St. James Academy Thunder football team moves to Class 4A after spending the last five years in Class 5A.
That change and losing much of their defense from last year to graduation will present some challenges for the Thunder.
“(We) look to build off our successful play in recent years in arguably the hardest league in the state,” said St. James Academy head coach Tom Radke.
A part of the coaching staff for Radke, who is in his 10th year at St. James Academy, includes former players.
They include Matt Joshi, offensive coordinator and St. Thomas Aquinas alum, Julian Cole and Christian Buckener, KC-Piper alum, and Sam Bruning, who played for Radke at St. James Academy.
Radke estimates that close to 100 student-athletes will suit up for the Thunder football program with five returning offensive starters and only two on defense.
“We are really looking forward to what we have coming back in 2020.”
Senior quarterback Dakota Burrit, who started the final two games of 2019, will lead the play-calling for St. James Academy.
The Thunder offense runs out of the Pistol formation, giving Burrit plenty of options.
Tyler Claiborn, 6’3″ 194 lbs. junior, will be a large target for Burrit to connect with on offense.
Claiborn recorded 522 yards receiving with two touchdowns last season as a sophomore.
On the ground, running will be Jack Steinlage. The 5’8 158 lbs. senior rushed for 103 yards last season on 16 carries.
The projected front five linemen starters average over 258 lbs. with four seniors and one junior.
Seniors Luis Bautista, Emilio Zaldivar, Caleb Pelts, and Harry Spencer and junior Josh Bichelmeyer are expected to start and set the lanes for the skills players.
Defensively is where St. James Academy is looking for leaders to step up with only two starters returning.
Senior Jack Gossman returns for St. James Academy in the secondary. The speedy Gossman recorded 25 tackles, 20 of which were solo.
Inside Linebacker Brendon Lee, 5’10 218lbs., will be a force behind the line. Lee contributed two sacks to the defense last season.
Running a 4-2-5 base defense, the physical bodies upfront of Jesus Diaz, Austin Bibler, Harry Spencer, and Sam Schmidt will keep opposing offensive lines on their heels.
“The group of senior defensive players did see a lot of playing time and will step in and uphold the solid reputation that our defense has earned in the EKL,” said Radke.
The Thunder surrendered an average of 18 points per game last season, including in the postseason.
Moving down to 4A with programs such as Bishop Miege, Basehor-Linwood, Chanute, Louisburg, and Lansing will present challenges in the postseason, but St. James Academy’s regular season should have them ready for a deep run.
Seven of their eight games are against 5A or 6A schools. Their lone 4A opponent is Shawnee Mission-Bishop Meige in Week 8 that could have significant playoff seeding implications.