Nov 22, 2022

🏈 Bah, Salmans lead the way in Hays High WAC accolades

Posted Nov 22, 2022 2:18 PM
Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

Great Bend’s Beck nabs Coaching honor

By BRETT MARSHALL
wacathletics.com

To the victor goes the spoils.

Or so the saying goes.

It does, however, seem appropriate for the 2022 Hays High Indians football team.

Head Coach Tony Crough guided his latest edition to a school record 10 wins, sweeping the four opponents in the Western Athletic Conference to win the title outright, and then saw his top offensive player – Malik Bah – and defensive player – Bryce Salmans – capture WAC Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards.

In a year that set a new standard at Hays, it was runner-up Great Bend Head Coach Erin Beck who earned the vote of his peers to win WAC Coaching honors. Beck’s Panthers went 7-3 after entering the season with a 19-game losing streak, covering a period of three seasons.

The 10 wins engineered by Crough, propelled the Indians all the way to the Class 5A semifinals where their season ended with a loss to Maize High, with the only other setback to No. 1-ranked Class 6A and state finalist Manhattan during the regular season.

The Indians defeated WAC opponents Great Bend (33-7), Garden City (30-26), Dodge City (31-7) and Liberal (56-12). A year earlier, the Indians shared the WAC crown with both Dodge City and Garden City when the three teams traded wins over the others – Garden over Hays, Hays over Dodge and Dodge over Garden.

This time, there was no sharing with the other WAC teams.

In a season after some of Hays High’s best players graduated to the collegiate level of Division I, Crough stitched together a team that ran the ball impressively, passed effectively, and used a strong defense to keep opponents out of the end zone much of the year.

“No. 1, you have to have good players and we’ve got a number of those,” Crough said. “If you don’t have enough talent, you’re not going to make a run in the playoffs.”

Crough just completed his fifth season at the program’s helm and each year the Indians have seen a steady improvement. His teams have gone 3-6, 4-6, 5-3, 8-3 and this year’s 10-2. The 10 wins is a program record, eclipsing the 1984 and 1993 teams that reached the state semis.

“I think that Hays has always had some good athletes, but I honestly don’t think they had the mindset of winning as a big priority,” Crough said of the program he inherited in 2018. “We had to go out and beat the drums some to get kids to come out. We had to instill a belief that they could win, and now I think we have a belief of expecting to win.”

Crough credited his school’s administration for allowing him to bring in coaches who could also teach at the high school, effectively making communication with the student-athletes much better.

“It all comes from the top down, and we’ve just embraced a winning atmosphere and the kids, the community have all bought in,” Crough said. 

While his 2021 team reached the 5A quarterfinals before losing to Hays, Crough said this year’s team had a different approach to the just-completed season.

“We had 21 seniors and a lot of depth in the class,” Crough said. “We lost some great players from the 2021 team, but a lot of our really good players were juniors last year. It was just a matter of how we would fill in those positions and we had a bunch of hungry juniors to do that.”

While quarterback Kyreese Groen was the starter of the Hays offense, it was Bah, a speedy junior, who ran roughshod over the opposition in the eight-game regulation season with 1,327 yards (165.9 avg.) while scoring 20 rushing touchdowns. He finished the 12-game schedule with 1,633 yards on 155 carries (10.54 avg.) with 22 touchdowns. He fumbled just once. 

Bah also showed his versatility by catching 10 passes for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In many games, the speedy junior played just about half the time, according to Crough. And he missed two games due to injuries.

“He’s an elite, elite running back,” Crough said of Bah. “He’s got speed, quickness and good vision. He does a great job of showing patience by following his blockers. He’s just got all of those natural skills that you don’t teach.”

Groen countered Bah’s speed with heads up decision-making plays that accounted for 1,004 rushing yards and 13 TDs while completing 46-of-101 passes for 805 yards and 14 touchdowns with just 3 interceptions.

“He just did a great job of running our offense,” Crough said of his QB. “We have a lot of different ways to move the ball, but it all starts with his decision-making.”

On the receiving end was rangy wide receiver Keamonie Archie, who hauled in 20 passes for 379 yards and 8 touchdowns. 

Defensively, Salmans wasn’t the highest tackler on the HHS defense as many teams simply ran away from him. But he led the WAC with 5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. He also forced a fumble and recovered three opponent miscues. He finished with 57 tackles, 27 of those solo.

Unquestionably, the combination of offense and defense put the Indians in a position to succeed at a high level as they produced one of the best seasons in school history.

“The strength of our offense comes from our defense, which did a great job all season,” Crough said. “Our defense put us in good position so many different times for our offense.”

The Indians’ defense gave up just an average of 15.9 points per game and just 238 total yards each outing (107 passing/128 rushing). They also had a turnover margin of plus-17.

