Our High School Football Preview Tour continues to roll on.
The Meridian Media sports staff is previewing the 2021 season, venturing to different parts of central Kansas.
The latest stop was in Gypsum, home to the Southeast of Saline Trojans.
Southeast of Saline went on a magical run in 2020. The Trojans outscored their eight regular-season opponents 277-38. That dominance continued in the playoffs until a quarterfinal showdown with Collegiate.
Southeast of Saline tried to answer after surrendering a touchdown with 59.8 seconds left, but the Trojans were stopped by an impressive Wichita Collegiate defense with 9.5 seconds to go, advancing the Spartans to the Class 3A state semifinals following a 27-22 victory.
Southeast of Saline finished its best season since 2005 when the Trojans claimed a state championship. A solid senior class is gone from that 9-1 team, but that doesn’t mean the Trojans are empty-handed for 2021 under head coach Mitch Gebhardt.
Junior Luke Gebhardt will take over for his older brother Jaxson under center. Jaxson racked up 6,242 total yards and 62 touchdowns in his three years as a starting quarterback. Luke completed two passes for 34 yards and a touchdown last season, but he’s excited to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
Southeast of Saline fans will need to get used to a different tailback in the backfield as Bryant Banks is gone. In his 28 games at running back, Banks ran for 2,440 yards and 46 touchdowns. Big shoes to fill. However, senior Matthew Rodriguez will look to do that after recording 19 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown a season ago.
Senior Chase Poague is the returning rushing leader, but also the top receiver back from 2020. Poague had 17 catches for 313 yards and four touchdowns last season. Poague caught the attention of the state away from the gridiron when he claimed the state championship in the Class 3A 110 and 300 hurdles events in the spring. Junior Michael Murray was solid last season as well. Murray finished with 14 grabs for 291 yards and three touchdowns.
The real strength for the Trojans in 2021 is up front. Seniors Braxton Blake, Dalton Bunch, Dawson Adams, and Jasper McDowell have plenty of starting experience on both sides of the ball. Sterling Harp is gone, and the Trojans will have to replace that spot, but with these four guys back, the Trojans are more than capable of controlling the line.
Rodriguez followed up his sophomore campaign with an excellent junior season in 2020. After picking up 94 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, and five sacks in 2019, Rodriguez backed that up with 95 tackles, 20 for loss, and three sacks. Next to Rodriguez is Gebhardt, but also junior Landon Allen, who has impressed coach Gebhardt. As a sophomore, Allen recorded 51 stops with six for loss.
The departure of Jaxson Gebhardt is also big for Southeast’s secondary group. Still, plenty of experience is back with Poague and Murray. Poague had two interceptions last year. Luke Gebhardt also had two picks.
Southeast of Saline enjoyed a remarkable run in 2020, but that’s in the rear-view mirror. With the amount of guys back, the goal in 2021 is to make another deep postseason run with hopes taking one step farther.
2021 Southeast of Saline Trojans Football Schedule:
Sept. 3 – Minneapolis
Sept. 10 – at Beloit
Sept. 17 – at Ellsworth
*Sept. 24 – Russell
*Oct. 1 – Colby
*Oct. 8 – at Goodland
*Oct. 15 – Smoky Valley
*Oct. 22 – at Scott City
Oct. 29 – PLAYOFFS
*Denotes 3A District 6 game
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 (on Aug. 25)
Day 9: Sacred Heart Knights (on Aug. 26)
Day 10: Salina South Cougars (on Aug. 27)
Day 10: Salina Central Mustangs (on Aug. 27)