It’s the final day of our High School Football Preview Tour.
The Meridian Media sports staff is previewing the 2021 season, venturing to different parts of central Kansas.
The last stop was in Salina, home to the Salina South Cougars.
With South’s strength of schedule each year, wins can be tough to come by. The Cougars didn’t face Derby because of a COVID-19 issue with the Panthers, but they did end up squaring off with Maize South, a program that replaced Salina Central in the AVCTL-I.
Still, South found a way to go 2-6 and could’ve had a third win in the second to final game against Newton. Instead, South ended the regular season by scoring 27 straight against rivals Salina Central, defeating the Mustangs 34-28. A combined 13 starters and 23 lettermen return for Sam Sellers, who enters his 12th season as head coach, 20th overall at Salina South.
The offensive expectations will be high in 2021. Junior quarterback Weston Fries showed his playmaking ability numerous times last year. The AVCTL-I honorable mention selection threw for 1,569 yards and 16 touchdowns and completed 52 percent of his passes. Fries hopes to make that jump from underclassman to upperclassman.
Senior tailback Brandt Cox has been a staple in the Cougars’ rushing attack for years. Cox ran for 654 yards and eight touchdowns and averaged 4.6 yards per carry en route to a second team all-league selection. Still, Cox wasn’t pleased with those numbers in 2020 and he’s wanting to finish out his Cougar career with a bang. Expect Ian Andalon to receive some carries as well. Don’t count out the slot backs with sophomore Kaden Budke and junior Luke Simpson.
The wide receiver room took a hit with the loss of South’s top two targets – Colin Schreiber and Jackson Hayes. However, the guys back have major potential to break out in 2021. Highlighting the group is junior Te’Jon McDaniel. McDaniel is a very rangy receiver that caught eight passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Coach Sellers also expects big things out of seniors Zach Davidson and Carter Copes. Garrett Aills, Kreighton Modrow, and Laken Webb round out the group.
The key to success this year for the Cougars will be up front. Coach Sellers has lofty goals set for this unit that brings back seniors Shae Lefort (AVCTL-I 2nd team) and Carter Lambeth and junior Jose Felguerez. Transfer from Colorado Jesse Vorarath will increase the average weight of the line. Coach Sellers is seeing a lot of competition within this group. Names to watch: Jorge Franco, Derrick Vargas, Brayden Fencl, Jarrett Diedrich, Peyton Augustine, and Jesse Dunshire.
Much like the offense, the defensive strength will be in the trenches. It’ll be an all senior group starting up front with Kayson Dietz, Brandon Fletcher, and Trey Berland. Dietz shed some weight for wrestling last year and kept it off, looking more explosive than ever. Dietz was third on the team with 55 tackles. He also logged a sack and four tackles for loss. Berland and Fletcher, the “Bash Brothers”, bring energy every single play. Berland had 34 tackles, eight for loss. Fletcher had 10 stops. Fencl and Dylan Roberts will provide dept as well.
The group behind the line is just as impressive. Carter Kirby is gone, but the Cougars still have seniors Jarrett Pittenger and Drew Nelson and Simpson. Pittenger and Simpson were the top two tacklers a season ago. Simpson (AVCTL-I 2nd team) finished with 69 tackles while Pittenger ended up with 58 hits. In Nelson’s six games, he logged 28 tackles. Alex Davidson, Cooper Vorarath, Seth Robben, Jesus Banda, and Budke all will compete for playing time.
The secondary will look vastly different in 2021. AJ Johnson, Que Hill, Hayes, and Owen Bulleigh are all gone. However, coach Sellers has confidence in their replacements. Modrow, Aills, Andalon, and Carson Power will fight for playing time. McDaniel, Webb, Cox, and Seth Clemmer will be names to follow at safety.
South’s 2021 season will be just as loaded as the previous years. Defensive improvement is necessary if the Cougars want to bounceback. With a good chuck returning in the front seven and plenty of offensive firepower, the Cougars feel they can improve this fall.
2021 Salina South Cougars Football Schedule (all kickoff times slated for 7 pm w/games on Y93.7 & ksal.com):
Sept. 3 – McPherson
Sept. 10 – at Maize South
Sept. 17 – at Campus
Sept. 24 – Derby
Oct. 1 – Maize
Oct. 8 – at Hutchinson
Oct. 15 – at Newton
Oct. 22 – Salina Central
Oct. 29 – PLAYOFFS
Day 1: Abilene Cowboys
Day 2: Bennington Bulldogs
Day 3: Ellsworth Bearcats
Day 4: Solomon Gorillas
Day 5: Smoky Valley Vikings
Day 6: Minneapolis Lions
Day 7: Southeast of Saline Trojans
Day 8: Ell-Saline Cardinals
Day 9: Sacred Heart Knights
Day 10: Salina South Cougars (on Aug. 27)
Day 10: Salina Central Mustangs (on Aug. 27)