We’ve made it to game day on 1440 KMAJ! Today, we wrap up our Topeka 7 Football Previews with the men of Troy, the Topeka High Trojans. Catch tonight’s game between Topeka High and Shawnee Heights on 1440 KMAJ. Pregame starts at 5:40, kickoff at 7. To catch up on the other six previews, find the links at the bottom.
The players, coaches and supporters of Topeka High know where they came from, and where they stand now.
When head coach Walt Alexander took over the program in 2006, the Trojans had never won the Centennial League. Since 2012, the men of Troy have won or shared four league crowns.
Last year, the team won its playoff game since 2012. The team has battled the elite programs of 6A in those playoff loses. In the 2012 quarterfinals, the Trojans lost to Hutchinson by nine, and the Salt Hawks made it to the state championship. The same scenario played out in 2014. In 2015, 8-1 Topeka High traveled to 8-1 Derby, who would later win the 6A state championship.
“A lot of people want to knock on us for not advancing farther into the playoffs, but they fail to realize just who we were meeting,” the 12-year head coach said.
Those unfortunate breaks have made it difficult for Alexander’s crew to have a long November schedule. However, optimism is growing at 800 SW 10th St. as this year’s experienced Trojan team believes that this year they will make a great playoff run in 6A.
“I don’t like to guess,” Alexander said when asked where his team stacks up against the other 6A teams. “We just take it one week at a time and one game at a time. …Put it this way, it’s going to take a good football team to beat us because I feel like we are a good football team.”
With All-City and All-Centennial League MVP running back Ky Thomas, All-City and second-team All-City running back Jacquez Barksdale and All-City offensive newcomer of the year Da’Vonshai Harden, the Trojans had one of the most explosive backfields in all of Kansas a year ago.
All three of them return this season ready to leave their mark on the program.
Topeka High knows how to score. Last year, Topeka High averaged 47.8 points per game in their ten games. They averaged 476.7 yards per game in way to an 8-2 record and a share of the Centennial League championship.
Leading the way for the black and gold is Thomas. Thomas, a 3-star running back according to Rivals and 247Sports, led the league in total yards with 2018 yards rushing, receiving and passing. He accounted for 26 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. Alexander said the 6’0” running back has put on more weight in the off-season and now weighs 190 pounds.
Alexander had nothing but praise for his standout running back.
“He does everything that he’s supposed to do that it takes to be successful,” Alexander said. “He’s been thrust into this since he was a freshman. As a sophomore he was very good physically. I think he’s become a leader this year. He’s become mentally tougher.”
According to 247Sports, Thomas has offers from Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa and Louisiana Tech. Alexander said Thomas has handled the spotlight, both from opposing coaches scheming against him and the media, well.
“I can’t be more proud,” Alexander said. “A lot of kids wouldn’t have handled it as well as he has. I think he’s going to do better with it now that he’s a junior.”
The Trojans would be set if they just had Thomas in the backfield, but when Alexander adds Barksdale the team has another talented running back ready to shoulder the load. Alexander said Barksdale “might be the best back we have and we don’t even know it yet.”
As a junior, Barksdale averaged 10.1 yards per carry on his way to rushing for 902 yards and 12 touchdowns. Barksdale can also catch the ball out of the backfield, as he hauled in 11 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
Barksdale will miss the first two games of the season to ineligibility questions in regard to his transfer from Highland Park. The Kansas State High School Activities Association originally striped Topeka High of their eight wins, but reinstated them February. However, KSHSAA did uphold Barksdale’s suspension. He will make his return against his former school on September 14.
Harden will add another year of experience under center this season. As a sophomore, Harden threw for 1256 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions in ten games. The All-City newcomer of the year also rushed for 542 yards and six touchdowns. Alexander said Harden has come a long way in becoming a more complete quarterback.
“I think he’s throwing the ball a lot better than he did last year,” Alexander said. “We all know he can run with the football and he’s a very talented young man, but his ability to go through his progressions and read defenses and go where he is suppose to go with the ball has gotten tremendously better.”
Harden will at senior tight end Jalen Blackwell to stretch the field vertically. The 6’2”, 235 pound tight end caught seven passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns last season. Alexander also highlighted freshman Mekhi Miller, a 6’1” 170 pound receiver. Alexander said “he’s one of the most talented kids in our program.”
The big question offense comes from the offensive line, as the Trojans lost key contributors Matt Garza, Tucker Richey and Tanner Matthias. According to Alexander, all three of them are playing sports in Kansas colleges this year.
“We still have some unproven kids up front, on the offensive line, that’s the only place where graduation hit us pretty hard. We lost some real experienced kids up there.”
In 2018 Sunseer Bland, Evan Hayes, Michael Reffner, E’Monte Neal, and Carson Pendleton will anchor the trenches. The combined weight of those five lineman stands at 1495 pounds.
“This group of kids here, they’ve really come on lately. I would say our size, this is probably our biggest offensive line we’ve ever had and if they continue to develop they’re going to be pretty decent.”
Defensively, the Trojans gave up 17.7 points per game, the second-best mark in the city. Alexander returns Logan Gage at defensive back and Carson Klingerman at linebacker. Alexander said freshman JP Deeter could see significant playing time at middle linebacker. Alexander said this unit will play with quickness and “team speed.”
Topeka High starts the season with a non-conference game against former Centennial League member Shawnee Heights. Heights split the league title with High last season, along with Manhattan. That game will air tonight on 1440 KMAJ.
Speaking of Manhattan, Topeka High will have to travel to Manhattan for a pivotal week two showdown that could determine the Centennial League race and seeding for 6A playoffs. Topeka High will also travel to Junction City September 21.
This team ran into the elite programs in the playoffs and fell short in years past. With a strong returning core and veteran leadership, Topeka High hopes to make a deep playoff run and take the next step in joining the conversation as one of Kansas’s elite programs.
“It’s a difficult thing to do,” Alexander said when asked about building this program. “It takes time and persistence and a bunch of great coaches, which we’ve been fortunate that we’ve had very little turnover in our coaching staff.”
“We always want to go farther, but we’ll just take it one game at a time.”
All stats counted from game recaps from the Topeka Capital Journal. Schedule from KPreps. Heights and weights from Coach Alexander and MaxPreps