Free State at Olathe East
When: 7 tonight
Where: College Boulevard Athletic Complex
A baby-faced football player walked out of the Free State locker room Thursday afternoon before practice, carrying his helmet. He looked around at a few teammates in shorts and asked coach Bob Lisher a question.
“No long pants?”
“Day before a game,” Lisher answered. “Shorts only.”
“Oh,” the player said. “I didn’t know that.”
So many details are new to so many players on varsity football rosters across the state this time of year, but ready or not, the season begins.
Free State, coming off a 9-3 season in which the Firebirds were Class 6A runners-up, opens against Olathe East, 9-1 last season. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at College Boulevard Athletic Complex.
“We just don’t get easy openers at this place,” Lisher said. “We just don’t, but it’ll be a good test.”
Two-way starting lineman Michael Lisher, a senior, is accustomed to opening the season with a stiff challenge.
“I’ve never had an easy opener,” he said. “We had Olathe South sophomore year, preseason favorites, and Shawnee Mission West, always strong, last season. We’ve never really had that tune-up game. I’ve never won an opener. Hopefully, we can change that tonight.”
It’s a tough opener for both schools.
Olathe East also has more talent than experience and returns two starters on offense and two on defense.
“We don’t have a lot of experience we’ll be playing early, but it’s not like the cupboard’s bare,” Lisher said. “They’re good players. They just need that varsity experience. Big difference from JV to varsity.”
Having a fast, elusive quarterback who led the Firebirds into the state title game should help ease the team’s growing pains. Senior Camren Torneden rushed for 1,362 yards and nine touchdowns and passed for 1,028 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Torneden, receiver Aundre Allen and Lisher, the center, are the only returning starters on offense. Again, inexperienced doesn’t mean untalented.
“I really like our offensive line,” coach Lisher said. “We’re raw right now, but I really like them.”
Strong, fast senior Kirk Resseguie, who rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns playing in place of injured Chucky Hunter against Leavenworth last October, will benefit from the blocks thrown by the line.
The expectation of coaches and teammates is Torneden will improve on his 52-percent completion rate and make it tougher for opposing defenses to key on the run.
“I think he’s going to be a lot better throwing the ball and more comfortable in the pocket,” Michael Lisher said. “And we had a pretty good passing game last year.”
Torneden’s speed also comes in handy at cornerback, where he will try to prevent senior quarterback Carter McEntee, a first-year starter, from finding his receivers.
Free State linebacker Keene Niemack, who finished third in the 400 meters at the state meet in the 6A race, has missed some early-season practice time with an injury, but is expected to play tonight at linebacker and receiver.
“We want the team to improve from last year,” Niemack said. “We came up a little bit short. We all say we have a little unfinished business from last year. We need to come together and win the state title.”
The Firebirds think big because they have excellent speed at several positions.
“We do,” coach Lisher said. “If we could just get it to do the right things, we could do OK.”