Chinstraps and mouthpieces: MHS junior igniting Dogs at midseason
In last week's edition of The Mirror, the headline regarding a McLouth football story read: "Stewart zooms past Dragons as senior rushes for 275 yards.
Stewart is, in fact, a junior.
His numbers, however, could get him confused with someone having a fantastic senior year.
Just more than halfway through his junior campaign, Stewart has 919 yards on 151 carries. The running back also has six touchdowns to his credit this year.
In a nutshell, Stewart has been a driving factor in the resurgence of a community now buzzing with pigskin possibilities.
In recent years, McLouth has had one thing to really talk about on Friday nights -- how is native son Jeff Schwinn doing at K-State as a backup quarterback and will he start one day?
Last fall, McLouth residents found that their high school standout would be starting at K-State. Purple dominated store windows. Heck, a pep rally for Schwinn was like Bob Dole coming back to Russell from the national campaign trail.
This year, however, McLouth fans are lobbying for the purple and gold of their own Bulldogs, not the purple and white of K-State.
By now, we're all familiar with McLouth's tough-luck streaks. Coming into this season, McLouth hadn't won at home for five years. And the Bulldogs had a 20-game skid overall dating back to 2001.
That all changed in week 1 as the Bulldogs dropped Horton on the road.
The Bulldogs then picked up that elusive home win the next week against Wathena.
But MHS wasn't finished.
McLouth now is 4-2.
A big attribute in this year's turnaround season is Stewart. He provides the team's biggest offensive weapon.
But you can't convince him of that.
After the Bulldogs dropped Valley Falls on Oct. 1, Stewart made sure to give attention to his less-publicized linemen.
And Stewart took a cake to his front line the following Monday.
Perhaps Jamaal Lewis can take notes from Stewart. Then again, probably not. The Baltimore Ravens running back doesn't have time to bake a cake. He's too consumed with striking plea bargains regarding a drug-distribution ring.
Anyway, the humble Stewart is a good fit with the upstart Bulldogs.
McLouth has a tough road ahead as 3A district play begins Friday against the surging Immaculata Raiders. The Bulldogs then play Delaware Valley League front-runner Pleasant Ridge. The regular season then finishes with a third district home game against Maur Hill.
If the Bulldogs can at least go 2-1, they should be assured a playoff spot.
If not, it still has been an impressive ride with Stewart leading the way.
And don't forget, Stewart and his classmates will be back for their senior years next fall.
Tonganoxie has its own rusher putting up hefty numbers.
But once again, Tonganoxie's running game isn't limited to its running backs.
Nope, senior Ross Starcher has been a vital spark for the 5-1 Chieftains this season.
The entire backfield has been important -- especially with a handful of injuries that have brought more bodies into coach Mark Elston's mix of a run-oriented offense.
But it's Starcher who is leading the way.
Tonganoxie's quarterback has amassed 761 rushing yards in six games. Yep, he averages more than 125 yards per game -- as a quarterback.
Like Justin Walker and Troy Morando in recent years, Starcher has become a potent offensive weapon under center -- not as much with his arm but with his feet.
Averaging 125 yards a game as a running back isn't too shabby of a statistic. Reaching the mark as a quarterback, however, grabs more attention, especially when this is Starcher's first year as the starting quarterback.
Starcher and the rest of the Chieftains have at least three more games as districts start Friday at Bonner Springs.
The senior again should ignite Tonganoxie on the road.
A more interesting match-up, however, will come a week from Friday when the Chieftains travel to De Soto to meet the surging Wildcats.
Starcher, a three-time state qualifier as a wrestler, will face off against DHS quarterback Neil Erisman, a three-time state qualifier for the Wildcats who has been a state runner-up as a grappler.
What a game that should be.
Beatty Field continues to sparkle.
A refurbished track, new grass and some landscaping have helped keep Tonganoxie's outdoor complex top-notch.
During the football season, the markings on the field also have gone beyond the status quo for a high school football game.
A sleek "T" prominently sits on the 50-yard-line. Numbers for 10-yard increments are painted on the field as well, something that usually is more common in college or the NFL.
And for homecoming Friday against Basehor-Linwood, the bells and whistles continued to come out.
The end zones donned a red-and-white checkered pattern, much like that of the Tennessee Volunteers' orange-and-white end zones.
That complements the Chieftain football helmets with the Tennessee-style "T" on both sides of their helmets.
But if THS band director Charles VanMiddlesworth signals the band to play "Rocky Top," we'll know the Chieftains have gone too far.