For accomplished college teams, the first football game of the season is often a chance to knock off the rust against a weak opponent and prepare for more competitive play in the coming weeks.
For SM East, the first game of the season will be anything but a cream puff.
Tonight’s season opener pits the Lancers against one their toughest opponents (at least on paper) of the year and one of the most accomplished programs in all of eastern Kansas. Gardner-Edgerton has made the playoffs seven years in a row, and made it to the sub-state championship game four of the last six years. The Trailblazers finished atop the tough Eastern Kansas League in 2013, going 8-2 on the year before falling to Olathe East in the regionals.
Head coach Marvin Diener had already established a name for himself as one of the top high school coaches in the state before coming to Gardner Edgerton nine years ago. In 19 seasons with Salina Central, he led the Mustangs to a 170-42 overall record with six 5A state titles.
“What we understand is that we’re facing a really good opponent,” said SM East head coach Dustin Delaney. “And they’ve got a coach who is one of the best in the history of Kansas. You know Gardner-Edgerton is going to be big. They’re going to be strong and fast.”
But that doesn’t mean the Lancers are quaking in their cleats. With 16 starters from last year’s 6A state-runner-up campaign back this season, SM East has plenty of experience in big games. And Delaney said the team is hungry for real game play.
“Frankly, I think they’re ready to play somebody other than themselves,” he said.
Delaney said he hopes SM East fans will show up in force for the game.
“It’s a small town atmosphere out there, so you know Gardner-Edgerton is going to have its stands packed,” he said. “We want to see a big crowd of Lancer fans out there as well.”
The game starts tonight at 7 p.m. at Gardner-Edgerton High School, 425 N Waverly Road, Gardner.