldn’t come anywhere close to an encore after its 2008 football dream season.
In fact, some thought the Firebirds would suffer a dropoff following their journey to the ’08 Class 6A state championship game, based on the number of lettermen the Firebirds lost.
Coach Bob Lisher, for instance, had only three returning starters on offense.
“We lost a ton of contributors,” Lisher said, “but we had people we thought could step in.”
Free State won eight games, one less than ’08, and two of the Firebirds’ three losses were to unbeaten 6A state champion Olathe North.
“I thought we had a chance to be as good as last year,” Lisher said. “And as the season went along we were good enough to do that.”
At the same time, the Firebirds were good enough to help Lisher earn back-to-back Journal-World All-Area Coach of the Year honors.
Don’t count Lawrence High coach Dirk Wedd among those who thought the Firebirds would falter. Not with all-Sunflower League quarterback Camren Torneden returning for his senior year.
“It all comes down to the quarterback,” Wedd said, “and he was the best player on the team.”
Torneden would earn all-Sunflower League honors again in ’09, behind what was essentially a new offensive line. Center Michael Lisher was the lone returning starter, but the Firebirds reloaded with Matt Ruder and A.J. Simons at the tackles and Spencer Chestnut and Justin McCandless at the guards.
“I had a lot of coaches tell me during the season what a great job our offensive line was doing,” Lisher said.
That retooled line helped Kirk Resseguie fill in ably for departed Chucky Hunter — the school’s career rushing leader — with a 1,000-yard plus season and a team-high 17 touchdowns despite playing strictly linebacker in the finale because of a knee injury.
Resseguie, Torneden and young Lisher were joined on the all-league first team by Ruder, linebacker Matt Cole and kick returner Keene Niemack.
Talent helps, obviously, but the intangibles in Lisher’s program shouldn’t be overlooked, Wedd stressed.
“He did a great job,” the Lions’ veteran coach said. “He’s got the program going. He has the kids believing, and he gets the most out of them, which he always has.”
Not surprisingly, Lisher stressed he is only as good as his cadre, and he wanted to make sure aides Brett Oberzan, Bill McGillivray, Jessie Brinson, Max Cordova, Kyle Ellis, Adam Barmann and Brett Romme were recognized for their roles.
A Lawrence High graduate, Lisher counts 28 years as a prep coach, including the last 13 at Free State where he has been head coach since the school opened in 1997.