Building a family atmosphere on top of replacing a large group of starters are just some of the challenges facing Shawnee Heights football team ahead of the 2020 season. However, the season looks promising for the Thunderbirds.
“Our team has a bunch of two and three-sport athletes that compete year around. Our success (depends) on us coming together, playing for each other, and competing,” said Shawnee Heights head coach Jason Swift.
In his 18th year at Shawnee Heights, Swift pointed to competition away from the Friday Night lights as an area of focus for team unity.
“Not just on Friday nights, but in practice, pushing each other. If we can create a family-like culture where the players play for each other, we will be able to win some games.”
Key returning players for the Thunderbirds will be 2nd Team United Kansas Conference Wide Receiver Brayden Zirkle.
The senior receiver caught 37 passes for 720 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Another productive piece on offense returning will be 3rd year starting senior quarterback Hunter Wohler. The dual-threat student-athlete threw for 1,246 yards with 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He also contributed 395 yards on the ground and 9 touchdowns for Shawnee Heights football.
“Offensively, this will be our 2nd year running a spread offense. Our job as coaches is to do a better job teaching it.”
In special teams, the kicking abilities of senior Manny Salamanca will be one to watch.
Salamanca averaged 30-yard punts last season while going 22 of 25 in PAT’s and kicking a 39-yard field goal. It was enough to earn him 2nd Team United Kansas Conference honors last year.
The defensive side of the ball for the Thunderbirds returns 3 starters from last year.
“Defensively, we will be young, but the junior class is solid and should help our three returning seniors who had a great fall last year,” said Swift.
Those returning include seniors Ziwaun White at the defensive end, nose guard Caleb Appel and free safety Jacob Myers.
Myers recorded 1 interception and 53 tackles, while White and Appel combined for 3.5 sacks last season. White earned Honorable Mention postseason UKC honors with his performance.
The Thunderbird family will benefit from 5 home games this year, including a stretch of 4 games in a row against FL Schlagle, Basehor-Linwood, De Soto and Blue Valley Southwest.
“One of our goals is to win the UKC and it starts week 1 vs. Leavenworth.”
Still, coach Swift noted it would be the student-athletes effort on the field regardless of home, or away that will be the difference this season.
“Hard work, not talent, will be the key for us. Great kids that love to compete, but just need to do it together.”