by John Unrein
The 86th annual selection meeting of the National Football League will be held April 29th through May 1st in Cleveland, Ohio. Much like spring training in baseball, the NFL draft brings renewed hope to franchises across the landscape of professional football. The Kansas City Chiefs definitely fall into that category, no doubt still feeling the sting of their 31-9 Super Bowl LV defeat at the hands of Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach will have his hands full in trying to fill the team’s several positional needs. The organization has been active in free agency with signings of offensive guards Joe Thuney and Kyle Long. Those moves followed the release of long time Chiefs offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. Kansas City has continued to bring players into the fold through late March and early April with the following additions:
Michael Burton FB
Austin Blythe OL
Daniel Sorensen S
Demarcus Robinson WR
Mike Remmers OL
Nick Keizer TE
Blake Bell TE
Darrell Williams RB
Taco Charlton DE
This draft has increased significance for the Chiefs. Outside of Thuney, all the other Chiefs recent free agent signings agreed to one year deals. The salary cap limit restructure across the NFL due to revenue lost from last year’s COVID-19 season has a lot of teams in the same boat as the Chiefs. Compounding matters is that defensive starters Tyrann Mathieu (safety), Chavarius Ward (cornerback), and Derrick Nnadi (defensive tackle) will be free agents themselves following this season.
And by the way, the Chiefs have a glaring hole at left tackle, the individual responsible for protecting the blind side of the best player in the National Football League in Patrick Mahomes. According to NextGenStats, and previously reported by Seth Walder of ESPN, Mahomes scrambled for an eye popping 497 yards in the Super Bowl avoiding the pass rush of the Buccaneers. The official website of the Kansas City Chiefs currently has a blank space listed for the first team left tackle on the team’s depth chart. Martinas Rankin is listed as the second team left tackle.
Simply put, Veach will not let the Chiefs exit the first round without trading for a veteran left tackle or selecting someone with the potential worthy of guarding Mahomes. Too much rides on the Super Bowl window remaining open for the Chiefs not to fill the position in a secure manner before any other needs are addressed.
There have been online suggestions from pundits that the Chiefs could trade for Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. The 6’ 8” three hundred and forty five pound Brown has productive experience at both right and left tackles in the league while still only being 24 years of age. However, it would be a shock to see the Ravens trade him to the Chiefs considering both teams are in the same conference (AFC) and view themselves as contenders.
The Chiefs have the following eight picks in this year’s draft: 1st Round (31st overall), 2nd round (63rd overall), 3rd round (94th overall), 4th round (136th overall), 4th round (144th overall), 5th round (177th overall), 5th round (181st overall), and 6th round (207th overall).
Stone Forsythe (Offensive Tackle), Florida Gators- 31st Overall
Forsythe glides into his pass set with grace. According to Pro Football Focus, Forsythe only allowed two sacks last season while most games for the Gators were against SEC opponents. Forsythe also has the hand punch and athleticism needed to fend off talented edge rushers. More importantly, it is a cab ride to get around the size and length Forsythe possesses. Likeness can be found between Forsythe and another former Andy Reid coached offensive tackle in King Dunlap, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Forsythe’s height works against him at times in the running game. The ability to learn how to use leverage as a tall player while locking on and moving defenders will be a work in progress at the pro level for Forsythe. That is okay though. Reid coached teams tend to be near the league lead in pass attempts. A trend likely to continue with Mahomes as the Chiefs signal caller. Mahomes must stay upright in the pocket though for that to take place.
It has been confirmed that the Chiefs did attend Forsythe’s pro day in Gainesville, Florida with a Chiefs scout running the offensive line drills.
Pro day measurables for Forsythe
HT: 6’ 8”
Arm length: 34.375”
40 yard dash: 5.14 and 5.15 seconds
Vertical jump: 27.5”
Broad jump: 8’ 7”
Short shuttle: 4.65 seconds
Three cone agility: 7.47 seconds
225 pound bench press reps: 25
Tommy Tremble (Tight End), Notre Dame- 63rd Overall
Tremble is projected to go in the third round of the draft. That is why the Chiefs will select him at the bottom of the second round. Tremble was one of the most dominant blocking tight ends in all of college football last season. The Fighting Irish ran behind Tremble when yards were needed most on the ground.
