by John Unrein
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once said, “The secret to victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.” The attention to detail paid by the Grain Valley Eagles football team has lifted them to a 5-0 undefeated start to the season. Consideration for the aspects of the game that are precise is apparent to anyone who has followed the Eagles this season.
Head football coaches from the high school to professional level will all tell you that culture is the hardest thing to build and has arrived in a program once accountability and intrinsic motivation is apparent among players and coaches. Grain Valley’s 38-14 victory over the visiting Kearney Bulldogs on September 25th was ripe with examples of both.
The Eagles have scored 30 or more points in all five of their contests this season. Their offense under the direction of Head Football Coach David Allie has taken advantage of what defenses have offered. Wide defensive ends have led to the Eagles running their “down” (off-tackle trap with a backside pulling guard) rushing play with much success. Inside alignment of a defensive end against a tight end means the Eagles will look to run their “George” (two pulling guards leading the quarterback sweep outside) rushing play. If a defense brings extra defenders in the “box” (area along the line of scrimmage between the offensive tackles), the Eagles will start throwing play action passes.
As easy as this sounds, it takes a coordinated effort by a coaching staff from the time they start watching film on Saturday, through teaching execution in practice of these plays against the defensive front they will face that week, to finally confirming what the defense is doing on Friday night and relaying that information via the headset to the head coach so informed decisions can be made that rack up yardage.
Kearney’s defensive scheme is a 3-3 Stack (meaning three down defensive lineman covering up three linebackers directly behind them). The goal of the defense is to protect linebackers so that they may roam freely and to break an offense’s blocking rules because of their unique alignment not being like a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. 3-3 Stack defense’s do not like seeing teams that get into unbalanced formations (multiple tight ends or a tight end and fullback to one side of the formation) because it forces them to break their “stack.” Furthermore, a 3-3 Stack defense may be susceptible to off-tackle “B Gap” plays that permit down blocks by offensive linemen that seal off the defense due to their alignment.
Grain Valley rushed the football 45 times for 265 yards, good for 5.9 yards per rush against the Bulldogs. Most of Jaxon Wyatt’s 157 yards on 31 carries was on the Eagle’s “down” play through “B Gap”. The junior running back tallied 2 rushing touchdowns as well behind the fierce effort of his offensive line.
One of the main men responsible for the Eagles success up front this year is offensive guard Jack Bailey. The senior is easy to identify not just by his size, but by the loud crack of pads that accompanies his kick out blocks when pulling. Bailey relishes his role with the team.
“Down was super successful tonight because of their ‘3-3 Stack’ alignment with one of their backers flexed out that left a huge bubble in B Gap. We would kick out their defensive end and the (play side) tackle would get up to the second level. We executed the play well repeatedly. Ear hole blocks against defenders are my favorite because they don’t know what’s coming until it’s too late,” Bailey said.
The Eagles offense routinely watches game film from the previous drive on the sideline during a game. An eye for detail prevails as assistant coaches Mike Tarrants and Gavin Grillo instruct players on their recent assignment and plays, including who to block or adjusting the path the running back should take on a play. This type of quick in game adjustment requires discipline in attention span for players and coaches and continues to pay dividends for the Eagles on the gridiron.
The play of Grain Valley’s offensive line has earned the respect of opponents as well. Greg Reynolds who was the longtime head coach of the Park Hill Trojans, now coaches the defensive line for the Oak Park Northmen. Reynolds shared with Allie after their week two matchup that the Eagles offensive line didn’t look like much until the ball is snapped. A compliment to how well the starting five for the Eagles execute their blocks.
Skill players for the Eagles offense have done their fair share of work blocking this season as well. Senior wide receiver Carter Day helped spring Wyatt down the Eagles sideline during his 27 yard jaunt during the first half. Day paid attention to detail by continuing to work his left arm under the defender in maintaining leverage and avoiding being flagged for holding.
Eagles senior quarterback Cole Keller joined in on the block party as well. Keller was the lead blocker on a 4 yard sweep by Wyatt that ended in a touchdown with under three minutes left in the first half. Grain Valley’s signal caller took out two defenders on the play by leading the way with his left shoulder. Keller was as excited coming to the Eagles sideline as he was after his two touchdown runs during the game. Keller would go on to compile 78 yards on the ground and 172 yards through the air.
Wyatt was appreciative after the win with the efforts of his teammates.
“This offense can’t do anything without our offensive line. The guys up front set the tone for what we do,” Wyatt said.
The defensive side of the football for the Eagles has shown discipline in their attention to detail as well. The growth of senior linebacker Zach Kirk is a prime illustration. Kirk shares his linebacker duties with fellow senior Hunter Newsom. Both have performed like they are attached by a bungie cord at the hip within their roles on the Eagles black shirt defense. When Newsom fills, Kirk replaces. When Kirk scrapes, Newsom shuffles that direction. This type of execution by the duo limits their opportunities in being out of position defensively.
Kirk would turn in two sacks in the win against Kearney. The first would come with :08 left in the first quarter and the next with 2:08 left in the second quarter. Both were made possible by Kirk taking the correct angle of pursuit to the quarterback on “whip” blitzes (the linebacker exchanging gaps with the defensive end) and wrapping up securely. Each sack halted the offensive momentum of Kearney’s drives.
“I want to think those around me. Me hitting someone doesn’t happen on my own. Our defensive line does a great job of holding down blockers. That allows me to make tackles for loss and sacks. This team has created something special and I want to continue the role we are on,” Kirk said.
“Getting to play next to Hunter (Newsom) is awesome. I always know he will do his job. He’s the leader of our defense and one of the best players I’ve seen in high school football. I wouldn’t want to play next to anyone else.”
Newsom added, “Zack has stepped up this year. We have great chemistry playing next to each other. There’s a high level of trust between us. Any mistakes made by us we meet with cheering for one another and moving on to the next play.”
Allie was proud of this team after their victory.
“Kearney has a reputation of being a physical football team. We answered the bell tonight,” Allie said.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We stuck to the crease we found in the running game. When they adjusted, we went to our ‘Q George’ (quarterback sweep) and play action game.”
Allie continued, “Zack (Kirk) is a program kid. He worked his tail off in the off season to get himself bigger and stronger and he’s really shined. Him and Newsom feed off each other. His desire has led him to care about doing the little things right.”
“The attitude this team has had over all is special. Especially, in the strange times we are living in. Nothing gets this team down. They want to work and enjoy playing the game.”
Grain Valley (5-0) will next visit the Fort Osage Indians (1-4) on October 2nd. Suburban Conference bragging rights will be on the line for each team.