TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Washburn Rural enters 2019 without star quarterback Jordan White and four starters on the offensive line.
But there's still one guy head coach Steve Buhler can't wait to see get going again: senior running back Jaylen Carter.
"When you see him play, you just get excited about the opportunity to watch him play because he's so good and he's so athletic," Buhler said. "At the same time, he's such a hard-working, good young kid. He's one of those kids you kind of hope stays around and gets the most out of his senior year."
It seems like he's primed to do so. The two-way standout for the Junior Blues scored 10 touchdowns last season while rushing for 585 yards. He figures to shoulder the play-making responsibility on offense, which should fit right into his goals.
"Run for even more yards than last year, don't get hurt and be a top 25 running back in the state of Kansas," Carter said. "That's my goal, so that's what I'm going to do."
As Carter steps up more as a leader on offense, Buhler said he's seen plenty of others on the team take more leadership responsibility. The head coach has 19 returning lettermen with seven returning starters on a promising defense.
"I've been really happy with the senior class overall," Buhler said. "It's more of a group leadership than it is individual and they work really well together."
That might help the Junior Blues chase down the top two Centennial League contenders: Topeka High and Manhattan. While Washburn Rural recorded its second seven-win season in the past three years in 2018, it went 0-3 against the Trojans and Indians.
The combined score of the two losses to T-High was 119-59 while the lone defeat to Manhattan ended with a count of 44-7.
"For us, physically, sometimes we don't match up as well with those really good programs," Buhler said. "But sometimes, you have to find other ways to compete against those guys. And a lot of times, it's just playing hard, being physical and playing together as a team, and hopefully you can hang with them and play.
"The programs in our league are so good and they have such great tradition. They're kind of the guys you're trying to catch. And as long as you're chasing somebody and you're working in that direction, at some point, you'll get there."
"Honestly, we've always been there," Carter said. "It's just putting the pieces together and right now, it's what we're doing. We're taking all of the little pieces and putting them together. It's going to show."