Bonner Springs looking for more
Hanging to the right of Lew Kasselman's desk is a framed picture of the 2002 Bonner Springs High School football team.
The picture is encased in black and surrounded by the autographs of last year's seniors. Above and below the photo, which was taken on the Turner High School field after the Braves' first-round playoff victory, are two words -- Regional Champs.
Each day when Kasselman glances up at the picture, he can't help but feel motivated to propel his team above and beyond the success it enjoyed last season.
"That's the plan," he said with a smile. "We want to take what we learned last year and go a step farther. Of course, that's going to take a lot of hard work and dedication, but our guys know that and they're ready."
Despite losing several linemen on both sides of the ball, as well as their starting quarterback and tailback, the Braves return a load of talented players.
Led on offense by senior tailback Drew Hess, the Braves figure to run the ball more than ever before. Hess, who played fullback last season, said he's ready for switch to tailback and excited about carrying the load.
Leading the way for Hess will be senior fullback Danny Gardner.
In the early going, Kasselman said both players have run extremely hard and are running with a purpose.
"Drew and Danny are running the ball very well," Kasselman said. "They're both tough, hard runners -- especially Drew. Kids are getting out of the way when Drew comes through. The way he's running, he's out to get somebody."
Or more likely something.
Hess said improving on last year's success is a major goal of this year's team. And he knows he will have a huge impact on whether they do or not.
But he won't be alone.
Matt Middleton and Jordan Lamb are battling for the starting quarterback job, and although both do different things well, the one thing they have in common is that they're team players.
"They're both very competitive and they're very team-first," Kasselman said. "I don't think it matters to the entire team which guy wins the job. They know they can get it done with either one of them."
On the outside the Braves have three receivers who can impact the game as well.
Wideouts Kenny Mack and Middleton both have blazing speed and run great routes.
And tight end Brett Shelton will likely be this year's go-to guy.
Up front the offensive line figures to be large but inexperienced. Kasselman said several players continue to learn more about the position each day. And eventually he's confident his staff will find the right combination to play at offensive line.
"We're still looking for that group that will mesh and dominate the line of scrimmage," Kasselman said. "With what we plan to do this year, ball control will be very important and our line will be a huge part of that."
Emmanuel McComb, A.J. Holmes, Robert Smith, Mike Pier and Brad Rittinghouse should all be fixtures on the offensive line.
On the flip side of things, Kasselman said his defense could be the team's strongest point. With an excellent group of linebackers returning, which includes Hess, Gardner and senior Kevin Dame, along with a blazing secondary and blue-collar defensive line, the Braves' defense could also play a huge roll in the outcome of several games.
With a solid kicking game in tact, the Braves have all the pieces they need to make a run at the playoffs.
But the one thing they have that makes Kasselman confident it can happen is attitude.
"Whether it's a practice attitude or in a drill or a preparation attitude, I have a much higher sense that we're doing things the right way already," Kasselman said. "We're not just out there going through the motions."
And that's likely because of the seniors.
Kasselman said the seniors have a sense that this is their team and they're taking full advantage of it.
But even as proud as the seniors are, they realize they can't do it alone. But they're confident they won't have to.
"I think we have a chance to be real good," Middleton said. "We have a lot of young talent, but it will all come together. We're ready."
The Braves open the season Sept. 5 at home against Lansing.