The back-to-back Suburban Conferce Red Division champions honored eight more players during a ceremony on national signing day Wednesday, Feb. 3. That came after a school record 10 signed national letters of intent following the 2015 season.
Malik James, a 5-foot-10 cornerback, became the latest Division I signee, choosing FCS Drake, while a pair of offensive linemen picked Division II schools. Kentrez Bell and Davion Tyler will remain teammates at Nebraska-Kearney, and running back Matt Harris received another chance after missing all of his final season with a knee injury.
“This is the foundation of the program,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said. “This is what we tried to establish a couple of years ago. These guys were with us through the good, the bad and the ugly. These guys are the building blocks of the program.”
A three-win team when the current seniors were sophomores, Park Hill earned district titles the past two years, going all the way to the Class 5 semifinals in 2014.
A starter each of the past two seasons, James earned a spot on the honorable mention All-Suburban Conference Red Division list with a team-high 18 passes defensed and two interceptions this past season. As a junior, he made first team with a team-high 20 passes defensed and two interceptions.
“It is a lot of weight off my shoulders,” James said. “I was stressing out about this decision. To finally know I made a decision felt good. I’m just grateful to be playing football next year.”
Harris will reunite with former Trojans standout and backfield mate Kenyatte Harris at Washburn in Topeka, Kan.
An injury to Kenyatte Harris led to Matt Harris’ big opportunity as a junior. He ended up making the Missouri Football Coaches Association all-state list on the second team after compiling a team-high 1,272 yards and 13 touchdowns, much of it while Kenyatte Harris recovered from an injury.
The 2014 Red Division offensive player of the year, Matt Harris then missed all of 2015 after suffering a torn ACL on the first series of Park Hill’s preseason jamboree.
“The first thing (Kenyatte) said was: ‘The Harris duo is back together,’” Matt Harris said. “He was the first person I talked to about the situation. I wanted to ask him about it before I made any false moves. He said I’d like the school and the program. The facilities are nice. I can’t wait.”
Kentrez Bell, a wide receiver, and Tyler, a defensive back, were both part of Nebraska Kearney’s massive signing class of 72 athletes under coach Josh Lamberson.
A unanimous all-state selection, Bell ended up with a team-high 69 catches for 854 yards and seven scores in a breakout campaign that saw him named as a semifinalist for the Otis Taylor Award — given to the top receiver in the Kansas City metro.
Tyler made the All-Red Division first team with 84 tackles — five behind Aiden Byrd for the most by a defensive back for the Trojans.
“The coaching staff, they’re good people,” Bell said. “It seemed like a good atmosphere. To me, it seemed like a home so I feel pretty good about it.”
Michael Marfield (William Jewell) and Jamar Grant (Central Missouri) gave Park Hill two offensive linemen headed to the Division II level.
A first team all-state pick to both the MFCA and Missouri media all-state teams, Marfield made 38 straight starts on the offensive line — the longest streak in Park Hill history. Hood joked with the assembled crowd at the ceremony that he wouldn’t know what to do without his stalwart on the line. Grant joined Marfield as a first team All-Red Division pick.
The duo helped block for an offense that accumulated more than 2,800 yards rushing and more than 2,500 passing. The Trojans improved as the season went along with a large group of sophomores entering the mix, and their lone losses ended up being to Class 6 state champion Blue Springs South in Week 1 and to Class 5 state champion Fort Osage in the state quarterfinals.
Kyle Blydenburgh earned second team All-Red Division honors as another member of a the blocking group.
A fullback and tight end, Blydenburgh finished with seven catches for 108 yards, but his biggest impact came in lead blocking for the Trojans rush attack, which featured Zach Neal (1,261 yards) and Dorian Clayton (857 yards).
On the defensive side, Desmond Stirgus will join the Peru State — an NAIA school in Peru, Neb. — after totaling 48 tackles (14 for loss) and three sacks. He earned All-Class 5 District 8 honors after recording 15 tackles (three for loss) and a sack in the first three postseason games.
Park Hill’s 2016 signing class could match the 2015 bunch with center Kolin Hayes and linebacker Jake Tumberger still deciding on their future. Hayes has offers at Tulsa and Kansas while Tumberger is still deciding between St. Mary’s (Leavenworth, Kan.) and Benedictine (Atchison, Kan.).