Preview: Free State football looks to continue momentum in season’s second half
photo by: Carter Gaskins/Journal-World photo
The second half of the 2023 season is set to begin for the Free State football team this week, as the team takes on Shawnee Mission South Friday at 7 p.m. at the Raiders’ home field.
The Firebirds (4-0) aim to build off their first-half success heading into second-half play, and FSHS coach Kevin Stewart hopes that this trend of success will continue, following a dominating 41-12 victory over Shawnee Mission Northwest last week.
“Last week was a big win because we beat a really good football team and I think that grows our confidence,” Stewart said. “This week I told the guys to get better at the things that we do and to try to focus on getting better at the fundamentals each day.”
The urgency also has picked up for the Firebirds, who have just two regular-season home games left, following a two-game homestand against the Cougars and Olathe East over the last two weeks.
With a heavy number of seniors on the team this fall, Stewart reemphasized the message about staying locked in, whether it’s during the games or in each practice throughout this second half.
“We told them this week, you guys have 10 padded practices left,” Stewart said. “It’s now time to focus on the things that win or lose games. We just have to get better at situational football.”
Heading into Week 5 of play, quarterback and senior leader Wesley Edison continues to guide the Firebirds offense to substantial growth after each game, having recorded well over 1,000 total yards of offense through the first four games of 2023.
Additionally, running back Grant Lincoln emerged over the last several games as a go-to weapon as both a runner and receiver, recording nearly 250 yards of total offense in just the last two games alone.
As the team prepares to enter a tough stretch of football over the next several weeks, Stewart hopes his quarterback among others can continue to lead this experienced group forward despite the challenges that come with maintaining the high level of success.
“Wesley’s done a nice job of being a leader and being steady,” Stewart said. “The passing game will keep developing and it will be there when we need it. We have to be able to do both and his development has allowed us to do that.”
Despite a 54-31 loss last week to Olathe North, Shawnee Mission South (1-3) will look to provide a challenge, especially on the offensive side of the ball, after scoring over 30 points against the highly ranked Eagles last week on the road.
Even with the tough task ahead against the Raiders this week, Stewart understands the importance of focusing on what his team can control, in order to keep its undefeated record intact through five weeks of play.
“We just told them they’re going to present some challenges but we have to be able to control what we can do,” Stewart said. “Their offense is capable of scoring some points. Football is challenging no matter what, especially on the offensive side.”
With the Firebirds continuing to fire on all cylinders, the same message remains true heading into the second half of the regular season, and that is to focus on one game at a time and to continue to get better each day.
“I keep going back to this 1-0 mentality but that is what we are trying to do,” Stewart said. “We have to have everybody execute what we do best at each level, whether it’s varsity, JV or the freshmen, so that guys are ready to go and get in the game.”