Salina South Football 2023 Season Preview

The Salina South Cougars went winless in 2022, and are currently in the midst of a 15-game losing streak which dates back to week three of 2021, but that hasn’t stopped their progress for this season. South has palpable momentum this fall, and a leader determined to turn the tide. 


Sam Sellers is entering his 14th season as the Cougars’ Head Coach, and after last year, he felt that something had to change within the program in order to get where they wanted to go. 


“I have a bunch of new coaches that have brought a ton of energy and expertise to the mix,” said Sellers in a preseason interview on KSAL. “Our numbers are really good right now, better than they have been in a long time, so there’s a lot of excitement.” 


Sellers brought in six new assistant coaches in the offseason in an effort to shake things up for the better, and so far, all the returns have been positive. The team has responded well to the staff, and showed it with great summer weights and workout attendance numbers, as well as an 80+ player turnout for football this fall. 


“It’s funny, you know, you don’t win a game and you come back and it feels like a completely different team,” said Sellers. “We had a great summer with them. We have a great group of senior leaders that love football, and it’s really important to them and so they’ve been great all summer.”


The Cougars, like every high school team were hit hard by a large graduating senior class, but some unfortunate injuries last season provided invaluable varsity experience for players that South will now count on this season.


“The fear as a coach is, you put a sophomore into that position, especially at quarterback, where everybody’s eyes are on you, you probably get a little too much praise when things go well and a little too much criticism when things don’t go well, and with injuries and all the weird things that happened last year, I knew that there were going to be some rough times in the season,” said Sellers, speaking of the youth that saw action a season ago, particularly at quarterback. “I didn’t want to put Landon (Putman) in a position where he had to carry that, and you worry about a young kid being very discouraged and it kind of hurts their progress where if he’s on the JV field last year, he’s getting lots of quality reps and having success.”


The difficulties of last season were evident, but those frustrating moments seem to point to brighter days ahead, as South will now look to Junior Landon Putman as their full-time starting quarterback. Putman was thrust into action just days before week one in 2022, as an injury to the expected starter at the time forced Sellers to play his youth far earlier than planned. 


“Being thrown into the fire early, he was really upset with me that I tried other options first, which I love,” said Sellers with a laugh.”You want that competitiveness and that’s Landon. He’s also a kid that I knew in the back of my mind, how he is as a kid and how he operates, that he’s not a kid that we would quote-unquote ruin by putting him out there as a sophomore.”


Putman ended up throwing for over 1300 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore, and now with that experience under his belt, and a handful of returning weapons at his disposal, the sky’s the limit. 


The Cougars will also return wide receivers Drew Emerson and Layson Sajdak, who combined for over 300 yards a season ago. They’ll also see an elevated offensive role in two-way starter Carson Power (RB/DB). 


Those weapons, combined with a strong offensive line core, anchored by returning all-AVCTL performers Eric Franco and Derrick Vargas, should be enough to give any Cougar confidence in their offense heading into the season-opener on Friday.


Defensively, South will return a trio of experienced starters in the secondary in the aforementioned players of Carson Power and Drew Emerson, as well as Dawson Dooley, which will help a defense that allowed 53 points per game last season take tremendous strides forward. 


Up front, the Cougars will return Defensive Tackle Dammian Hightower, affectionately dubbed “Maui” by his teammates, who was competing in just his first year of football last season, but saw immense progress over the course of the season, and Coach Sellers feels like he could be the most important piece for South on the D-Line.


“In his first season of football last year, it was amazing to see his development. The kid is crazy strong, fast and plays a very physical brand of football,” said Sellers in his preseason prospectus. “We feel like we are going to take a giant step forward this year defensively from where we’ve been and he is going to be a big reason for that, not just in his impact as a player but the effect his style of play and energy has on the other 10 guys on the field.”


The Cougars will open the season Friday night at Salina Stadium against crosstown rival Salina Central, who has won the last two matchups in the Mayor’s Cup series, which will be in its 54th installment when the ball is kicked off at 7pm. Fans can catch the action on Friday live on 1150 KSAL and 106.7 FM, as well as online at The rest of the season, each South game will be broadcast on Y93.7 FM.