After two straight trips to the state title game – including a championship – but graduating one of the greatest high school quarterbacks in Kansas history, can Blue Valley North come close to its success in 2019?
The Mustangs, with 36 wins in the last four years under Andy Sims, graduate all world quarterback Graham Mertz. Mertz, now a Wisconsin Badger, earned the MVP at the All-American Bowl and helped lead BV North to the Kansas Class 6A title game, including the 2017 title. Along with Mertz were other talented seniors, including receiver Cameron Burt, who set the Kansas record for most receiving yards and receptions in a year, and Amauri Pesek-Hickson, who is playing at Kansas.
Who will step in and fill Mertz’s shoes? The same quarterback who stepped in when Mertz was injured last year – sophomore Henry Martin. As just a freshman, Martin stepped in for an Injured Mertz with 160 yards and three touchdowns mid-game at Pittsburg, then tossed up 288 yards and five scores in his start vs Blue Valley West. For the year, Martin threw for 619 yards and 11 touchdowns to one interception.
“Henry’s good, but he’s still a sophomore,” Sims said of the 6-0, 190-pound thrower. “It was big for him to be with a guy like Graham in the meeting rooms, on the sidelines – that’s a lot of exposure to a really, really good quarterback.”
Senior Shawn Henderson starts as the top returning receiver from 2018. (Photo: Darryl Woods, 810 Varsity)
Martin will have a stable of targets to throw to, including senior Shawn Hendershot, who caught 46 passes for 494 yards and 12 scores. Fellow seniors Connor Loftus and Dierre Johnson will be stepping up in their final years. Junior Theo Grabill transfers from St. Thomas Aquinas and brings immediate talent to the outside. Another transfer in sophomore Mekhi Miller also will make an instant impact.
“Theo is a really good receiver with a great work ethic, super high character and had a great summer,” Sims said.
Kahlil Allen will assume carries at running back, running back a solid offensive line with senior tackle Garrett Aimutus (6-foot-2, 285), junior Jake Marzullo (6-foot-1, 235) and senior Griffin Williams (6-foot-4, 235).
“We should have a good group up front,” Sims stated. “We’re not going to have road graters with 6-foot-5, 300 across the board, but tough, hard-working and smart kids, so we feel good there.”
On the defensive side, senior Reid Spachman (6-foot-3, 215) returns after registering 14 sacks in 2018. Senior Brock Anderson (6-foot-4, 230) also will help anchor the line.
A pair of senior linebackers who will play at the next level will head the Mustangs defense in Nick Hafford (6-0, 200) and Tim Foster (6-foot-2, 215). Seniors Paul Garcia and Luka Ivkovic (5-foot-11, 165) also will notch wrapups at linebacker.
Andy Sims has led Blue Valley North to 36 wins and two state title games in the last four years. (Photo: Darryl Woods, 810 Varsity)
In the secondardy, Allen returns at safety as well as senior cornerback Marco Collins (5-foot-10, 165). Sophomore Dasan McCullough (6-foot-4, 200) and freshman brother Daeh McCullough (6-0, 165) join senior Tate Kiehn (5-foot-11, 160) in the secondary.
“We have some talent with our young guys, it’s just a matter how quick they mature,” Sims stated. “Sometimes they’re so afraid to make a mistake, that you have to let them have some fun and relax.”
Overall, the Eastern Kansas League will be a grinder with two defending state champions in Aquinas (5A) and Bishop Miege (4A), as well as Blue Valley, Mill Valley and others.
“It’s a tough schedule in the league, but as we’ve known, it prepares you well for the playoffs, and the EKL has done extremely well in the postseason,” Sims said. “We look to endure the early part of the schedule and then get ready for the playoffs and keep getting better each week.”