Not many presidents have had as memorable a four-year run as Free State High football.
Starting in 2006 when the Firebirds won a school record 11 games, the school has posted 35 victories, only 11 losses and reached the playoffs each year.
Free State may not have fielded the juggernauts that Lawrence High had in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the last four seasons have been a joy to anyone who loves watching high-scoring offenses.
We’ve seen some of the best skill players in city prep history wearing those distinctive green Free State uniforms during the last four autumns.
Who can forget the Murphy twins, catalysts of that 11-1 team in ’06? Ryan Murphy compiled nearly 2,000 yards of total offense at quarterback while Brian Murphy scooted for more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns at tailback.
In 2007, coach Bob Lisher moved wide receiver Craig Rosenstengle to quarterback, shifted Chucky Hunter from H-back to tailback and the Firebirds posted a 7-3 record.
Once again in 2008, Lisher moved a wide receiver to quarterback and Camren Torneden compiled nearly 2,500 yards of total offense in leading the 9-4 Firebirds into their first appearance in the Class 6A state championship game.
With Torneden at quarterback again this fall, the Firebirds made another run in the playoffs, eventually toppling to an unbeaten Olathe North that may be the best that tradition-rich school has ever produced. And that’s saying something.
The irony of this Free State football season is that it was probably just as good as the ’08 bunch. Sometimes, though, it’s not a matter of how you play so much as who you play, and that was the case this season.
You might be surprised to learn, for instance, that this year’s edition of the Firebirds averaged 36.5 points a game, or exactly 11 points a game more than last year’s state finalist.
Compare those 36.5 points to the 39.4 scoring average of the 11-1 powerhouse in ’06, and you can see just how explosive this squad was.
Each of these fab four Firebirds’ seasons has featured a potent 1-2 punch. First it was the Murphy twins, then the duo of Rosenstengle and Hunter, then Torneden and Hunter and finally Torneden and Kirk Resseguie.
Torneden passed for 1,362 yards and 11 touchdowns, and ran for 935 yards and 13 TDs. He also returned three punts for scores. Resseguie rambled for 1,099 yards and 17 TDs despite playing only on defense in the finale after tweaking a knee the week before.
It could be argued Free State actually had a 1-2-3 punch because versatile speedster Keene Niemack caught four TD passes, ran for two more and returned a pair of kickoffs for scores.
Torneden, Resseguie and Niemack are all seniors so it may be optimistic to expect the Firebirds to field a playoffs-caliber club for the fifth year in a row.
Heir apparents Dylan Perry at quarterback and Matt Cole at tailback are quality players, but only one starting lineman (Justin McCandless) will return and, remember, Free State had to cancel its sophomore schedule because of a lack of bodies.