As Free State High’s football players focused this week on their district opener, they found out last week’s victory over Shawnee Mission East had vaulted them to the No. 1 spot in the Kansas Football Media Poll for Class 6A.
The Firebirds (5-1) had no problem reveling in their accomplishment, but junior lineman Fred Wyatt said they made sure the excitement came and went.
“It probably puts more of a bull’s-eye on our back than it does help us,” Wyatt said.
First up to test 6A’s new top team is Kansas City, Kan., Wyandotte (5-1), which visits FSHS at 7 tonight. Free State coach Bob Lisher said District 1, also featuring Lawrence (5-1) and Leavenworth (3-3), will be difficult to navigate. But Lisher said the FSHS staff hasn’t focused on anything this week except the Bulldogs.
“Wyandotte’s 5-1 for a reason. They have athletes all over the field,” Lisher said. “If we don’t take care of our business (tonight), we’ll be wondering what happened to us.”
Leading Wyandotte’s arsenal is junior quarterback Dimonic McKinzy, an athlete reported to have scholarship offers from Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. Lisher said McKinzy has the mobility to avoid pressure and sacks.
“If he does that and leaves the pocket and scrambles around, he likes to keep his eyes down the field and he can throw the ball and make plays,” Lisher said, “plus he can run the ball and make plays because of his speed and athletic ability.”
Waytt said the Firebirds haven’t seen a mobile quarterback like McKinzy this season. Senior lineman Cody Stanclift agreed, noting that FSHS just faced the opposite of McKinzy, traditional pocket passer Jordan Darling of SME last week. However, that doesn’t mean the Firebirds won’t try to harass Wyandotte’s agile QB.
“We’ve just got to put pressure on him and keep him inside the pocket so he’s not able to run out and make big plays on third down,” Stanclift said.
Of course, the Firebirds have a mobile quarterback of their own. Senior Kyle McFarland is the Sunflower League’s fourth-leading passer (840 yards, nine touchdowns), ninth-best rusher (496 yards, four touchdowns) and his 1,336 total yards trail only Lawrence QB Brad Strauss (1,769).
FSHS senior receiver Tye Hughes is fifth in the league with 366 receiving yards. Senior linebacker Corban Schmidt leads the league with 72 total tackles, and his fellow linebacker, junior Keith Loneker, is eighth with 57.
Lisher also feels comfortable with the FSHS secondary against McKinzy. Free State corners Demarko Bobo and McFarland and safety Joe Dineen have combined for eight interceptions.
Now that it’s district time, Stanclift said the Firebirds can’t think about their new No. 1 ranking, because the postseason is ultimately much more important.
“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” Stanclift said, “because obviously we’re having success to be No. 1.”