Missouri’s top high school football players: Meet the state’s best tight ends

By Jon Walker

We’re taking a position-by-position look at some of the top players in Missouri high school football. This list focuses on the tight ends.

There are hundreds of standout football players in Missouri, and these lists are not intended to be comprehensive. Use the comments section to discuss the other tight ends worthy of fans’ attention in 2021.

Landen Atherton, 6-3, 190, Sr., Joplin

Atherton was one of the primary targets for Joplin star quarterback Always Wright, going for 447 yards receiving and nine touchdowns on 45 catches. He scored three touchdowns in two separate games this fall, including a line that featured seven catches for 125 yards and three scores during a 42-7 win over Ozark on Sept. 10. 

Gracen Bell, 6-6, 230, Sr., Lee’s Summit North

The Broncos have made it to the Class 6 semifinals, and the Navy commit has played a key part in that. He’s forced defenses to give him a majority of its attention, opening things up for quarterback Tre Baker and the rest of the offense. He’s caught eight passes for 87 yards this fall, and he’s also used his time at defensive end to record 36 tackles and two sacks. 

Griff Bonderer, 6-1, 170, Jr., Chillicothe

Chillicothe survived the gauntlet of the Midland Empire Conference, and the Hornets made it all of the way to the Class 3 District 8 title game before being handed a 31-6 loss courtesy of conference foe St. Piux X (Kansas City). Bonderer wasn’t targeted much in the run-heavy offense, but he mustered 269 yards receiving and five touchdowns on a mere nine receptions. 

Justis Braden, 6-2, 225, Sr., Liberty North

Braden is the second half to Liberty North’s tight end duo, and he’s had as much of an impact as sophomore teammate Cole Young. Braden has also played a crucial role in the Eagles’ chase for the Class 6 title, reeling in 31 passes for 579 yards and five touchdowns. His breakout game of this fall game during a 34-31 win over Blue Springs Oct. 29, when he had three catches fro 119 yards and a score.

Quinton Conley, 6-6, 230, Sr., Pembroke Hill

Pembroke Hill didn’t have the success it wanted to, eventually finishing the season 5-5 after a season-ending loss to Lawson in the first round of the Class 2 District 8 Tournament. Conley is one of the Raiders’ focal points, though, and he’s just that to Division I programs, too. He’s been busy since that loss to Lawson, trying to figure out which of the five Power Five offers he’s going to take.

Alex Ginnever, 6-5, 225, Sr., Holt (Wentzville)

Holt is making its way toward a Class 5 title, and Ginnever has been a massive part in that. He’s taken 29 catches and turned those into 603 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. The Indians will enter Week 13 with a record of 11-0 and hope to ride the momentum of Ginnever scoring in each of the last three games.

Josh Leazer, 6-3, 180, Sr., West Plains

Leazer is almost a sure thing when it comes to catching touchdowns. The wideout had 288 yards and seven touchdowns on 19 catches, meaning nearly every other pass he caught was good enough for a score. He’s fueled West Plains’ offense en route to a 10-1 record so far, and the Zizzers are readying for a Class 4 quarterfinals matchup against 11-0 Hannibal. 

Mac Markway, 6-4, 240, Jr., De Smet Jesuit

Markway is one of the most sought after recruits in Missouri’s recruiting class for 2023, and he’s the owner of 23 Division I offers by the end of the junior season. Only one of them matters, though, as the junior committed to be a Florida Gator in late July. He had offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Iowa, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and more.

Tucker Miller, 6-5, 230, Sr., Raymore-Peculiar

Miller was a nightmare for opposing defenses when the Panthers marched into the red zone, using his 6-foot-5 frame to go up for jump balls. The senior used his farewell campaign to catch 18 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns. His frame, combined with his red zone capabilities, has earned an offer from Eastern Illinois.

Brett Norfleet, 6-7, 220, Jr., Francis Howell

Francis Howell made it to the second week of November before having its season ended with a 23-21 loss to Troy Buchanan Nov 12, but Norfleet opened eyes throughout the Vikings’ 12 games this season. The junior reeled in 26 catches for 416 yards and five touchdowns. His size makes him a matchup nightmare, and that’s the case on defense as well, where he has seven tackles for loss and three sacks. He’ll enter the offseason with 17 Power Five offers, including ones from Kentucky, Iowa State, Missouri, Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee, West Virginia and more.

Luke Seib, 6-4, 220, Sr., Blue Springs South

Blue Springs South went the entirety of its 10-game schedule without mustering a win, but Seib was a bright spot for the Jaguars. He committed to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Nov. 1, and it happened only a few days after a season-ending loss to Park Hill South. This fall put him on the radar, though, as he caught 62 passes for 575 yards and seven touchdowns.

Alexzander Thompson, 6-2, 155, So., Winnetonka

Thompson entered his second season of football on the heels of a freshman year of high school that included a first-team All-Suburban Conference selection for his efforts on the track, specifically in the 4×400-meter relay. He’s been able to use his speed to dominate when lined up out wide and his size to dominate when he’s attached to the offensive line. 

Max Whisner, 6-4, 240, Sr., Lee’s Summit

Whisner is widely considered the best tight end prospect in Missouri for this year’s senior class, garnering eight Power Five offers from Arkansas, Iowa State, Pittsburgh, Indiana, Kansas, Kansas State and Nebraska before electing to stay home with a commitment to Mizzou. 

Along with terrorizing opposing quarterbacks as a defensive end, Whisner used this fall to reel in 12 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. 

Cole Young, 5-10, 160, So., Liberty North

Young is one of the premier prospects for the Missouri recruiting class of 2024. Just a sophomore, Young had helped lead Liberty North to becoming an offensive powerhouse that averages more than 36 points per game in Class 6. The Eagles are 10-1 heading into a Class 6 postseason matchup with Kansas CIty foe Park Hill South.

Tyler Young, 5-11, 200, So., Marshfield

Young has already proven himself to be among the best tight ends in the midwest, and he’s doing so in just his second year of action at Marshfield. Despite a final record of 5-5, Young reeled in 38 catches for 644 yards and six touchdowns. He was all but guaranteed to get a first down when getting the ball, averaging 16.9 yards per reception. The sophomore showed he was ready as early as Week 1, when he caught four passes for 112 yards and three scores during a 31-28 loss to Seneca.

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