Preview: Free State football ready to host talented Olathe East
photo by: Carter Gaskins/Journal-World photo
After earning a 2-0 record to begin its 2023 season, the Free State football team will look to keep up its momentum, as the Firebirds prepare for their home opener Friday night against Olathe East at 7 p.m.
With Free State surging to start the fall, the Firebirds (2-0) look forward to finally playing in front of their home fans for the first time this season, after the opening two games both took place at the College Boulevard Activity Center against Olathe West and Northwest.
“These guys have played hard so they’re excited to play in front of their family and friends,” FSHS coach Kevin Stewart said. “There’s a little more of a comfort level being at home so hopefully that gives us a little more of an advantage.”
Winning in different styles the first two games has been pleasing to Stewart and the Firebirds, who recorded a shutout in the 26-0 victory over Olathe Northwest last Friday night.
As the team continues to face tough competition in the competitive Sunflower League, continuing to play complementary football will be an important factor if the Firebirds want to advance to 3-0 on the year.
“I think we continue to have talent on both sides of the ball on offense and defense,” Stewart said. “I think it’s good that our offense is versatile and we can take what the defense gives us. We should be able to do both offensively.”
Senior quarterback Wesley Edison continued to lead the Firebirds offensively last week after recording over 250 combined yards against the Ravens at the CBAC to bring his season total to close to 800 in just two games.
Landon Leipold and Devon Hamilton have made the majority of the catches in the early going, with the two receivers combining for 278 yards and four touchdowns after the opening two weeks.
With the senior leader in Edison constantly making strides, Stewart understands how critical his consistent play will be heading into the heart of the Firebirds’ league schedule.
“His improvement has allowed us to be versatile and multidimensional whereas last year we were pretty heavy run,” Stewart said. “He’s definitely taken a step forward in spreading the ball out and that has enabled us to showcase our wide receivers a little bit more.”
As for the Firebirds’ opponent this week in Olathe East, the Hawks (1-1) enter this matchup following a loss to Olathe North in week 1 and a dominant 34-14 win over Shawnee Mission East in week 2.
With Olathe East’s difficult schedule in mind, Stewart knows this Hawks squad is capable of defeating anyone on any night, and has continued to preach to his players the challenging matchups they’ll be up against in Free State’s home opener.
“Out of all the teams in the Sunflower League they probably have some of the best athletes,” Stewart said. “We’re going to have to rely on the technical aspect of the game rather than just running them over or outrunning them. It’s going to be a challenging team to beat.”
Despite the challenge Free State is up against, the message of finding different ways to win games remains the same with the team now entering the heart of its schedule beginning Friday night.
“The message has been 1-0 all year,” Stewart said. “We talked about, early on, to play as a team and not to rely on individuals. We need a total team effort this week.”