Eight high school football state championships games will take place around Kansas on Saturday, officially putting the 2021 football season in the books.

Manhattan’s season came to an end two weeks ago with a 9-2 record and home sectionals loss to Lawrence, but the future for the Indians remains promising despite losing 12 starting varsity seniors to graduation.

“The future is bright for Manhattan,” freshman coach Alex Reineke said. “There’s a lot of kids coming up that are going to be players. We’ve been blessed the past couple of years with good underclassmen that have filled in and done a great job. There’s not a guy out there that I look at and not think that he can do something.”

The Manhattan junior varsity squad went 8-1 with their lone loss coming on the road at Bishop Carroll in a game where the Indians were without their starting quarterback.

“The JV group is a solid group of kids who’ve really bought into Coach Schartz’s system,” junior varsity coach Eric Altevogt said. “(Athletics Director Mike Marsh) was good enough to run around and get us a bunch of games. We went to (Bishop Carroll), we went to Holton. The kids got a lot of good action and did a good job this year.”

One of the top junior varsity players from this past season was sophomore quarterback Ian McNabb.

The 6-foot-0, 160 pound sophomore was extremely productive during mop-up duty during MHS’ many blowouts this season, playing in nine of the 11 games. McNabb recorded 279 yards on the ground on 21 attempts with five touchdowns while going 4-for-7 through the air for 36 yards.

McNabb also had seven tackles and could see himself as more of an all-purpose player next season for the varsity squad.

“I thought he did a great job,” junior varsity coach Lucas Aslin said. “He got some reps at the high school level. I don’t know where he actually fits in varsity-wise next season but he’ll find a way on the field on the offensive side as a running back or defensively as a linebacker or safety. He has had an impressive year.”

The other junior varsity player that made a sizable impact for the Manhattan varsity is junior running back Deandre Aukland. Aukland was the second-string back behind stud senior Vinny Smith and is in line to take over the starting spot next fall.

Aukland ended the year with 264 rushing yards on 21 carries in the nine games that he played in including a start during the Indians’ playoff game versus Gardner-Edgerton.

Altevogt and Aslin also identified nine other players, all sophomores, that they expect to step into bigger roles as juniors led by defensive backs Elijah McFadden, Chris Dunnigan and Max Stanard and linebacker Landon Machor who all played in multiple varsity games this season.

Linemen Andrew Kenney (tackle) and Jarett Johnson (guard) could be in line to fill spots vacated by senior Talique Houtson and Cade McIlvaine and the tailback trio of Charles Morgan, Jaques Toliver and Dwayne Newby make up a stacked MHS running back room.

Junior tight end and defensive end Cole Coonrod was also mentioned as a player who was talented enough to see varsity playing time this season but at times was stuck behind older teammates like senior Trey Holloway.

Meanwhile, the Manhattan freshmen just polished-off their third straight undefeated season led by tight end and linebacker Landon Dobson who Reineke described as “a stud” that could find varsity playing time as a sophomore.

Joining Dobson on the list of illuminated freshmen include Carter Aslin and Colby Altevogt.

“When they come in as freshmen from the two middle schools we present them with an opportunity that not everybody has,” Reineke said. “We make sure that they get into the weight room before their freshmen year so they can get to know each other and start to co-exist as one school instead of the two middle schools.

“Building that continuity and trust goes a long way. We make sure they understand that they’re fortunate to be in a program like Manhattan High that has the culture, the history and all of the things that are tough to build year after year. There’s a lot of pride that goes into that.”