We are continuing our Topeka 7 Football Previews as we inch closer to Thursday night’s game between Shawnee Heights and Topeka High on 1440 KMAJ. Today, we look at the Seaman Vikings as they try to take another step forward as a program. To catch up on other team previews, find the links down at the bottom.
Seaman isn’t unfamiliar with athletic success.
This year the Seaman baseball team won their eighth state championship. In the winter, the boys’ basketball team made it to the 5A state tournament.
However, the football program hasn’t been as strong. The Vikings have never captured the state crown in football, nor have they played in a state title game. The team hasn’t won a Centennial League championship since 2006.
Seaman coach Glenn O’Neil knows how to build a winning program. At Scott City, O’Neil led the Beavers to a state championship in 2012 and a state runner-up finish in 2014. In his nine years at the helm, O’Neil led Scott City to a 97-14 record.
His record is better on the hardwood. In basketball, O’Neil guided the team to five state championships and a pair of runner-up finishes.
O’Neil points to the tradition of Scott City and uses it as a model for his Vikings.
“If I didn’t have kids come to play at Scott [City] I didn’t have to yell at them, the parents yelled at them,” O’Neil said.
“It’s a situation where we’re trying to build confidence and building that motivation to come in and prepare to win, and it is a process.”
Given the success in their other programs, Seaman football is seen as a sleeping giant in the Centennial League. With both returning quarterbacks, a stout offensive, a strong seven and veteran leadership, perhaps this is the year the giant awakes.
Last season, the Vikings started off strong with convincing wins against Topeka West and Highland Park. However, the team finished 4-5, getting bounced in the first round by Mill Valley in playoffs, which capped a three-game losing streak.
Turnovers derailed the Vikings from reaching greater heights. In a 27-9 loss to Manhattan, Seaman had seven turnovers. When O’Neil’s team lost to Washburn Rural last season, his team committed six turnovers.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking loss came on September 22 against Shawnee Heights. Despite winning the turnover battle, Seaman had a costly turnover late as Seaman quarterback Kobe Jones threw an interception, giving Heights the ball at the Seaman 29. The next play, Shawnee Heights scored the final touchdown of the game with 2:38 remaining. Seaman lost 21-14.
“Very frustrating,” O’Neil said of last season. “If you look at a couple of the games we lost, a couple of them we were right there, but turnovers played a major factor into ball possession. And in the fourth quarter, you think back to that Shawnee Heights and Washburn Rural game, in particular, both of those games were decided by turnovers in that fourth.”
Jones is back for his senior season and has worked with O’Neil to fix his mistakes.
“I’ve always been a guy where if my first target is not open I run the ball, and this year I’ve settled down a little bit and gone through my progressions,” Jones said.
Last season, Jones threw for 546 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions. He completed 42 percent of his throws. After Jones suffered a concussion against Junction City, Brayden Vawter finished the season for the Vikings. Between his lone start against Mill Valley and playing sparingly throughout the year, Vawter threw for 178 yards and four interceptions.
As a junior, Vawter is competing with Jones for the starting quarterback spot. Both are likely to see snaps throughout the season, according to O’Neil. The head coach commended both for their efforts in practice as they’ve handled the quarterback battle.
“I don’t think it’s really too hard,” O’Neil said. They’ve done a job of sharing [time] and kind of adjusting to the situation. They also realize that the hot guy that night is going to play a little bit more. So, number one, it makes it a little bit more competitive in practice. Number two, they realize they have to bring it every day or they’re going to be in that number two position.”
O’Neil said Jones is the team’s “most explosive athlete” with his combination of speed and size. Jones has also taken reps at wide receiver, according to O’Neil.
Sam Payne returns as the featured running back. This senior averaged 5.9 yards per carry last year and scored four touchdowns on the ground. He has to replace Dalton Temmen, who had 657 yards and eight touchdowns for the Vikings a year ago.
Payne also plays linebacker for the Vikings and made the 2017 All-Centennial League defensive team. At 5’9” and 195 pounds, Payne might be the strongest man in the conference, pound-for-pound. O’Neil said his squat max has improved to 565 pounds, breaking the school record.
“His weight numbers are incredible,” O’Neil said. “He’s paid the price to have a good year.”
Despite his short stature, Payne will be a workhorse back for the Vikings, while continuing to wreck carnage on defense.
“[The height’s] probably what scares the recruiters away, but a lot of heart right there that you can’t measure,” O’Neil said.
Payne believes this team can surprise some people and contend for the conference crown: “I think us group of seniors are pretty hungry. We know what we can do, our abilities. I think we’re going to be able to compete for league, essentially.”
O’Neil has been impressed with his offensive line, featuring seniors Mason Frederick, Jared Kerr and Brent Hart, along with junior TJ Michael.
“They’re probably our strongest group right now,” O’Neil said.
Defensively, O’Neil said his team has a strong front seven that can play fast and physical. Hart will play on the defensive line, along with junior Drayton Foster. Payne will anchor the defense at middle linebacker for his third straight year.
O’Neil mentioned that the secondary is still developing in the preseason. He’s pleased with the efforts, but they still have work to do. Sam Juarez will move from outside linebacker to corner to bring a “spark of quickness out there on the edge,” according to O’Neil. Jones will see time at defensive back as well, along with Jake Spence, Keelan Palmer and Blake McCann.
The 2018 season begins with a trip to Hummer Sports Park as Seaman plays Highland Park. They play Hayden in a rivalry game the next week. Seaman finishes the year with back-to-back 6A opponents in Junction City and Washburn Rural. Both games are significant for potentially building momentum going into playoffs and determining if Seaman will host a first round playoff game.
In his third season at Seaman, O’Neil is ready to take this program to the next level, and this year’s team could potentially make the playoff run needed to make that jump.
“We went 4-5 last year,” Payne said. “I’m looking to go way above .500 this year. You look back at [former Seaman quarterback] Dalton Cowan’s year, coach O’Neil’s first year, 8-3. That’s where I want to be this year.”
“We kind of talk about it every day,” O’Neil said. “‘What type of legacy do you want to leave? Is your legacy going to be average? Is your legacy going to you kind of surprised some people and made a push into the playoffs?’”
All stats from the Topeka Capital-Journal