After a few tough years recently, Olathe East looks to make its jump back into the top of the Sunflower League.
The Hawks return a solid cast with a ton of players returning from 2018, including Nate Matlack, one of the area’s top defensive players.
Matlack, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior, shifted from defensive end to inside linebacker and went on tear. In the spring, Matlack committed to K-State.
“He led our defense in overall production in four of the last five games,” said fifth-year head coach Jesse Owen. “He will be one of our team leaders this season.”
Also pairing with Matlack will be junior outside linebacker Jaxon Avena (5-foot-10, 170), a returning starter.
“He’s smart and reliable, possesses good coverage skills, yet can also play against a tight end,” Owen commented.
The secondary also will be experience with senior Hezekiah Newman (6-foot-1, 175) and junior Devin Wilmore (6-foot-3, 180).
“Hezekiah possesses good coverage skills and run fitting skills,” Owen said. “Devin steadily developed as the season progressed last year, is a hard worker and is acquiring the skills to play on the back end.”
Joining the duo is senior cornerback Jordin Epting (5-foot-9, 165), who started every game in 2018.
“Jordin possesses good coverage skills and may be our fastest player on the team,” Owen said.
The offensive will run through junior running back Ma’rrell Fountain (5-foot-8, 170), who rushed for over 1,000 yards despite injury the last seven games.
On the outside, junior Kameron Byers (6-foot-1, 170) will line up at wideout.
“Kameron may be the best athlete on our team,” Owen touted. “As his route tree expanded last year, our offense improved.”
Byers also may see time at quarterback, as well as others competing for playcaller. The new quarterback will have a tough task, as the Hawks face Olathe North, Free State and Gardner-Edgerton in three of the first four games. The trio combined to finish 1-2-3 in the Sunflower League with a 29-5 record.
“Fitting in a new quarterback, combined with our front-loaded schedule, will result in growing pains for our offense,” Owen forewarned. “We will need to take care of the ball – that will be critical.”
A veteran offensive line will help that, with seniors Dalton Carder (6-foot-2, 270) and Myles McClellan (6-0, 250) starting every game in 2018.
“Dalton is our strongest lineman and possesses good feet for a lineman his size,” Owen stated. “Myles adds to an experienced group returning up front of offense. Our offensive line will rely on his leadership this year.”
Junior Tarin Thomas (6-0, 220) also returns after starting the final six games as a sophomore.
“Tarin possesses good strength and athleticism,” Owen said. “We are looking forward to seeing him continue to develop this year.”
“While we are returning some good players, we are a thin team overall,” Owen analyzed. “The last few seasons we have sustained injuries to some of our best football players early in the season. Hopefully we have some good fortune this year regarding health.”