The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

The student-run news site of Lawrence Free State High School

Free Press Online

Meet the Staff
Phoebe Morris
Phoebe Morris
News Planning Team

Phoebe Morris is a sophomore at Free state. This is her second year reporting on staff. Outside of school, she enjoys dancing at the Arts Center or watching horror movies with a bowl of ice cream.

SPORTS: Hometown Heroes

A look into football athletes choosing to stay local for athletics
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Chloe Cook

For many football athletes, their hard work and aspirations are driven by the hunger to ultimately compete at a higher level. While there are plenty of Division I football schools throughout the country that could serve as a pipeline to the NFL, there is an undeniable sense of pride that comes with being a hometown athlete competing at their local universities. In this case, athletes are showing out in the University of Kansas’s very own Memorial Stadium.

Three years ago, the Kansas Jayhawks finished 0-9 under previous head coach Les Miles. After the hiring of head coach Lance Leipold, the Jayhawks put a remarkable season on display in the 2023 season, finishing 9-4 overall and securing a win in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against the UNLV Rebels. 

While Kansas’s roster is filled with athletes from all over the country, it shouldn’t be disregarded that the Jayhawks have seen impact players from the Sunflower State emerge, specifically Lawrence’s very own Devin Neal, a projected NFL draft pick.

The stats alone suggest Lawrence has always been spoiled with talent, especially before the addition of Free State. Lawrence High won five straight state championships from 1989 to 1993 and claimed 31 undefeated football seasons, the most in the country to this day. The success of Lawrence athletes shows currently in Chiefs cornerback Ekow Boye-Doe or former Vikings defensive tackle Christian Ballard.

Living in Lawrence, fans are fortunate enough to watch top local athletes grow. Senior Wesley Edison, a 6-foot-3, 215lb quarterback, announced his commitment as an outside linebacker to KU in December. Despite other offers from schools such as Northern Arizona University and Pitt State University, the athlete decided to stay home. 

“A lot of times coaches don’t realize how good athletes are here because they base them versus Texas or Georgia or athletes from other states. A lot of times kids from Lawrence can play… recruiting local athletes should be more focused and prioritized,” Edison said.

In the community, there is a special sense of pride that comes with watching Lawrence kids compete in Memorial Stadium. Moreso, watching old teammates that you played little league with in elementary school or the kids dominating Friday Night Lights now competing in the Crimson and Blue is a fulfilling feeling as a fan. They are invested, and rightfully so. 

“The fans, they love it. You feel like you’re really a part of something,” former Kansas running back and now Kansas football sideline reporter Brandon McAnderson said. “There’s just a different type of ownership about watching a person develop from when they’re 13, 14 15 years old all the way up until they’re in college, and they’re rooting for your alma mater, your hometown team, your favorite team. I would say there’s an ownership element to it, and it makes you feel more connected.”

When Leipold began coaching at Kansas, a drought of losing records deviated to winning records, relighting a fire within fans. The winning culture, among many other aspects taken into consideration , becomes appealing for athletes balancing the big college decision. Freshman offensive line and Free State alumnus Calvin Clements said the program has begun to stand out among others, thanks to Leipold. 

“Coach Leipold has influenced my time at KU a lot. They are very intentional with each and every player on the team, they really emphasize overall improvement each day. The staff makes sure you are giving your best each day and it has really taught me to be consistent in everything I do to elevate the program,” Clements said.

Ultimately, McAnderson stressed that local athletes provide a source for fans to feel excitement and offer a unique, profound pride and love for their city that makes growing up in Lawrence special.

“When you have a Calvin Clements, a Devin Neal, a guy like Wesley Edison—these guys that are great athletes that have this big time potential, they care about it just a little bit more, they have pride in it just a little bit more. When they flourish, it feels good to everyone,” McAnderson said. ”It doesn’t take all of them. It just takes the right ones. The important part is making sure we get the right ones, especially the ones that are from Lawrence.” 

About the Contributors
Nick Sprecker
Nick Sprecker, Sports Editor
Nick Sprecker is a junior at Free State and is the Sports Editor on staff. Outside of journalism, he is a member of the boys football and soccer program. He is involved in multiple clubs, LINK, and NHS.
Lilly Wall
Lilly Wall, News Editor-in-Chief
Lilly is a junior at Free State and an Editor-In-Chief of the Free Press NewsMag and Online Website. Outside of journalism, she is involved in volleyball, the Free State Writing Center, Honor Moon Foundation, Project Pick Up, and NHS. You can find her watching horror movies and hanging out with friends outside of school.
Chloe Cook
Chloe Cook, News Photo Editor
Chloe Cook is a junior at Free State and is one of the News Photo Editors. This is her second year on staff. Outside of school, she enjoys traveling and being outdoors.
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