Aug 29, 2023

Rock Creek Reloading, not Rebuilding Ahead of 2023 Campaign

Posted Aug 29, 2023 4:19 PM

Lead Sportswriter - Salina Post

Following the best year yet of the Shane Sieben era (9-2 with a trip to the 3A state quarterfinals), the Rock Creek football team will look to reload and run it back for what should be another exciting campaign.

While many in the community and around the state have their concerns about the group of stars the Mustangs graduated in 2022, this program is still brimming with talent and should be in reloading mode as opposed to rebuilding mode.

“Yes, we lost some crucial pieces but we return a lot of pieces compared to what we brought back two years ago,” Sieben said. “Our juniors have really stepped up and become vocal. They’ve taken on that leadership role and they’ve grown tremendously as they’ve been given new opportunities.”

One of the most notable holes the Mustangs will have to fill comes at quarterback in the size and shape of Dalton Whitworth, who led the whole state of Kansas with 3,233 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2022.

Whitworth’s replacement is no slouch, however, as Rock Creek turns over the keys of the offense to junior Mack Lee, who led the Mustang JV to an undefeated season last year.

Lee will be joined in the backfield by senior tailback Trevor Christensen and will have several veteran targets to throw to as Rock Creek returns the trio of Daegen Vinduska, Brandon Krainbill, and Dawson Rankin.

The trenches will also be anchored by a pair of veteran returners, as all-league tackle Mason Faith and all-league center Malachi Bell both reprise their roles.

On defense, Vinduska headlines another veteran-heavy group of returners, as the Mustang DB terrorized opposing quarterbacks in 2022, racking up six picks from his spot at free safety.

The D-Line will also be in good hands led by Kade Wellfringer and 2-way sensation Mason Faith, while Payton McCarn, the team’s leading tackler from 2022, returns to anchor the linebacker core alongside Trevor Christensen.

While all of this looks great on paper, the Mustangs are eager to see their squad under the Friday night lights and will be tested right away as they host Southeast of Saline to open their season.

“Everybody looks great in the offseason when you’re running against your scout team and things are going well but we want to see how these kids handle adversity and how they respond when the bullets start flying and things aren’t going their way,” he said. “We also need to see if our leadership brings us together in those moments or if it tears us apart.”

The philosophy that has led Rock Creek to back-to-back winning seasons and two deep playoff runs will also remain unchanged, with an emphasis on personal responsibility and steady improvement instead of flashy goals on a whiteboard.

“We truthfully just want to get better every single day,” Sieben said. “We try not to limit our guys by placing set expectations on them, we’re going to take things week by week, try to go 1-0 every time we take the field, and look to play our best football at the end of the year.”

The Mustangs open their 2023 season at home against Southeast of Saline, another program looking to reload after losing a big senior class, at 7:00 on Friday, September 1.