Crough credits the players and their belief in the system for the general uptick in the program, which had several 5A postseason playoff games a decade ago, but couldn’t get out of the first round. The Indians had struggled through three losing seasons before his arrival.

Crough played quarterback in high school at Garden City for Dave Meadows in the late 1990s and credits his former coach for much of his current philosophy.

“I learned so much from Coach,” Crough said in referencing Meadows (Coach of the 1999 6A state championship team). “I learned how to build a program and how much he poured himself into the kids. I learned about being part of a team and how to find kids. You have to see the value in the kids and become a model of consistency. He taught me about believing it could happen and building character to be a great person on and off the field. You learn how to do the little things over and over and over.”

Offensive Player of the Year
Malik Bah, Hays, Jr., 5-8, 175-lb, RB 

The speedy Bah, who still has a senior season to look forward to in 2023, was brilliant for the Indians this season.

Clocked at 11.0 in the 100-meter dash, Bah used his speed and quickness to finish the 2022 campaign with 1,633 yards on just 155 carries (10.54 avg.) and reached the end zone 22 times carrying the ball. He added 10 catches for 206 yards and another 2 TDs. Add in 122 yards on kickoff returns and 88 on punt returns and he compiled 2,049 all-purpose yards.

“He’s an elite, elite running back,” his coach, Tony Crough, said. “I’m not saying he’s a Darren Sproles or a Deuce Vaughn, but he has a similar style to them.”

For Bah, the breakout season was something he and his teammates had looked to early before the season even began.

“We listened to the coaches and I just followed my offensive linemen,” he said. “They’re some real good dudes up front and I learned how to be more patient and not just run side to side. I learned how to follow my blockers and then make the move to an opening.”

Bah said an opening-game victory over Junction City gave the Indians a lot of confidence and then they played 6A state finalist and No. 1-ranked Manhattan tough early in the season.

“We just kept getting better each week after those games,” Bah said. “With the line blocking, I feel like any play I can be taking off for six (TD).”

Bah said the team’s chemistry was a big factor in the success of the 2022 season.

“We’ve bonded year to year, but we were more about WE and not ME this year and that was a big factor,” Bah said. “I can’t wait to get back and start working for my senior year. It goes way too fast.”

Defensive Player of the Year
Bryce Salmans, Hays, Sr., 6-1, 225-lb., DE

Salmans perhaps had more impact for the Indians’ defense than any other player, according to Crough. His stats might tell otherwise, but the 6-1, 225-pounder influenced how teams’ offense played against the Indians.

“A lot of people simply ran away from his side of the field,” Crough said. “I think we found out when we moved him defensive end that he became one of the better ones in the state. He’s really athletic. He’s just one of those kids with some rare skills (he was a member of the track team’s 4×100-meter relay unit).”

Salmans’ numbers showed 57 tackles, 27 of those solo. He led the WAC in sacks with 5 and tackles for loss with 13. He forced one fumble and recovered three.

“I think my role this year at defensive end was just to fit in and keep the offense from getting to the outside edge,” Salmans said. “Our team really bonded this year and our defense definitely improved over the year as we got more reps.”

In his first year at defensive end, Salmans said he had to learn some of the more nuanced parts of the position.

“I think early I just tried to bulldoze people and I had to learn about leverage and moving side to side,” Salmans said. “I think I was able to cover the run/pass about the same. I think a key is just going as hard as you can on every play.”

Salmans said he hopes to play football at the next level, but recruiting has yet to get serious.

“Not sure where, but I want to play somewhere,” he said. “I want to study either physical therapy or law but I’m unsure about that, too.”

All-WAC selections

Bah, of course, leads the way on the all-WAC first-team offense and is joined on the squad by teammates Derrik Riggs (Sr., OL), Quinton McGuire (Sr., OL) and Groen (Sr., Athlete). Conference runner-up Great Bend and third-place Garden City each had three first-teamers on offense.

The Panthers’ selections include junior OL Matthew Johnson, senior quarterback Cayden Scheuerman) and senior wide receiver Braylon Council. The Buffaloes’ choices include OL Garrett Messenger, running back Zack Keosengphet and special team’s player Jerry Arteaga. All are seniors.

Liberal’s two selections include quarterback J. Brooks Kappelmann and wide receiver Zayden Martinez, both juniors, and Dodge City senior OL Roman Loya.

Defensively, the stingy Hays defense also set standard for selections as five Indians received first-team votes. In addition to Salmans, senior lineman Carson Spray, senior linebackers Evan Lind and Wyatt Waddell and defensive back Connor Dreiling made the top squad.

Great Bend had a pair of selections in junior lineman Dee’Onn Jones and senior linebacker Mathew Moeder; Garden City’s three first-teamers include sophomore lineman David Holguin, and defensive backs Ryan Heiman and Caleb Wiese. Heiman and Wiese are seniors.

Liberal’s Trystian Juarez, a senior linebacker, rounded out the first-team defense.