Winnetonka junior Aaron Mends played his first snap of football in the seventh grade and earned his first carry at running back in his freshman year. He’s now the Griffins’ go-to running back and serves as their top linebacker. After a season-opening loss, Winnetonka has reeled off five straight victories and is 5-1 entering tonight’s game at North Kansas City, 4-2. We caught up with Mends and asked him to go Four Downs with The Star.
Q. Who should opponents fear most — Aaron Mends the linebacker or Aaron Mends the running back?
A. “Hmm. That’s tough. I think I’d say Aaron Mends the running back. I like running back more. It’s up to you to make the play. They give you the ball, and you get to go make something out of it.”
Q. On the flip side, what drives you on defense?
A. “I just like hitting people. You just have to run downhill and wrap up. I like making big plays on defense. It’s really exciting.”
Q. With a reasonably young roster, does this five-game winning streak come as a surprise?
A. “Well, we definitely had the talent, but we worried about our size and strength. We’re a really fast team. We were thinking Liberty would be the toughest team on the schedule, and we played them tough. Everything came together as the season’s gone on.”
Q. What’s the most interesting non-football aspect of your life?
A. “Most people don’t know this, but I’m in choir. They look at me and expect a football player, but they don’t know I’ve been singing since the seventh grade. I love it.”
| Sam McDowell, firstname.lastname@example.org
By the Numbers
4 Touchdowns for Cass Midway two-way player Bobby Zielinski in last week’s win against Christ Prep. Zielinski caught three touchdown passes, gaining 126 yards, and also intercepted a pass before returning it 55 yards for a fourth score. Cass Midway is 5-1, with its only loss a 7-0 defeat in Adrian. The Vikings travel to Rich Hill tonight.
7.1 League-leading average yards per carry for Blue Valley Southwest senior quarterback Aaron Ramsey, who also tops the East Kansas League with 10 rushing touchdowns and a 111.3 quarterback rating. Ramsey, a three-year starter, leads the Timberwolves, 3-2, against BV Northwest, 3-2, in the final tune-up before district play at 7 p.m. tonight at Blue Valley High School.
8 Length in games of the losing streak Olathe North snapped — by far the longest in program history — with its 33-6 win last week against Leavenworth. The Eagles, 1-4, lost the last four games in 2011 and started the season with another four-game skid. From 1996 to 2003, North lost only seven games, while racking up seven Kansas Class 6A state championships in eight seasons, including five undefeated seasons.
Game to Watch
Oak Grove at Harrisonville: Tonight’s matchup will likely decide the Missouri River Valley Conference championship. Oak Grove and Harrisonville are the only two teams remaining without a loss in league games. One look at Oak Grove’s 6-0 start makes it clear why the Panthers are undefeated — they’ve allowed more than seven points only once. Harrisonville will use a diverse rushing attack, which relies on a variety of runners, in its attempt to become the second.
Shawnee Mission East at Lawrence Free State: The Lancers, 5-0, put their perfect record on the line against the Firebirds, 4-1, whose only loss was a three-point defeat against reigning Kansas Class 6A champion Olathe South three weeks ago. Wide receiver Connor Rellihan is the big-play threat for Shawnee Mission East, which must contain Free State’s dual-threat quarterback, Kyle McFarland, who has passed for 782 yards and rushed for another 469 yards.
St. James Academy at Eudora: Technically, St. James Academy isn’t part of the Frontier League, but the unofficial league crown is on the line tonight as the undefeated Thunder, 5-0, who took Gardner Edgerton’s spot in the league’s round-robin schedule when the Trailblazers joined the East Kansas League, visit still-perfect Eudora, also 5-0. The Cardinals are led by junior quarterback Andrew Ballock, who has accounted for 13 touchdowns.
The Star’s Tod Palmer and Sam McDowell contributed to this report.
Sam McDowell, <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>