Selecting Tremble will promote the longevity of Travis Kelce’s career as well. Kelce may be used more as a flex option away from the line of scrimmage and avoid injury in no longer having to do as much dirty work in the trenches.
Tremble also possesses the athleticism and untapped potential to excel in the passing game. Notre Dame primarily used Tremble as a play action target in their offense. Tremble fulfilled that role with solid hands and the ability to track the football in the air well.
Several mock drafts have the Chiefs going defense in the second round or trading the pick and other draft capital to get back into the first round to select a defensive player. Tremble’s name may be called if that scenario does not play out.
Pro day measurables for Tremble
HT: 6’ 3”
Arm length: 32”
40 yard dash: 4.59
Vertical jump: 36.5”
Broad jump: 10’ 2”
Short shuttle: Did not participate
Three cone agility: Did not participate
225 pound bench press reps: 20
Jamar Johnson (Safety), Indiana- 94th Overall
Johnson has excelled at both playing near the line of scrimmage and off in deep coverage as a safety in the Hoosiers’ defensive scheme. Johnson is a sound tackler who does not fear contact. The ability to react to patterns developing in front of Johnson has permitted the 21 year old junior to get his hands on the football through the air.
The Chiefs select Johnson to protect against Mathieu and Sorensen being free agents after this season. The pick also provides Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo the ability to move Mathieu, Sorensen, and Johnson around as chess pieces fulfilling various roles. The only other safeties currently listed on the Chiefs depth chart are Juan Thornhill and Armani Watts.
Pro day measurables for Johnson
HT: 6’ 2”
Arm length: 30”
40 yard dash: 4.58
Vertical jump: 35”
Broad jump: 10’ 2”
Short shuttle: 4.41
Three cone agility: 7.22
225 pound bench press reps: 17
Dayo Odeyingbo (Defensive End), Vanderbilt- 136th Overall
Odeyingbo was a team captain and has received notoriety as possibly the most underrated defender in the prestigious Southeastern Football Conference. Odeyingbo lined up against quality offensive tackles every week in catching the eye of scouts with his hand strength and ability to get off the football at the snap. The ability to get to the quarterback, be stout against the run, disengage from blocks, and finish tackles is what has moved Odeyingbo into the middle rounds of the draft.
A nine game schedule witnessed Odeyingbo rack up 5.5 sacks during the 2020 season. Odeyingbo would team with Frank Clark, Mike Danna, Taco Charlton, and Tim Ward to form a respectable defensive end rotation along the Chiefs defensive line. The free agent addition of Reed at defensive tackle also gives the team flexibility of moving Chris Jones to defensive end on first and second downs.
Robert Rochell (Cornerback), Central Arkansas- 144th Overall
Rochell is comfortable in space and in close proximity to wide receivers. More importantly, Rochell tracks the football well in coverage while displaying solid enough hands to reel in the football. The first-team All-Southland Conference selection in 2019 was a three year starter. The former track star at Central Arkansas also possesses long arms. Both attributes would allow Rochell to develop quickly in Spagnuolo’s press coverage scheme.
Having the confidence that you have the speed to recover in coverage does wonders for the willingness of a cornerback to get their hands on wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt a route. Rochell has been credited with a 4.41 40 yard dash and a 43” vertical jump at a height of 6’ 2” tall. The physical tools are definitely there for Rochell.
Rochell has the potential to be this year’s version of L’Jarius Sneed who the Chiefs selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft.
Tedarrell Slaton (Defensive Tackle), Florida- 177th Overall
Slaton possesses the size to lock down the “A Gap” against an opponent’s rushing attack. The 6’ 5” three hundred and forty pound Slaton also has the nimbleness to rush the passer and disengage from blockers. A relentless motor pops out in the film review of Slaton. Chiefs defensive line coach Brendan Daly would have a project to mold in Slaton.
The drafting of Slaton would protect the Chiefs against the possibility of Nnadi signing elsewhere as a free agent after this season. The Chiefs have typically carried eight or more defensive linemen on their 53 man roster during Spagnuolo’s tenure as defensive coordinator. The ability to have a rotation of quality defensive linemen to throw at the opposition promotes a healthy pass rush and limits the amount of time defensive backs must cover up receivers.
