Hickman’s football team had several pleasant surprises last season.
In his first season of varsity football, linebacker Aaron Cawlfield played all-state caliber defense and blocked a record-setting seven punts.
That same season, an injury to quarterback Blake Tekotte thrust Andrew Perkins into the starting role. Perkins proceeded to guide the Kewpies to the state championship, saving his best performances for the playoffs.
This preseason, coach Gregg Nesbitt said the Kewpies might have trouble at receiver and defensive back, where they lacked depth and experienced players.
The season is young, but the performance at those positions through the season’s first three games has exceeded Nesbitt’s expectations.
Early opponents Lee’s Summit North and Parkway South committed to stopping the Kewpies’ run, forcing them to put the ball in the air.
And they did.
Employing a no-huddle attack against Parkway South last week, Perkins connected with wideout Ryan Florence six times for 202 yards. Florence’s yardage surprised Nesbitt, but his early production has not.
“We expected Ryan Florence to catch anywhere from 30 to 60 balls this year,” Nesbitt said, “depending on how much we throw it.”
Florence said he hasn’t been surprised either.
“I know Coach, he’s very balanced in passing and running,” Florence said. “He said he’s always wanted to get the ball in the air, he just didn’t know who it was going to.”
Perkins probably felt the same way in the season’s first game, when he threw for two scores and seven receivers caught passes against Lee’s Summit North.
A year ago, this year’s top four Hickman wideouts (Florence, Andrew Wier, Byron Bundy and Brandon King) were either buried on the depth chart or honing their skills at the junior varsity level.
Nesbitt said it is a testament to receivers coach Daniel Calvert that the inexperienced group has jelled so well.
“They’re not great yet,” Nesbitt said, “but they’re pretty doggone solid.”
On the other side of the ball, the Kewpies have also gotten surprisingly steady play from a secondary headlined by Wier.
From his cornerback position, Wier has picked off six passes, more than the Kewpies’ leading ball-hawk last year.
Wier said his early success has been a little surprising.
“I was hoping for a good start, at least,” he said.
With an unassuming 6-foot, 170-pound frame and a smile that flashes braces, Wier fits the mold of a surprise player. He played more junior varsity than varsity last year, and according to Perkins, sprouted four inches in the offseason.
Nesbitt said Wier solidified himself as a starting cornerback with his performance in the team’s summer seven-on-seven passing league.
“He’s very intelligent,” Nesbitt said. “Great zone player.”
With two interceptions, Florence has also been solid at his free safety position.
“(At) the other corner, we’ve been inconsistent, but we’re getting better,” Nesbitt said. “Cortez Thompson is starting to really emerge there as a playmaker.”
NOTES: If Hickman coach Gregg Nesbitt has a nemesis, it’s Blue Springs.
In 1993, the Wildcats handed Nesbitt his first loss in his first game at Hickman, then beat him in season-opening games for the next four seasons. After 10 attempts, Nesbitt finally beat the Wildcats last season, giving Hickman its first win against Blue Springs since 1991. The Kewpies will be trying to make it two in a row tonight.
“It’s big, like Coach said,” wideout and safety Ryan Florence said, “because both teams are kind of flying under the radar.”
Cornerback and wide receiver Andrew Wier noted another similarity: Both teams suffered humbling losses to No. 1 Rockhurst.