Cowboy defense

Seniors Kade Funston (56) and Zach Juhl (38) return for the Abilene Cowboy defense. Juhl and Funston gather in the Concordia ball carrier in the 2018 NCKL contest.

Entering his six-year as head coach of the Abilene Cowboys, Steve Simpson is looking for continued improvement from his football team as they work to stem the tide of two losing seasons.

Abilene went 2-7 in 2017 and 4-5 a year ago and that 2018 record could have been better had the ball bounced just right for the Cowboys.

Gone from last year’s team are two first team North Central Kansas League selections and three others that earned Honorable Mention recognition. Preston Boyd, who earned two-way honors and leading rusher James Mayden both graduated.

Simpson will look to a relatively small senior class in numbers and a bunch of experienced underclassmen to continue to right the ship and get the Cowboys back on the winning side.

Returning for Abilene will be four-year starter and a three-time All League selection offensive lineman Kade Funston. The 6-1 255 Funston will anchor the offensive line for the Cowboys in 2019. Fellow senior Adam Henely is challenging juniors Karson Loader, Brandon Parker and Robbie Keener for spots along the line.

“Kade, Karson and Robbie all had good summers for us and are ready to go,” Simpson said. “They are all really good athletes and will be strong for us. Brandon is just a big kid that is getting better and better all the time.”

Loader, 6-0, 200, started last year and will bring much needed experience to the center of the line. Parker and Keener should be interior linemen as well for coach Simpson.

Senior Jackson Randles returns at quarterback after starting his junior year. Randles is one of a handful talented athletic quarterbacks that Simpson and offensive coordinator Brad Hartman could call on to lead the Cowboy offensive attack. Senior Jayshaun Jones and sophomores Kaleb Becker and Nathan Hartman are expected to challenge Randles for the starting position.

“Jackson played his heart out for us last year,” Simpson said. “He’s been active this summer and is ready to go for us.”

Whoever the Cowboys turn to at quarterback, the others in line for playing time will slide in nicely at another important position on the field for the Abilene offense. Jones had some time at receiver last year while Becker and Hartman both spent time at quarterback for the junior varsity team as well as running the ball.

Junior Caleb Burt is expected to get the call as one of the tailbacks for the squad this season and he may be joined by junior Devon Fouliard and sophomore Carter Taplin.

Seniors Chrisxavier Cease and Zach Juhl should return to the offensive starting lineup at wide receiver and tight end respectively. Cease, 6-0 165, started his junior year and also shined as a defensive back for the Cowboys.

Defensively the Cowboys will rely on Funston, Loader, Henely, Parker and junior Grant Heintz across the front line. Juhl, Keener, Becker and junior Logan Buechman will battle at linebacker while Randles, Cease, Burt, Jones, Camden Meeks, Hartman and Isaac Barbieri should all see time in the defensive backfield. Juniors Trey Tovar and Fouliard will also be counted on by Cowboy defensive coordinator Joe Ross to help defend the pass.

“Our defense should be a strength for us as we return a lot of experience,” Simpson said. ‘We have several young guys that will earn playing time on defense.”

Again this year, Abilene will play a limited NCKL schedule, as the Cowboys are the only Class 4A team in the conference for football. Chapman and Wamego, typically Class 4A will play their second year in Class 3A.

Abilene opens the season against Clay Center, a team they defeated 30-6 a year ago at Clay Center. This was Abilene’s lone conference win as they fell to Concordia 14-6 and Chapman 26-0.

Abilene will scrimmage against Salina South, Hays High and Wichita North tomorrow in the Football Jamboree at Salina Stadium.

Contact Ron Preston at sports@abilene-rc.com.

Cowboy FB Schedule

Sept 6 vs. Clay Center

Sept 13 at Concordia

Sept 20 at Chapman

Sept 27 vs. McPherson

Oct 4 at Pittsburg Colgan (Augusta)

Oct 11 vs. Coffeyville

Oct 18 at Augusta

Oct 25 at Ulysses

Nov 1 TBD

Contact Ron Preston at sports@abilene-rc.com.

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