Blue Valley North, Miege open the challenging EKL slate

By: Conor Nicholl for
Sep 5, 2019

Share This Story:

Blue Valley North’s Andy Sims stands 60-26 in his sixth year with the Mustangs. He has built North into an elite program after a 1-27 stretch from ’11-13. In the last two seasons, the Mustangs have finished as Class 6A state champions and 6A runners-up. Sims believes a high number of coaches evaluate their schedule the same way.

“I would assume most coaches out there kind of know what side of the stick they are going to be on,” Sims said. “So if you think you’ve got yourself a good team, typically you are going to look at your schedule and go OK, ‘I think that’s a win, there’s a win there, there’s one over there, oh that’s going to be a tough one.’”

However, in the Eastern Kansas League, the state’s best conference, Sims can’t do that. Last year, North started 0-3, yet finished 9-4 and reached the title. Two years ago, the Mustangs were also 9-4. In ’15, Mill Valley captured the Class 5A state title out of the EKL with a 9-4 mark.

The Mustangs opened ’18 with a 33-21 loss to Bishop Miege and then dropped its next game, 31-20, to Blue Valley in league play. Blue Valley finished 4-5. In Week 4, Blue Valley North earned its first victory, 52-42, versus Blue Valley West, an eventual three-win team.

“That’s just not our schedule,” Sims said with a laugh. “Each and every week, all the teams are great. Even if a team is having what might be an average year, they are great coaches, and they always seem to get the most out of their kids. If there’s ever a place for the old cliché, ‘One week at a time,’ it’s in this league.”

The EKL annually produces multiple FBS, FCS and Division II signees – and then replaces those elite players with other top prospects. That’s again true this season when Bishop Miege, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and the five-time defending state champions, plays host to Blue Valley North, ranked second in 6A, on Friday.

The EKL has two ranked teams in 6A and 5A, and Miege leading 4A. The Stags have captured seven straight in the series.

“The biggest thing that I have noticed with the EKL is just the sheer amount of talent from every single team that’s top-notch – and the coaches that are utilizing that talent as well,” Sims said. “Sometimes you will see some high school programs that may have great talent that you sit there as a fan, you may think, ‘Oh my gosh, what are you doing, get that guy the ball.’ These coaches do. They put those defenders in great spots to make plays. That’s the biggest thing. It’s a great combination of talent and coaching.”

Blue Valley North graduated Graham Mertz, now the Wisconsin backup, and one of the top recruits in Kansas history. A transfer from Miege, he set the state 11-man record with 51 touchdown passes last fall.

Mertz completed 526 passes, also a state mark. Cameron Burt, in his only season as a starter, hauled in 1,838 receiving yards, also a Kansas record. Blue Valley North replaces Mertz with sophomore Henry Martin. He threw for 619 yards with an 11/1 TD/INT ratio as a freshman.

“We are expecting that offense to not have any drop off from where Graham was with it,” Miege coach Jon Holmes said. “Coach Sims does a tremendous job with the schemes they’ve got where it makes it very hard to stop what they want to do. So as a defense, we’ve got to try to control the game up front, make sure that all of our coverage checks and all of coverages are good to go in the back end.”

At wide receiver, Sims expects “one heck of a year” from senior Shawn Hendershot.

Theo Grabill (Aquinas) and Mekhi Miller (Topeka High) have transferred in as pass-catchers. Sims thinks they will be “very, very, high producing” receivers, similar to past years.

“They have got a tremendous skill set,” Holmes said. “It starts with Henry Martin, but then you’ve got the two transfer wide receivers in Grabill and Miller that are both Division I talent. … This will probably the most skilled wide receiver group we’ve seen.”

Sims called Grabill a high-character player, great student and hard worker.

“It’s more of week in, week out playing in this league, getting roughed up,” Sims said of Martin. “Being able to bounce back, making those mistakes and really learning from them, and not trying to make the same mistake twice. That’s the key with any young quarterback, not just ours.”

Defensively, sophomore defensive back Dasan McCullough is the state’s top prospect for his respective class and holds multiple FBS offers, including Georgia. Senior Defensive end Reid Spachman collected second team all-league, and senior Garrett Aimutis is starting for his third season.

“The first thing that stands out to me is just the kids’ size,” Sims said of McCullough. “He’s every bit of 6-5, 200. That’s the first thing that’s going to really jump out at you. Then, everything else that we are going to see is going to have to come down to production during the season, and I know he’s excited about it, and he’s had a great summer.”

For Miege, the Stags’ 2018 season featured a rare two losses to Rockhurst (Mo.) and EKL’s St. Thomas Aquinas, the eventual undefeated 5A champion. Miege played virtually all season without wide receiver Daniel Jackson, a Minnesota commit, and a senior this fall. As well, senior safety Ty’Quez Agnew-Whitten, arguably the team’s second-best player, missed nearly half the year with injury. Still, Miege dominated Goddard, 69-31, in the state title game.

“Our success last year was because those other guys stepped up,” Holmes said. “Week 1 right when Jackson went down, the first play after he got hurt, Brison Cobbins had like a 25-yard run.”

Without Jackson, Phillippe Wesley enjoyed a breakout sophomore year with 46 catches for 987 yards and 11 scores. He holds multiple FBS offers.

Jackson and Whitten highlight a squad that includes lineman Brian Burns (Harvard commit) and running back Cobbins, an impact player his first three years with more than 1,300 rushing yards last fall. He was banged up from Week 5 on in ‘18. Cobbins cleared 200 yards against Blue Valley North last season.

“They look just like they have in the previous years,” Sims said.

Junior Tim Dorsey started at free safety after Whitten’s injury in Weeks 9-13 and takes over for Sam Pedrotti (2,511 passing) at quarterback. Dorsey stepped in some as a sophomore against St. James, and Holmes said the offense “did not miss a beat.” Dorsey has prepared all offseason to be the starter, and has run the base offense effectively.

“He was able to see the whole speed of the varsity game, and how all that works,” Holmes said. “Which should help him in his move over to the quarterback spot this year.”

The second through fourth leading tacklers return with seniors Mikey Welsh and Max VanMeter and junior Jack Kincaid. Whitten picked off five passes, and senior Rishi Rattan returns after eight interceptions.

Whitten’s loss was immediately felt in the 41-21 loss to Aquinas, but then Miege won its last six games by at least 29 points. He is expected to play some offense as the year progresses.


Use your Facebook account to add a comment or start a discussion. Posts are subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment.