When it comes to high school football in Lawrence, there hasn’t been much middle ground this fall.
The city’s teams are either very good — Free State and Veritas Christian — or very …well, the seasons of Lawrence and Seabury Academy should probably be described in euphemism.
The Lions, plagued in part by injuries, finished with a 1-8 record — worst in 36 years for the tradition-rich program.
Meanwhile, Seabury didn’t even finish. The Seahawks were decimated by injuries, and school officials pulled the plug after just three games.
Lawrence and Free State compete in Class 6A, the largest division in Kansas, while Veritas and Seabury are at the other end of the spectrum in Eight-Man.
One of the great mysteries here in River City is how so much teenage football talent came to reside north of Bob Billings Parkway/15th Street, while so little lives south of the street that defines the Free State and Lawrence High districts.
Heck, Lawrence High even has about 200 more students than Free State, the smallest of the 32 schools in Class 6A. The Lions have the body count. The Firebirds have the football players.
It has been speculated that perhaps the success of Veritas Christian’s program has cut into Lawrence High’s pool of talent, but that theory doesn’t stand up.
Yes, the Eagles are good. They’re 8-1 going into tonight’s Kansas Christian Athletic Association playoff game against St. Mary’s Academy. On the flip side, coach Doug Bennett has only 13 players, and four are freshmen, meaning he has nine upperclassmen for the eight positions.
And even if all nine of those Eagles’ upperclassmen were on the Lawrence High roster, the Lions likely would have struggled anyway because the Veritas roster is glaringly lacking in size.
Bennett’s best offensive player is Ethan Scott, a running back who is averaging three touchdowns a game. But Scott, a junior, stands 5-foot-9 and weighs just 145 pounds. Scott is speedy and athletic, but it’s difficult to imagine him enjoying the same success playing in the Sunflower League.
There is one Veritas player who would have helped the Lions, however.
Hogan Randall, a 6-1, 175-pound senior, is far and away the Eagles’ leading tackler with an average of 16.4 stops per game. Randall would, I believe, thrive at the 6A level, too.
Three or four other Veritas players would have added to the Lions’ depth, and perhaps the most intriguing is quarterback Nick Bennett, the coach’s son.
Young Bennett has thrown 12 TD passes and, at 5-11 and 163 pounds, is about the same size as Chris Gaston, the Lions’ quarterback. Would Bennett have helped the Lions? Who knows? But he certainly couldn’t have hurt.
Nevertheless, of the three Veritas players I mentioned, only Randall’s family resides within the Lawrence High boundary. Scott, the Eagles’ point-making machine, commutes from the Eudora school district, while the Bennetts live in the Perry-Lecompton area.
Fact is, Veritas has robbed fewer than a handful of players from the Lions. So the mystery of Lawrence High’s football player drought remains just that.