Derrick Barnes (Linebacker), Perdue- 181st Overall
Barnes is the classic tale of an undersized defensive lineman who can move well in space that was moved to linebacker. The Boilermaker three year starter ran a 4.58 40 yard dash at his pro day to coincide with a 37” vertical jump, a 4.32 short shuttle, and bench pressed 225 pounds 29 times when NFL scouts came calling to West Lafayette, Indiana.
Barnes checks a lot of boxes as a scheme fit for linebacker in Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defense. Barnes is not uncomfortable blitzing and engaging with blockers due his former tenure at defensive end. Conversely, Barnes is comfortable in space and has shown the ability to provide coverage against short and intermediate routes in his drops.
Barnes also rarely misses a tackle. That is a good way to get noticed and punch your ticket to stay on the 53 man roster come training camp time in July. Couple that with Barnes not being shy about taking on lead blockers, and you have a player who may contribute at any of the three linebacker positions.
Sam Cooper (Guard), Merrimack- 207th Overall
The Chiefs were confirmed to be one of the 9 NFL teams at Cooper’s pro day. The 6’ 2” three hundred and eight pound big man attended the University of Maine from 2015 to 2017 before transferring to Merrimack, a small private school located in Andover, Massachusetts. Cooper’s ability to run block in the outside zone scheme used by Merrimack grabs your attention. So does the punch Cooper possesses in pass protection.
This was quantified by the numbers Cooper put up at his pro day. Cooper ran the 40 yard dash in 5.1 seconds, bench pressed 225 pounds 35 times, and ran a 10 yard dash split of 1.69 seconds. All of this means that Cooper is athletic but raw and would likely need time to mature under the guidance of Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck.
by John Unrein
The Grain Valley Eagles baseball team produced a run in every inning played except the first in route to a 10-0 spread rule victory over the William Chrisman Bears on April 9th. Grain Valley used a recipe of deft pitching, good defense, and timely hitting to produce a strong showing against a Suburban Conference opponent. The victory also leaves intact an undefeated record at home for the Eagles through the first month of the season.
Starter Joel Palecek and reliever Parker Stone toiled on the mound to produce the shutout for Grain Valley. The duo scattered four base hits to combine with four strikeouts across five scoreless innings. The phrase “In Palecek We Trust” could be heard coming from the Eagles dugout after each of the first four frames. The junior starter continues to display calm body language in mixing his fastball, changeup, and curveball arsenal against opposing offenses. Stone was sharp as well in his one inning of relief.
Senior catcher Cole Arndorfer was strong behind the plate defensively for Grain Valley. Arndorfer thwarted a steal attempt of second base with a solid throw in the top of the first inning that nullified the Bears chance of scoring. That was followed by Arndorfer assisting his teammates with where the baseball was headed after contact was made at the plate.
Clear skies and a sunny afternoon left a “high sky” in baseball terminology for the Eagles to sort through. Arndorfer could be heard verifying location of the baseball in the top of the second inning by saying, “Up, no tag by runner.” The assistance by Arndorfer made the catch and knowing what to do with baseball afterwards easier for Eagles second baseman Avery Garmon.
Big days at the plate were had by shortstop Parker Bosserman, right fielder Alex Snyder, and third baseman Riley Bown. The trio would produce 7 of the 10 runs batted in by Grain Valley. Bosserman would end up going three for three, with a stolen base, and 2 RBI’s. Snyder’s 2 RBI base hit in the bottom of the 4th inning broke the game wide open for the Eagles.
Grain Valley’s approach of going the other way at the plate against William Chrisman’s southpaw starter Trey Kates paid dividends. The Eagles were determined to look the ball in as long as they could before triggering their swing to make sure they did not get fooled. The methodology worked and Grain Valley was rewarded for their patience.
“I feel like I am seeing the ball well at the plate. It was a beautiful day outside and that did not hurt either. Focusing on staying back in my stance and hitting ball the opposite way paid off for me today,” Bosserman said.
Snyder added, “I noticed in my first two at bats that I was way out in front. I changed my approach at the plate to hunt the fastball and make contact the other way in attempting to move runners over.”
“This feels great in how we are coming together as a team. We are on a roll right now.”
The growing confidence on display by the Eagles has head coach Brian Driskell content with where his team is headed. There is a new mix to the varsity roster this season with a decent number of seniors who graduated in 2020. It is always uncertain how a new group will gel and if team chemistry will result in support of one another. That has not been a worry for Driskell.
