Bellevue West crouches down during game play on the sideline
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Bellevue West Aiming to Get State Championship Back in 2021

August 26, 2021

The Bellevue West Thunderbirds came up short of their ultimate goal during the 2020 season.

The team was rolling through the regular season undefeated with no games closer than 20 points. That all changed with an overtime loss to Kearney in the playoffs. Star tight end and Auburn commit Micah Riley-Ducker had a unique view of that loss, but he says it drives the team.

“I think for me personally it’s a little bit different. I got hurt that game so I watched from the sideline,” Riley-Ducker said. “So, it hurt me a little different. They went through the whole thing.

“I think this offseason we really just preached doing the extra. Take an extra step with every rep, everything like that and pushing each other. That’s something that we feel like we didn’t do last year. That’s why we ended up where we did. We’ve just been holding each other accountable and stuff like that.”

Offensive line coach Mike Pokorski saw the team getting after it in the weight room this summer. He thinks that top to bottom this is best group he’s seen athletically in his time at the school. The numbers the team put up in the weight room makes him think this is the strongest they’ve ever been too. Having that depth from top to bottom is something that can always come in handy.

“Things happen, like I got hurt the second play of the game against Kearney,” Riley-Ducker said. “That just changes everything in our game plan. It doesn’t matter if it was me or someone in our linebacking corps. If someone comes out you need somebody else to step in and be the next guy. Just making sure everybody’s prepared is a really big thing that we’re trying to preach just in case because it does happen.”

The Thunderbirds do have depth at quarterback. There is a battle between senior Luke Johannsen and sophomore Danny Kaelin. The team feels like both quarterbacks bring different things to the table. Johannsen has a lot more experience as a senior. We’ll likely see a mixture of both players when the season starts.

“Both of them have done a really good job,” Pokorski said. “They both bring different characteristics to the table as far as leadership is concerned too. We’re really excited to have both of them. I think they both are natural competitors.”

Bellevue West doesn’t just have two quality quarterbacks. They have another star tight end making plays on offense. Oklahoma commit Kaden Helms is one of the senior leaders on this team. He believes they are locked in after what happened last season.

“I feel like we’re really motivated,” Helms said. “Last year, the really close Kearney game was a real eye opener for us. Nothing is going to be given to us, even though we’re the best team in the state in my opinion. So, we just got to work hard, get through the adversity.”

Bellevue West will begin the season as the No. 1 team in Class A. The team kicks off the season against Omaha Burke on Aug. 26. Hail Varsity will be in the house for that matchup will full coverage.

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