PITTSBURG -- Fort Scott High and Uniontown were both picked to tie for second place in their respective leagues when pre-season polls were released at a media conference here Thursday afternoon.
The annual polls, in which coaches could not vote for their own teams, have Pittsburg as the pick to repeat as the Southeast Kansas League champion, Marmaton Valley to take the Three Rivers League Eight-Man title once again, Oswego as TRL 11-Man champs, and Colgan to reclaim the Crawford-Neosho-Cherokee League crown.
The seven first-place votes in the SEK poll were split. Pittsburg and Fort Scott each picked up two while Coffeyville, picked to tie for second with the Tigers, had three. Chanute was chosen fourth followed by Independence, Labette County and Parsons. The SEK is down to seven schools as long-time members Columbus and Iola left at the end of the last school year.
"I look forward to the competitiveness on Friday nights," Fort Scott head coach Bob Campbell said during the conference. "I look at the poll and I think ... if (Labette County) is the sixth-best team in the conference, then the conference is pretty dang good."
Uniontown was the TRL's 11-Man champion last season but will be playing in the Eight-Man division for at least the next two seasons. The Eagles picked up one of the first-place votes while ending up in a tie for second with St. Paul in the voting. Marmaton Valley received five first-place votes. One coach did not return his ballot.
Crest was chosen for fourth place followed by Chetopa, who would have claimed last year's league crown had it been able to beat Marmaton Valley in the final game of the regular season, tabbed fifth. Pleasanton was chosen sixth followed by Altoona-Midway bringing up the rear.
"Nobody we have is going to keep you up at night," Eagle head coach Chad Stroud said. "But we have a good core group that's going to be successful."
Uniontown's eight-man schedule includes league schools it has never met on the gridiron (Chetopa and St. Paul) and two it hasn't faced since 1984 (Altoona-Midway and Crest).
Oswego received two of the three first-place votes in the 11-man poll. Jayhawk-Linn, which got the other top vote, was picked second and Northeast was chosen third. Jayhawk-Linn returns to the TRL after a four-year stint as the Pioneer League's smallest school during which it did not win a league game.
Colgan received four first-place votes in the CNC followed by Girard, with one first-place vote, and newcomer Columbus tied for second. Riverton, with two first-place votes, was selected fourth, Frontenac fifth, Galena sixth even though it received the other first-place vote, Southeast seventh, Erie eighth and Baxter Springs ninth.
Campbell's Tigers, second in the SEK last season and 8-2 overall, return quarterback Johnathan Stark and three starting offensive/defensive linemen -- John Metcalf, Ackland Milton and Brendan Blackburn. Running back, a focal point in the veer offense, is one of the positions where there will be a battle to see who gets the starting nod.
"I can see competition at some positions being really good for us," Campbell said. "We don't have a standout running back but I think we have five or six kids who can give us depth there. I think by committee they can be pretty solid."
Going from the bottom of the poll to the top, Parsons head coach David Pitts said virtually nothing about his team. The Vikings finished third in the SEK last season (7-3) but only have senior quarterback Craig Beachner and two linemen returning.
Labette County (1-8) head coach Jesse Ybarra is back at the helm after taking time away from football. He has served as baseball coach, wrestling coach, athletic director and an assistant gridiron coach in the meantime. In his first tour of duty, 1988-93, he had a 40-18 record.
Junior running back Courtlan Hayes returns for Independence (5-4) after rushing for 900 yards and 6 touchdowns last season.
Quarterback Brock Gilmore and running back Blake Kisner, responsible for around 3,500 yards in offense last season, both return for Chanute (8-4), which made a deep run into the playoffs. The first game for the Blue Comets will be at Mulvane, which was 8-3 last season.
Coffeyville (6-4) recovered from a 1-3 start last season to make the playoffs but a return trip to the post-season will have to be made without quarterback Corey Turner. Golden Tornado head coach Murray Zogg said he will not be with the team this season after he "did some things that were wrong." Tailback Wesley Collins will return for his second season, though, having rushed for over 1,000 yards the past two years.
Pittsburg (6-3), the league's only Class 5A school, may have the league's toughest schedule. They have to play all their SEK games in the first six weeks -- the last one at Coffeyville -- and then play in a district with three Blue Valley schools. including last year's Class 5A runner-up, Blue Valley-Stilwell.
Uniontown (4-5) has four starters returning on offense and five back on defense as it begins its first season of eight-man football in the TRL. While there will be fewer players on the field, Stroud says that the game remains the same.
"There's really no change at all because we've told (the players) it's still football,' he said. "Blocking, tackling, taking care of the football is the same. All the change is coming on the coaches' shoulders and we've taken care of that during the summer."
Ethan Sabine said his Pleasanton team (4-5) has only one starter back on offense and two on defense. There are only three seniors and one of them is in just his second season of football.
"No. 6 is probably where I would have put us because we have so many young players," Sabine said.
Marmaton Valley head coach Kent Houk chose not to attend the media day. The Wildcats finished 7-3 last season.
Jayhawk-Linn head coach Kirk Holt said "It's been a challenging four years" in the Pioneer League. His Jayhawks (1-8) bring back four returning starting offensive linemen and have eight seniors this year after getting only two or three out the past few years.
Oswego has a new coach, Travis Birk, back after two seasons off. The Indians (3-6) have six seniors back and expect another 10 to 12 juniors.