“It has been a nice theme to see the clutch hitting we have done at the plate. On the opposite side we have also had timely pitching with two outs and not allowed the other team to do the same. Obviously, you do not want to put yourself on those positions defensively. Those are invaluable moments, so come the end of the season we’ll have experience in both comfortable and uncomfortable situations,” Driskell said.
“Joel (Palecek) continues to throw strikes when he is on the mound for us. We talked as a team afterwards that we can give up five hits in three innings and work around that without the game getting away from us, or our defense getting tired or bored. It is exciting to play behind a pitcher that will keep the ball in play.”
Driskell continued, “I am glad to see Cole (Arndorfer) be so vocal as a catcher. That is hard for him in that he is introverted. We have pressed him to speak up and support our defense and he has responded. I am happy he is showing comfort in finding his voice.”
“Trey (Kates) did a good job for them (William Chrisman) pitching. I felt like he had us fooled early. He did a job mixing his pitches and missed in the middle of the plate a few times. We were able to advantage of that in those situations. I think he will be a solid pitcher for them moving forward.”
Driskell finished, “I am encouraged by what I see from us. I like the temperament of this team. This has been as much fun as I have had coaching in thirteen years.”
The win over William Chrisman and a subsequent 13-0 victory by the Eagles against North Kansas City in the Northland Baseball Tournament progresses Grain Valley’s record to 9-4 on the season.
Short shop Parker Bosserman waits for the pitch at the plate.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Starting pitcher Joel Palecek warms up on the mound.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Right fielder Alex Snyder connects at the plate to drive in two runs.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
by John Unrein
The Grain Valley Lady Eagles soccer team scored eight goals to move their record to 8-0 on the season against the Fort Osage Indians on April 12th. The contest only lasted a total of 49 minutes with the spread rule coming into effect upon Grain Valley’s final goal by Meghan Knust just 9 minutes into the second half. A Fort Osage Indian squad that was not at full strength due to COVID-19 related issues put forth their best effort with reduced numbers.
A perfect record remains intact for a young Lady Eagles squad that has shown a propensity for scoring goals this season. Grain Valley has averaged 4.75 goals a game through timely passing and nifty shot selection. The unselfishness of head coach Tyler Nichol’s squad has reaped success for the Lady Eagles.
Freshman Kylee Bragaw was a prime example of this in the Lady Eagles win. Fellow freshman Emma Thiessen crossed the ball to Bragaw who used her left foot to intentionally send the ball at a high trajectory on a lob shot over the outstretched arms of the Indians goalkeeper. Chants of “Bragaw Ball” emanated from the Grain Valley sideline following the crafty shot on goal thirty minutes into the first half.
Bragaw would be followed by Sevreign Aumua and Annabelle Totta with goals at the 31 and 32 minute mark of the first half, respectively. The offensive outpouring in a three minute time span pushed the score to 6-0 and left the Lady Eagles on cruise control heading into the second half. The amount of respect exhibited for the freshman by upperclassmen has existed since the start of the season and surpasses the contributions made by the eight freshmen on the Grain Valley varsity roster.
“My teammates started repeating the ‘Bragaw Ball’ saying after my first goal of the season against Staley. It was coined by Coach (Brett) Lewis and has stuck,” Bragaw said.
“I think it is really cool the amount of respect given by my teammates. Our coaches have given us time on the field and encourage us to be ourselves when we play soccer. The lob shot was due to other players being in the way and that being the best shot I had. I tried it and it went in.”
Totta added, “Tonight was great. That was due to us moving ball around and communicating extremely well. The depth on our team allows us to compete in waves. We trust each other to the point we do not have uncertainty regardless of who possesses the ball.
Goalkeeper Camihle Williams produced her second shutout of the season in net for the Lady Eagles. Williams continues to become more vocal in directing her team with the pitch in front of them. A sign of the confidence that continues to grow for the sophomore goalie.
“A shutout is always what you strive for and my team was affected by it in the best way possible. I continue to have open mindedness as a goalie in that your defense will not always do what you expect them to do. You have to adjust and avoid frustration if things do not go your way,” Williams said.
The grin on Nichol’s face after a victory over a Suburban Conference opponent was unmistakable. The man at the helm will not be shy in telling you that the team’s performance has surpassed expectations thus far this season. The style and selflessness of play is what has Nichol the happiest as Grain Valley heads into a busy part of their schedule, playing three games the week of April 12th.
