Free State head coach Kevin Stewart adds 4 new assistants to join strong staff
photo by: Nickolas Oatley
Head coach Kevin Stewart can’t help but get excited when talking about his coaching staff entering his third year leading the Free State football program.
Due to some coaching turnover, Stewart brought in four new assistants to join an experienced staff this offseason. All four new coaches — Logan Pegram, Jermaine Lopez, Asheiki Preston and Brit Dewey — have already brought a fresh set of eyes and newfound energy to a program with a lot of success.
“I feel like these guys are fresh and they’re ready to coach and ready to try things a little bit new,” Stewart said. “It’s hard to do new things when the past has been successful. But, at the same time, doing new things is really the only way to get over the hump.”
“I think that these guys see that and understand that as well,” Stewart added.
Stewart, who is 8-8 overall during his first two seasons guiding FSHS, brought in all four coaches at different stages of the offseason whenever a position on the staff opened up.
Pegram will coach the offensive line for the Firebirds, which is a position group that features junior left tackle Calvin Clements. The 6-foot-7, 265-pound transfer from Veritas Christian has already received scholarship offers from Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State.
Clements can learn a lot from Pegram, who played at the collegiate level for Northern Illinois University and made 22 starts. Pegram, who played at the high school level for Silver Lake, was previously the head coach at Anderson County over the past two seasons.
Preston, who is in charge of the quarterbacks at FSHS, also played college football. He was the signal caller for the Jayhawks in 1993 and 1994, completing 185 of 315 passes for 2,401 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also piled up 513 yards and eight scores on 171 rushing attempts.
Preston has been around the area for quite some time, mostly working with the Lawrence Hurricanes youth football program.
“Those two guys are just fantastic football coaches,” Stewart said of Preston and Pegram. “To have them at the high school level, they could be coaching at any level, and they’re really good guys to have on staff.”
Lopez, who was previously a member of the Emporia State staff, will be in charge of the wide receiver room at Free State. Dewey comes to FSHS from Shawnee Heights, where he was involved with the sprinters on the track team and will hopefully help the Firebirds get faster. Dewey will coach safeties this year.
“What I’ve seen from them is really high expectations for Free State football,” Stewart said. “I think guys have a respect for the kind of tradition that Free State has established and want to see it continue moving forward.”
“A lot of these guys coming in, it’s a big deal to them to be hired by Free State (and) they’ve told me that,” Stewart added. “So I think having that respect to the tradition has motivated them and they’ve been working hard and (are) really excited to get around the guys and have a good season.”
The four new assistants join an already strong staff.
Nolan Henderson has been with the Firebirds the longest, becoming an integral part of the community over the past 12 years with the program. He will coach the defensive line this season for FSHS, which is a position group that features Tulsa commit Tai Newhouse.
Spencer Bonner is set to enter his seventh season as an assistant, as he coaches cornerbacks for the Firebirds. Bonner played defensive back for KU during the 1995 season, coming through with a blocked punt in an upset win over Colorado.
Devin McAnderson is in charge of the running backs and has also been the offensive coordinator for the junior varsity squad. He has played a part in the Firebirds posting a 13-1 record over the previous two seasons at the JV level.
Chris Stewart, who joined the staff two years ago when his son became the head coach, started with the freshman group. He will now coach the linebackers, and brings plenty of coaching experience including seven seasons as the McLouth head coach.
Dan Hissong also helped out with the freshmen when he was brought on as an assistant during Kevin Stewart’s debut season. He coached the secondary last year and will now take over as defensive coordinator for the Firebirds, who will switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme this year.
“I like to keep the coaches that start with freshmen with that group,” Stewart said. “Let them move up through the ranks with them so they have some familiarity, as much as we can.”
Stewart will continue calling plays on the offensive side of the ball, though Pegram will help out in the run game of Free State’s spread offense. All in all, it gives Stewart confidence after going 0-6 during the 2020 season.
“As a head coach, you’re only as good as your assistant coaches,” Stewart said. “These guys have really shown me the last three-four months, that they’re all in. They are on board and they want to make Free State as successful as we can be, so I’m really enthusiastic about this group.”