Last season, Blue Valley Northwest began the transition from being hunter to that of hunted.
For the previous six years, they failed to cross the .500 threshold and finish with a winning record. Now, under fifth-year head coach Clint Rider, the Huskies are at the cusp of breaking through and laying stake to being one of the top-tier programs in the vaunted Eastern Kansas League.
“The 2020 season helped us redefine the expectations for our program,” Rider explained. “We have always been optimistic, but our success last year has absolutely stoked the fire.”
Rider’s Huskies started last season with three straight wins over Blue Valley School District foes Blue Valley, BV West and BV Southwest on their way to a 5-2 season mark and their first winning season since 2013.
It wasn’t until Week Four that the Huskies dropped a contest - to 6A state runner-up and perennial power and crosstown rival, Blue Valley North.
“We got off to a great start last season,” Rider recalled. “When we played North in week four, we were one play away from winning. That further proved to our guys that we can match up with anyone - even the defending state champs.”
Last year’s success looks to be a warm-up for what’s in store this season. Returning for BV Northwest will be 10 offensive starters and eight first-line defenders returning to their starting positions.
Thanks to an offense that erupted for more than 40 points in four games, the Huskies averaged 32 points-per-game, one of the best in the EKL. The catalyst for last year’s offense was star quarterback Mikey Pauley (6-foot-4, 195) who returns for his senior season with football scholarship offers in-hand from both Kansas State and KU, among others. The all-time Husky leader in both passing yards and touchdowns will be one of the most sought-after signal callers in the Midwest.
“Mikey blew up last year and threw for close to 1,400 passing yards, but he also ran for over 500 and was the leading rusher for our team,” Rider gushed, “and that was in just seven games.”
Mikey Pauley figures to be one of the top quarterbacks in the region in 2021.
Joining the prolific Pauley in the backfield will be another standout Husky - running back Grant Stubblefield, (6-foot-1, 190). The shifty scatback accounted for seven touchdowns and over 550 yards from scrimmage last season, which helped him earn honorable mention all-state honors in his sophomore campaign.
Senior Josh Cusick (5-foot-10, 180) will rotate in a running back and bring “A big burst and change of pace” style of running, according to Rider.
At wideout, senior Max Muehlberger (6-foot-4, 195) will again get the chance to showcase his athleticism and show the fans why he’s already earned scholarship offers from North Carolina State and Penn, and several other top NCAA programs.
Muehlberger collected 23 catches for over 400 yards receiving and tacked on six touchdowns. His huge frame will again cause matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators, but will offer a welcome embrace for Pauley’s rockets.
“We have some of the most athletic players I’ve had a chance to be around,” Rider said enthusiastically. “These guys are fantastic.”
Adding to the list of fantastics will be speedy senior receivers Nick Cusick (5-foot-9, 140), Steven Whitter (5-foot-10, 165) and Cooper Russell (5-foot-11, 160) - all who were big contributors last year. Tight end Aidan Behymer (6-foot-5, 220) is another matchup nightmare when he’s lined up as an eligible receiver, but also does plenty of pancaking when called upon to block.
Paving the way for their offensive brothers will be the entire starting line from last year. Gabe Peterson (6-foot-2, 240) will again be the anchor after earning Honorable Mention All-State, First-Team All-Blue Valley, and other recognitions. The senior standout already has offers in-hand from the likes of Pitt State, SE Missouri State and Fort Hays State.
Fellow senior lineman Christian Repass (6-foot-5, 260) also earned Honorable Mention honors (All-Blue Valley) last season.
The three juniors who make up the remaining front five will be Joel Deppe (6-foot, 215), Easton Wasinger (6-foot-2, 245) and the aforementioned Behymer. The group is one of the few in the area with all five starters over 6-feet tall and carrying at least 215 pounds.
With so many returning playmakers, it’s easy to understand why Rider is so excited about this season.
“These guys have as much potential as any I’ve been around,” Rider predicted. “This is a really fun group to coach, and as coaches we are grateful to be around them each day.”
Of the returning starters on defense, all eight were recognized for postseason honors.
Senior safeties Zach Yates (6-foot, 170) and Carson Rockey (6-foot-2, 175), and cornerbacks Sebastian Meriano (6-foot, 170) and Josh Cusick (5-foot-10, 185) were All-Blue Valley award recipients. Yates also snagged an All-State Honorable Mention honor.
The heart of the defensive midfield are four linebackers who know how to lay the wood. Joe Samyn (5-foot-11, 195) was credited with a team-leading 60 tackles last year and a brought home a second team All-Blue Valley award. Fellow seniors Gavin Biancalana (5-foot-10, 185), Drew Ranallo (5-foot-10, 180), and Drew Kaufman (6-foot-2, 185) combined for 97 tackles last year.
The three bull rushers of the Husky 3-4 defense will be seniors Gabe Peterson (6-foot-2, 240), Carter Worthington (6-foot-2, 220) and two-way end Behymer.
Rider says anything is possible this season for the Huskies. He says the schedule will be tough, but the Huskies hope to get better each week.
“This year, we will have to go through the full gauntlet of the EKL schedule and we recognize the quality of each opponent in our league,” Rider predicted. “Our focus is to go 1-0 each week and continue to improve throughout the course of the season in order to be playing our best football come November.”
The Huskies open their 2021 season against Blue Valley on September 3.