Free State probable starters
LT — Scott Frantz, jr.
LG — Spencer MacDonald, sr.
C — Reid Buckingham, sr.
RG — Tyler Sampson, sr.
RT — Shane Hofer, jr.
QB — Joe Dineen, sr.
RB — Stan Skwarlo, sr.
TE — Zach Bickling, sr.
WR — Khadre Lane, sr.
WR — Lucas Werner, sr.
WR — Keith Loneker, sr.
DE — Tyler Sampson, sr.
NT — Josiah LeBrun, jr.
DE — Zach Bickling, sr.
OLB — Stan Skwarlo, sr.
MLB — Lucas Werner, sr.
ILB — Keith Loneker, sr.
LB — Blake Winslow, sr.
OLB — Carson Bowen, jr.
CB — Khadre Lane, sr.
CB — Bryce Torneden, so.
FS — Joe Dineen, sr.
A starter in the defensive backfield since his sophomore year of football at Free State High, senior Joe Dineen knows all about playing on Friday nights.
However, when he and his teammates open their season at 7 tonight at FSHS, against Shawnee Mission North, it will mark Dineen’s debut as the Firebirds’ starting quarterback. Of course, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound veteran isn’t sweating it. He has played the position most of his football life.
“It’s exciting, for sure,” Dineen said, “but it’s nothing new.”
Facing a SMN team that finished 0-9 last fall, Dineen and fellow starting skill players running back Stan Skwarlo, receivers Khadre Lane, Lucas Werner and Keith Loneker, and tight end Zach Bickling hope to give the Indians trouble on the ground and through the air.
“We’re not going to be perfect,” Dineen said, “but we want to move the ball up and down and be able to score a lot. We’ll have film the next day, so we’ll be able to see what we did wrong. But it’s our first game, and we want to be able to come out and play well and set the tone for the year.”
Free State coach Bob Lisher and his staff obviously trust Dineen.
“We’re giving him a bit more freedom this year to make more checks (at the line of scrimmage) than we have in the past,” Lisher said. “Hopefully, he gets us in the right plays sometimes, with it being the first game.”
If the senior quarterback sees the defense is aligned to shut down the play his coach just called, Dineen can audible to a more suitable alternative. Lisher, in his 17th season at FSHS, said his teams have only done that on a limited basis in the past.
Loneker expects Dineen’s knowledge and versatility will assist in making Free State’s offense difficult to stop.
“It’s gonna be a great show,” Loneker predicted of his teammate’s QB debut. “I’ve seen Joe play quarterback for years. The things he does, the way he sees receivers come out of the breaks, the way he throws it, it’s fun to be a part of that.”
The Firebirds, ranked No. 4 in Class 6A by Kpreps.com, want to play a superior brand of football on defense, too. Lisher said the Indians will provide more of a challenge this year, because of their new head coach, Don Simmons, formerly of Chanute.
“It’s gonna be a totally different team from what we faced last year (FSHS won, 55-14, in 2012),” Lisher said. “It’s one of those games you go into, and you’re not quite certain, and you have to do a lot of adjusting during the game.”
FSHS at least knows Simmons’ teams run a spread offense, often sending five players wide.
That shouldn’t be anything the Firebirds’ 3-3 defense hasn’t faced before — especially returning starters such as linebackers Skwarlo, Loneker and Blake Winslow and free safety Dineen.
If the linebackers drop to the right spots in coverage, Loneker thinks cornerbacks Lane and Bryce Torneden will be able to help Dineen keep the Indians’ passing game in check.
The Firebirds, who went 10-2 last year and reached the 6A state semifinals, won’t be happy unless they open the new season with a first-rate showing.
“We definitely want to come out and send a message to the league that we’re here, we’re ready to play,” Loneker said. “We’re not gonna start out slow.”
Free State will travel Sept. 13 to Shawnee Mission Northwest, then return home for Olathe East on Sept. 20.