by Michael Smith
In recent years, head coach David Allie said his Grain Valley football team has been blessed with talented middle linebackers.
Names like Tristan Pfieffer, Hunter Newsom and most recently, Gage Forkner captained the defense from the middle linebacker position.
Now that Forkner has graduated, senior Brody Baker will shift from the outside linebacker position to middle linebacker and will lead a solid linebacking corps that will be a part of a defense that returns seven starters.
Joining Baker on that unit will be two other players that got playing time last year are seniors Cole Elliott and Nathan Testa.
“We are really only losing one spot that doesn’t have experience,” Testa said.
Baker was second on the team in tackles last season with 68. He also had 1 ½ sacks, 5 ½ tackles for loss and one interception. In Grain Valley’s Class 5 state quarterfinal game against Fort Osage, he had 13 tackles.
Allie and his teammates are confident in the senior taking on the new role and leading the defense.
“We had Hunter Newsom and Gage Forkner at middle linebacker before and both were named KMZU Defensive Player of the Year during their senior season,” Allie said. “They were a big part of our team. We are confident Brody can take over that role.
“He will run the show for us. He’s a physical kid and he’s actually gotten a little taller over the summer, which is good. He’s a very vocal kid and a very good leader for us.”
“Brody is our guy,” Elliott said. “He lets us know where we need to be. He does it all. He’s going to be great. He will also lay the hit, too.”
Baker is also someone who can keep the mood light.
“He’s a funny kid and he’s always cracking jokes,” Allie said. “That doesn’t keep him from being serious and doing his job. He loves the camaraderie and you can see it in his play. His vocal ability is really going to help his teammates.
Elliott and Testa will line up at the outside linebacker positions for Grain Valley. Last season, Elliott had a breakout season with 40 ½ tackles, 4 ½ tackles for loss and four interceptions. Testa also got some playing time and had 4 ½ tackles in 2021.
“Cole brings back some starting experience and has a year under his belt,” Allie said. “He’s a little stronger and a little more physical. Last year, at times, that was a detriment for him. HE wasn’t as big, fast and strong as he is now. We feel like that’s going to happen.
“Nathan Testa has height and length and you can’t coach those things. He will be able to cover the flats and get into those passing lanes. He can come off the edge on the blitz, too.”
Added senior defensive end Rhylan Alcanter: “Cole had an outstanding season last year and I bet he does even better this year.”
Allie noted there will be a couple of sophomores that should contribute at the position, as well. Senior Michael Gassen could also be in the mix.
“Michael is really knowledgeable,” Testa said. “He knows where he needs to be. Once he gets past the studying, he will be good.”
With a mix of linebackers that have youth and experience, the linebacker corps could help Grain Valley repeat the success it had in 2022 where it held opponents to just 20.4 points per game.
“We may not be the biggest guys but we are going to go out there and give it 100 percent,” Elliott said. “We are going to be aggressive.”
Seniors Cole Elliott, left, and Nathan Testa are two of three linebackers returning to Grain Valley with varsity football experience. Photo credit: Michael Smith