Firebirds flashing potential in passing game

Jake Rittman catches the ball on his way to score for Free State against Shawnee Mission West during the first quarter on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 at Shawnee Mission South District Stadium.

In the first week of the season, Free State’s football team had four players catch passes, and three of them scored touchdowns.

The Firebirds believe that’s only scratching the surface of their potential in the passing game heading into their home opener against Shawnee Mission South at 7 tonight at FSHS.

Senior receiver Tanner Cobb had a team-high three receptions last week for 49 yards, while senior Jake Rittman added two catches for 53 yards. Junior Keenan Garber recorded a 43-yard touchdown catch and senior tight end Jack Theisen had a 24-yard reception.

“I think we’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of playmakers,” Rittman said. “We just have to get it in our hands and I think we can go a long way with that.”

Free State junior quarterback Jordan Preston will make his first career varsity start after last week’s starter, senior Gage Foster, suffered a hamstring injury. Preston played the entire second half of last week’s opener, completing 3 of 4 passes for 66 yards. ?

The Firebirds produced a total of 169 passing yards in their first-week win over SM West. With a strong run game, highlighted by junior Jax Dineen, they believe their aerial attack could catch some opponents by surprise.

“We’ve felt pretty good about our receivers all along,” Free State coach Bob Lisher said. “If we can get them the football, they are pretty dangerous. That’s what our goal is — to get them the ball and mix them in with the offense because they can do some things in the open field.”

None of Free State’s receivers had more than eight receptions last season, and there was a learning curve at the start of practices in August.

But as many of them have gained experience in practice and the team’s first game, they are becoming more and more confident. Rittman said the receivers are faster and smoother since the start of practices.

“We have a lot of depth at receiver,” Garber said. “We have a lot of dudes who can get the ball and score, get some yards for us.”

Free State players have plenty of familiarity with SM South after scrimmaging against them in team camps throughout the summer. The Raiders (1-0) beat SM North last week, 22-19.

After watching film, Lisher said the Firebirds will have to prepare for a couple of defensive schemes because the Raiders “changed it up a little bit” last week. Third-year SM South coach Brett Oberzan was a longtime defensive coordinator at Free State.

“We have to look at two different defenses this week,” Lisher said. “We’re not sure which one we’ll see, but that’s part of the game. We have to adjust as we go.”

FSHS probable starters


LT — Turner Corcoran, so.

LG — Gabe Clark, sr.

C — Ben Holiday, jr.

RG — Shane Skwarlo, jr.

RT — Jalan Robinson, sr.

QB — Jordan Preston, jr.

RB — Jax Dineen, jr.

H — L.J. Mack, jr.

WR — Tanner Cobb, sr.

WR — Jake Rittman, sr.

TE — Jack Theisen, sr.

K — Kameron Lake, jr.

P — Jake Rittman, sr.


DT — Lovette Epelle, so.

NT — Nathan Spain, sr.

DT — Spencer Roe, sr.

OLB — Bo Miller, sr.

ILB — David Johnson, sr.

ILB — Jalen Nash, jr.

OLB — Ben Miller, so.

CB — Oliver Paranjothi, jr.

CB — Gabe del Valle, sr.

S — Malik Berry, so.

S — Keenan Garber, jr.