Preps notebook: Head coach Kevin Stewart prepared for debut with Free State football

Free State head coach Kevin Stewart gives his first-team offense a play during practice Monday afternoon at FSHS on Aug. 19, 2019. It marked the first day of the high school sports season, as Stewart prepares for his first year with the Firebirds.

Head coach Kevin Stewart doesn’t think he will be nervous.

For the first time in school history, someone other than Bob Lisher will lead Free State’s football out on the field when the team hosts to Olathe West at 7 p.m. at FSHS. It will also be a first for Stewart, who will make his debut as a head coach.

The former Blue Valley North assistant has been involved in a number of big games, including a pair of state title contests in each of the last two years. So he doesn’t think emotions will be a problem before kickoff.

“I’m excited. Hopefully, Friday I can relax a bit and enjoy it,” Stewart said. “You have to really focus on the preparation you put in all week long and all season. That’s what I have learned. You have to be prepared and go with what you prepared.”

For Stewart, his entire coaching career has prepared him for this moment. He served as an assistant for Blue Valley North over the last three seasons. During his two years as defensive coordinator, Blue Valley North won a 6A state title in 2017 and finished as a runner-up in 2018.

Stewart also had stops as an assistant football coach at Wichita Northwest (2015-16), McLouth (2008-12, 2013-15) and Lyndon (2012).

But there was a moment that Stewart wasn’t sure he’d have a chance to make his head coaching debut, let alone for a program of Free State’s caliber. Prior to joining Andy Sims’ staff at Blue Valley North, Stewart considered doing something other than coaching.

“I think that things work themselves out that way,” Stewart said. “I really didn’t know if I was going to go to North and coach there or if I was going to be done with coaching. It just worked out, it was a good fit. Once I started coaching there, I realized that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to stick with coaching, and that’s where I needed to be.”

Stewart’s time at Blue Valley North molded him into the coach he is today.

Under the leadership of Sims, the Mustangs were also prepared for their opponent each week. They knew how to exploit any mismatches. Despite playing in the Eastern Kansas League, Blue Valley North posted back-to-back nine-win seasons over the last two years.

That type of preparation has been the biggest thing Stewart has brought to the table at Free State.

“I’m more of a game planner,” Stewart said. “(I) really get into the coordinating of the offense and the defense. Where players are more lined up.”

Since Stewart has taken over, Free State will watch film for 30 minutes on a daily basis before going to practice. Stewart started doing his homework on Olathe West in June, though he didn’t start introducing key plays for Week 1 until earlier this week.

The Owls went 5-7 in their first year as a varsity program last fall, which included a 41-0 loss to the Firebirds in the season opener.

Olathe West will try to run the ball with zone-read plays, while looking to throw some short passes off that action as well. The secondary, meanwhile, figures to be a strength of Olathe West’s defense.

But Free State plans to be ready for all of that. And it might be the difference in Stewart’s debut starting off on the right foot, even though he’s more focused on what his players will accomplish.

“I’m looking forward to watching the guys play the most,” Stewart said. “We saw a little preview last Friday (at the jamboree) and Malik Berry had some nice plays. I thought, ‘Wow, that is really special. It is his senior year, and he’s really stepped up.'”

Probable starters


QB — Colter Maldonado, sr.; RB — Tyler Bowden, jr.; WR — Marcus Preston, sr.; WR — Tae Rainey, sr.; WR — Tate Fanshier, sr.; WR — Jay Taylor, sr.; LT — Turner Corcoran, sr.; LG Ryan Lutz, sr.; C — Tyler Gourley, so.; RG — MJ Issa, jr.; RT — Frankie Calderon, sr.;


DE — Lovette Epelle, sr.; NT — Tai Newhouse, so.; DT — Devon Buck, sr.; OLB — Joey Eddie, sr.; OLB — Ben Miller, sr.; ILB — Malik Berry, sr.; ILB — Gage Callaghan, jr.; CB — Ryley Wheat, jr.; CB — Jacobee Williams, jr.; FS — Carnell Douglas, sr.; SS — Ben Stallard, jr.; Kicker — Joey Wood, jr.

Good start for BSA cross-country

A pair of Bishop Seabury runners took home first-place finishes in the first meet of the season Thursday afternoon at Basehor-Linwood.

The two winners are even from the same household. Freshman Oona Nelson won the girls race with a time of 20:43 to begin her career with a first-place finish. Her older brother, Henry Nelson, notched first in the boys race with a mark of 16:37 to begin his senior campaign.

The girls placed 10th overall as a team, while the boys placed 14th.

Mohammed nets first win

Free State head coach Hussam Mohammed picked up the first win of his career.

The Firebirds bested Seaman, 3-0, on the road Thursday night to give their new coach the win. Pete Junge led the team with two scores, while Ashton Owen also recorded a score as well. The win came two days after FSHS suffered a 2-0 defeat at Olathe South to begin the 2019 season.

Free State (1-1) will travel to De Soto at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

LHS boys soccer suffers home loss

The first home match for Lawrence High’s boys soccer team didn’t go as planned.

LHS allowed three goals in the first half and never recovered in a 4-1 defeat to Shawnee Mission East. Kanak Masten scored the team’s only goal in the loss. He now has all three scores for the Lions through the first three matches.

Lawrence (1-2) travels to Gardner-Edgerton at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Free State volleyball falls in opener

Free State’s volleyball team dropped a pair of matches to begin the season.

In a road triangular at Seaman, FSHS was swept by both Lansing (25-18, 25-19) and Seaman (26-24, 25-18) to fall to 0-2 on the year. But it was a good test for the Firebirds, who entered the season ranked No. 4 in Class 6A. Lansing is No. 2 in Class 5A, while Seaman is ranked No. 4 in Class 5A.

Free State will host Olathe North and Shawnee Mission North at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

FSHS golf finishes as runner-up

Free State’s girls golf team began the 2019 season off with a second-place finish.

The Firebirds were runner-ups at the 18-team Olathe West Invitational on Wednesday afternoon at Prairie Highlands Golf Course. Kari Rainbolt and Kate Lawrence finished third in the scramble format.

Free State will be back in action Sept. 16 at the Lawrence Country Club.

Faith Hedges claims second

In what was a preview of the Class 4A state golf tournament, Bishop Seabury golfer Faith Hedges performed well in her first action of the season.

Hedges shot 83, which was good enough for second place out of 40 golfers on the individual leaderboard Thursday afternoon at the Hesston Golf Course. Hedges was better than the golfer who finished in third place by three strokes. Morgan Brasser of Andale claimed the top spot by a wide margin, finishing with a score of 74 on the day.


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