Contrary to the trends in college football, when it comes to scheduling the first game of the season, the Manhattan Indians don’t shy away from big matchups.
After two consecutive season-opening games against Class 4A powerhouse Topeka Hayden, the Manhattan Indians will once again be tested against a playoff team in Week 1.
This year, it’s the Mill Valley Jaguars making the trek from Shawnee to Bishop Stadium to open the season at 7 p.m. on Friday.
MHS head coach Joe Schartz said he’s been impressed with the Jaguars, who after starting a large group of sophomores two years ago are poised to make a run in 5A with those same experienced players.
“They’re an excellent football team,” Schartz said. “Their quarterback, Skyler Windmiller, he’s ranked by Rivals or somebody as the fourth-best player in the state of Kansas.
“They made the playoffs last year in 5A and they have (17) returning starters off of that team from last year.”
Windmiller is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound quarterback that’s receiving attention from several Division-I schools after throwing for more than 2,000 yards last season. The Jaguars also return all-state honorable mention offensive lineman Coleman McCann to anchor a veteran group of blockers up front.
Manhattan, on the other hand, returns only three starters from 2011 as it attempts to reload with some upperclassmen who have contributed in the past, but not in a starting role.
“Right now the way it’s shaping up, we’ve got mostly seniors on the offensive and defensive lines,” Schartz said. “We have a few juniors mixed in there, but they’re all upperclassmen.”
Schartz knows Mill Valley is going to come out swinging with such a big contest in Week 1.
“They’re going to be coming out on opening night and they’re looking really to set the tone for their season,” Schartz said. “It’s going to be a battle, but I expect our kids to rise to the occasion.”
Defensively, the Jaguars will run a 4-3 formation that was effective last year, though gave up plenty of yards and points.
Mill Valley is expected to run multiple sets offensively, giving the Indians defense the opportunity to see several different types of offense in the first week. But one look at Windmiller’s stat line shows the Jaguars like to throw the ball around.
Manhattan will counter with a staunch defense and a ball-control offense that plans to limit how many chances the Jaguars get to score.
“We’re not going to change the way we play football,” Schartz said. “Our basic philosophy is we want to play great defense. That’s where we put our emphasis.”
Friday night will be the debut for a pair of talented running backs who transferred into the program over the offseason, Devin Cossman and Tony Daniels. Those two, along with quarterback Jacob Holloway, will give the backfield a complete new look, though even with those new players, the Indians will not enjoy the same depth at running back as in previous seasons.
Schartz thinks this team can go as far as any other, as long as the Indians mature quickly and adjust to the new roles assigned to them.
“I’ve said to the team, and to anybody that’ll listen, the whole key to success this year is how quickly these guys grow up,” he said. “They have to realize that now they’re going to be relied upon to make plays for the team to have success. It takes a little bit of time for that to happen.
“Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.”