Braves—Bobcats rivalry moves to season opener
Braves hoping for another trip to playoffs
After making two straight trips to the Class 5A state playoffs, Bonner Springs coach Lew Kasselman and this year's Braves are looking to make it three in a row.
However, if the team qualifies for the playoffs this year, they'll open on a different night and will have to play an extra game to reach the pinnacle of the high school football world.
After countless years competing at the 5A level, the Braves will drop down to 4A for the first time this season, a move that makes very little waves with Kasselman.
"4A teams are a little bit different than 5A teams," Kasselman said. "But the fact still remains that if you're not prepared and if you don't play the way you're supposed to play, you're going to get beat. Moving to 4A really doesn't change anything. We're still going to have to play the games, and we're still going to have to beat good teams."
Perhaps, but those teams might not be as good as they have in the past. Instead of playing 5A powers Topeka-Seaman and St. Thomas Aquinas, schools with nearly twice the enrollment of BSHS, the Braves will be matched against schools their size and smaller.
That, Kasselman conceded, would be the only difference. But focusing on that is not something he's planning on doing.
Instead, he's planning on getting his guys to play the same tough brand of football that Bonner Springs has been known for during the Kasselman era.
On offense, Kasselman will have at his disposal the deepest and most versatile set of weapons he's had in years.
Three members of the offensive line return, including senior center Brad Rittinghouse and juniors Emmanuel McComb and Robert Smith. While having most of the line back in tact will be beneficial for the Braves, Kasselman also said finding two guys to fill in at those other spots is one of the team's biggest concerns.
Lining up behind the beasts up front will be quarterback Jordan Lamb. Lamb will take the reins of the Braves' offense for the second straight season, and Kasselman is expecting big things from his senior quarterback.
"Jordan became a student of the game this summer," Kasselman said. "He's worked really hard, and I'm expecting him to lead the offense. His level of play is so much higher right ow than it was at this time last year, and that's nice because I don't have to spend as much time going over things with him. I can work with our younger guys, and he can help get people in the right spots."
With a deep and intimidating group of running backs and wideouts, Lamb will certainly have his hands full. But Kasselman is salivating at the thought of what all those pieces can do.
With senior tailback Christian McDonald figuring to get most of the carries, Kasselman has an explosive and powerful runner as his featured back. Throw tight ends A.J. Holmes and Nick White as bookends on the line and the Braves' attitude - as always - figures to be "try and stop us."
White may also line up at fullback, giving the Braves one of the biggest and meanest backfields in the Kaw Valley League.
"I'm excited about our offense this year," Kasselman said. "We've got a heck of a backfield and we could have five good wide receivers and two of those wide receivers are running backs, so we've got a lot of weapons."
Bonner Springs will be loaded with weapons on the defensive side of the ball, as well, although Kasselman said he's still experimenting with putting the right pieces in the right places on defense.
The defensive line will be nearly identical to the offensive line and it will provide the Braves with an almost impenetrable front four. A host of newcomers will be scattered throughout the secondary, but with McDonald anchoring the defense at linebacker and freshmen L.T. Lee and Tyler Jock figuring to contribute in the defensive backfield, the Braves will have a similar toughness on defense.
Perhaps the one overwhelming weakness of this year's team is depth. With so many young players plugged in to so many key roles, injuries could stand in the way of this team's goals.
But if they stay healthy and if the young talent gels with the solid nucleus of returning starters, the Braves could very well achieve all of their goals, even if they have to play an extra game to do it.
"There is a little different focus with this year's team than I've seen in a while," Kasselman said. "They're a little more goal-oriented, and they're pretty unique. They want to do everything together, and they want to do everything right."
Last year, the Braves adopted a slogan of "Hold the rope." That phrase encouraged the team to stick together no matter what. This year the team again operates according to that plan, but another phrase has been tacked on to the end.
"Count on me" are the words that now complete the motto, and if the Braves stick together and play up to their potential, they can count on making a third straight trip to the postseason.
The team opens its season Friday, Sept. 3 at home against arch rival Basehor-Linwood. Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m.