We are two days away from our first high school football game of the season on 1440 KMAJ. To get ready, Ethan Koch is breaking down each city team in the 2018 Topeka 7 Football Previews. Today’s preview features the Hayden Wildcats. To read other team previews, find the links at the bottom.
No matter who dons the golden helmets for the Hayden Wildcats, every player knows the expectation: win a state championship.
It doesn’t matter what classification the Kansas State High School Activities Association assigns Hayden, if they do not play football on Thanksgiving weekend, then head coach Bill Arnold isn’t satisfied.
“This is my 12th season here and I think I’ve walked away one time happy in the offseason,” Arnold said.
Last season, Hayden fell short of their goals, losing to Frontenac in the 4A-II state semifinals. Despite gaining 365 yards of total offense, the Wildcats turned the ball over five times.
“We ran [up] against a good Frontenac team a year ago and didn’t play our game best game that night. So, it kind of left a bit of a sour taste, but it’s a new group of kids, so we’re ready to start the new year off.
This season, the golden domers move to the newly restructured 3A, becoming the biggest school in the classification. KSHSAA has stacked the class with stalwarts like Sabetha, Holton, Holcomb, Wichita Collegiate, Frontenac, Pratt and Scott City.
The 2018 Hayden Wildcats look to make another run to a state championship, no matter what the obstacles.
To achieve this, Arnold and the coaching staff has to fill big holes left by graduating seniors. The Wildcats lose the city’s leading passer, their three leading rushers and the city’s leading receiver.
Sampson Huston had a career season at quarterback for Hayden, throwing for 23 touchdowns and 2185 yards while completing 57 percent of his passes. Brady Bohannon will take snaps under center this season. Arnold said Bohannon has stepped up since late May and “taken the bull by the horns.”
Hayden is traditionally a very run-based heavy offense. However, with Huston and star wide receiver DeShawn Hanika, the wildcats started going vertical in the passing game. Hanika hauled in 71 catches for 1284 and 14 touchdowns. It was the most productive season by a wide receiver at Hayden this decade in terms of total yards and touchdowns. The duo of Huston and Hanika led Hayden in its most prolific passing offense since 2014, where Jacob Head threw for 2203 yards.
Hayden’s success throwing the ball provided balance to the offense. The wildcats scored 27 touchdowns and average 5.65 yards per carry on the ground.
However, throwing the ball more was a shift in their offensive identity. Hayden ran for 2458 yards last year, their lowest total since 2012. Huston had more pass attempts than any Hayden signal caller this decade.
Arnold said he expects to get back to becoming a ground-and-pound running team based on this year’s personnel.
“I think we are always going to have a Wing-T personality to us, and then you just kind of tweak things based on what your personality gives you. I would expect us to be a strong running team this year.”
This team will have a new stable of running backs this season, as Brent Peavler, Matt Moore and Brandon VanBecelaere, the three leading rushers from last season. Stepping up this year is sophomore running back Desmond Purnell. In his freshman year, Purnell ran for 277 yards on 50 carries, scoring four touchdowns. Purnell also had 143 yards retrieving kickoffs.
Arnold can’t wait to see what Purnell does to follow up such a promising start to his career.
“I think he should definitely be a force to be reckoned with. He’s got another year’s experience, [spent] the entire year in the weight room. We’re excited about him.”
Purnell should have plenty of holes to choose from thanks to the Hayden offensive lineman, the strength of the team, according to Arnold. Rhett Jay, Philip Voegeli, Brandon Appelhanz and Tegan Abbey will anchor the line.
Defensively, Arnold said his team lacks experience but is eager to get on the field.
“Well if we can get them potty trained we’ll be alright,” Arnold said. “We’ve got some good talented kids; we’re just lacking some experience. How do you remedy that? You get out and start playing games, and we are about to the point where we need to start playing some games.”
By joining 3A, Hayden cannot compete for a Centennial League title this season or in 2019 because they will only play three league games. In 3A, Hayden will play five games against district opponents, cutting their Centennial League season short.
“I don’t want to take anything about [the] league or whatever, but it’s kind of a joke to have a league champion if not everyone gets to play each other in the first place, Arnold said. “Being 4A, we’ve never been able to play everybody in the Centennial League in the same year.”
Hayden joins Bishop Ward, Jefferson West, Perry-LeCompton, Santa-Fe Trail and Wellsville in District 3 in 3A. The top four teams in the district will advance to the playoffs. Playing in districts early means Hayden will have to play its best football earlier in order to avoid early district upsets.
“You’re going to have to speed things up a little bit,” Arnold said. “We’re use to getting six regular season games and then you start districts, so you had to be at your prime in week 7, and now we start districts in week 4. [It’s a] little bit different approach to the way you attack things throughout the season, I think.”
To start the season, Hayden will play Topeka West on August 31. They finish non-district play with a trip to Seaman, then a game against Washburn Rural at home.
Hayden has not won a state title since 2008, but has played in three other state championships since that time, all in different classifications. In 2009 and 2014, Hayden lost to perennial power Bishop Miege in the 4A and 4A-I state championships. In 2016, Pratt edged Hayden in the 4A-II state title bout.
No matter the class, no matter the roster turn over, Arnold expects to win. Hayden players understand those expectations and embrace them.
For Arnold and the Hayden Wildcats, the goal remains the same: play for a state championship, no matter who is on the schedule.
“To be honest with you, I don’t pay any attention to it,” the 12-year head coach said. “All the postseason stuff will play its way out. …Outside of just a realignment as far as who you’re playing in your districts, I don’t see much difference in anything.”
Stats from the official website for the Hayden Wildcats, https://haydenwildcatfootball.wildapricot.org/