No. 5 St. James opens districts vs. No. 1 Mill Valley

Mill Valley's Ben Hartman hauls in a pass against Derby earlier this season. (by Don Austin)
By: Conor Nicholl for
Oct 15, 2015

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Fifth-year St. James Academy coach Tom Radke has multiple adjectives for his players. Junior defensive back/all-purpose threat Dylan Streeter is a “freak” and been “amazing.” Junior linebacker Bryce Steffens, who played on the under-18 USA Football team in Texas last summer, is a “freak animal.”

Senior captain Nick Pate has played “exceptional.” Senior captain Sam Winger has stabilized the defensive line and had a “great” year. Junior Clay Lautt has taken over at free safety, been a superb special teams blocker and “way exceeded our expectations.” The Thunder is “really, really smart” along the offensive line.

The impressive play has yielded another superlative for the Thunder.

“It’s by far the best team that we have had here at St. James,” Radke said.

St. James, in its 11th season of football, has quickly grown from a Class 3A to 5A program.  The Thunder reached its first and only playoff appearance with a 6-4 record in 2013.  St. James is in its final season as an independent before joining the Eastern Kansas League in 2016.

“It’s just been a lot of fun watching the place grow,” Radke said. “If you’ve ever stepped in our building, you are like, ‘Wow, this is a special place.’ We get to pray before practice and classes, and that bodes well for building well-rounded men. It’s just a part of our whole culture at St. James. We get to talk a lot about that in our football program, and it has really helped us in the growth process.”

On Friday, St. James, ranked No. 5 in Class 5A, opens district play with a home game versus Mill Valley, 5-1 and No. 1 in 5A. St. James lost, 17-14, in the only meeting in school annals last year. Class 5A, District 3 features St. James, Mill Valley, Bonner Springs and KC Turner in the last year of district play for 5A and 6A.

The Jaguars, 2-4 entering districts last year, has only lost to Missouri powerhouse Staley, 28-21, and owns victories versus St. Thomas Aquinas and Derby. Mill Valley wil join St. James in their move to the EKL next season. Tight end Luke Krull (6-7, 215) will miss the contest with injury.

“It’s frustrating, really to be honest with you,” Radke said of playing in 5A’s toughest district. “We wish it was next year, so all three teams could have a chance at making a run in the playoffs.”

Senior quarterback Logan Koch has a 13 to 2 touchdown to interception ratio with 952 passing yards and 498 rushing yards and eight scores. Mill Valley, led by Division I-caliber offensive lineman Ben Hecht, has averaged 398 yards per contest.

“He has had a great year,” Mill Valley coach Joel Applebee said. “All five of those guys have played extremely well. He is obviously a big leader of that group, but we have felt like we have played really well up front offensively and defensively. … We want to win the game up front, both sides of the ball, and we want to establish the run game and the physicality of what we can do in the run game, and Ben is a huge part of that.”

The Thunder, with defensive coordinator Mike Consiglio, have posted another strong defensive effort with just 9.2 points per game, slightly better than last year’s 12 per outing average. However, the offense and special teams have significantly increased – and Streeter, a surprise, in arguably the state’s best return man.

Streeter was expected to start at defensive back. However, senior running back/returner Jake Burgmeier suffered a high ankle sprain and has missed most of the year but is expected to return Friday.

Streeter has three return touchdowns and taken four others for scores that penalties negated. St. James had one special teams TD touchdown in 2014. Radke said St. James has focused on special teams “big time.”

Radke played at Iowa State and was a member of all the special teams units. He coached special teams at Aquinas before he came to St. James. First-year assistant coach Tanner Hageman has taken over the special teams this fall. The Thunder plays multiple starters on special teams, and Lautt has emerged as a great blocker.

“He loves to hit people and loves to make a touchdown block,” Radke said. “He just loves football. Clay Lautt has been instrumental, and Dylan Streeter would say that, if I didn’t have Clay, I don’t score any of these touchdowns.”

Mill Valley counters with senior kicker/punter Aaron Hicks. The Jaguars purposefully don’t kick deep every time, but Hicks has 13 touchbacks on 30 kickoffs. He has averaged 36.1 yards per punt with four of 12 inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. A three-year starter, Hicks is 67 of 69 career on extra points and eight of 12 field goals.

“I would take him probably over any kicker in the state right now,” Applebee said. “He does a lot of great things for us, and we ask him to do a lot of different things in the kicking game as far as our kickoffs go. … Punt-wise, he has done an outstanding job. He is a big reason why we have gotten outstanding field position.”

Offensively, Radke said St. James, with offensive coordinator Matt Joshi, has made a conscious effort to run the ball. In 2014, St. James averaged 164 rushing yards and 4.7 yards per carry. The Thunder has 269 rushing yards a contest and seven yards a carry this fall. Senior quarterback Trey Keith, a returning starter, has thrown for 689 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions and leads the squad with 543 rush yards and five scores.

St. James is undersized at center-guard especially. However, the Thunder have plenty of intelligence with two seniors and three juniors.

“We get away with a lot of stuff, because we can chip and double team, and pin and pull and do all kinds of things … to get guys into bad positions,” Radke said. “They’re really smart, and we do leverage a lot, and they can leverage their bodies very well.”


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