“We were clean in our play tonight and moved the ball well against a quality opponent that was missing quite a few players. We know that it will not be this easy next time around against them (Fort Osage). We can only control what we can control. To see this many girls involved in our early season success has been very enjoyable,” Nichol said.
“I hope it speaks volumes about our program -- the amount of care demonstrated by our team for each other in that they are a great group of human beings. This roster has not been mad in the sense that they are competing for spots with each other. It has been an environment that everyone is happy for each other regardless of who is putting the ball in net at the end of play.”
Nichol finished, “I have to throw a shout out to Hannah Rast. She loved to throw her knee or foot at the ball the way Bragaw did tonight with the same result. The fun in that keeps me focused from thinking too much about our upcoming opponents. I am proud of this team.”
Left to right: Camihle Williams, Kylee Bragaw, Annabelle Totta, Rian Handy
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Sophia Giuliano advances the ball down the field for the Lady Eagles.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Alexis Arreguin throws the ball into play from the sideline for the Lady Eagles.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
by John Unrein
Watching a Grain Valley Eagles boys tennis match this season may lead one to believe they are having double vision. That is not the case. It is probable one would be noticing the identical likeness of Carter and Kade Compton. The twins compete on the tennis court for the Eagles in both singles and doubles matches.
The afternoon of April 9th brought 72 degrees and overcast skies with the Platte County Pirate tennis team paying a visit to Grain Valley High School. Perched on a bench or leaning against the fence was the watchful gaze of Eagles head tennis coach Randy Draper. A point is always made by Draper to consult with his varsity players after a match. Draper typically asks for reflection by the player and then provides guidance in the form of constructive feedback before moving on to ending with positive thoughts and a comment designed to draw a smile.
Such was the case as junior Carter Compton finished his play for the day before visiting with Draper. Grain Valley was finishing up going 2-7 overall in their matchup against the Pirates. The loss would move the Eagles to a 1-4 season record. The bright spot against the Pirates would come in the form of Grain Valley winning the number one ranked singles match and number two ranked doubles match.
“Since my freshman year, Coach Draper has taught me the fundamentals of tennis. I had never touched a racket before then. Coach Draper pushes us to win, just like I experience in soccer and basketball,” Compton said.
“I split my matches today going 1-1. We won our doubles match, and I lost my singles match. I have close friends on this team though, and that makes being a part of the tennis program here a lot of fun.”
Compton continued, “My brother (Kade) and I are remarkably close. We do not have to communicate about the typical stuff, we just know what’s up. That leads to us knowing what to do just by the looks we give each other.”
The makeup of Draper’s squad is diverse. Some of the team is involved in other sports or activities. The rest simply play tennis out of the joy received from hitting a fluorescent ball with nylon strings on a racket. Brycen Crandall is another example of a multiple sport athlete like the Compton twins who enjoys competing in tennis.
“I have five or six buddies on this team that I get to see every day for an hour and a half after school. Tennis also helps to keep me in shape. I notice the difference in my quickness and hand-eye coordination every summer when we start back up in football,” Crandall said.
“Tennis is a lot of fun. I lost my doubles match but won my singles match to end up with a .500 record on the day.”
Draper has shared with his team that the purpose of their non-conference schedule early in the season against larger schools in the Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs school districts was not meant to be friendly. Instead, it was intended to face good competition to make the team better heading into conference and district play. Draper is also aware of the unusualness in the circumstances of seeing players get caught up who did not have a tennis season last year.
“We have been in matches. Two of three we have lost we were close. Hopefully, by the end of the season we will have improved enough to flip those outcomes. We continue to learn how to organize and win points. Players who win points are the ones who learn to do it on their terms,” Draper said.
“We have the unusual circumstance of having two sets of twins in our top six players. I have been pleased with the Compton twins especially. They are two underclassmen playing our number two doubles and our three and four singles. I have been pleased with them and think they have a really high ceiling.”
The week of April 12th will see the Grain Valley Eagles tennis team travel to Warrensburg and host Truman High School.
Junior Carter Compton prepares to serve. Photo credit: Valley News staff
The Compton twins warm up prior to their match against the Platte County Pirates.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
by John Unrein
The Grain Valley Lady Eagles soccer team put their unblemished record on the line against the Park Hill South Panthers at Moody Murray Stadium on April 5th. A slight breeze and seventy one degrees with sunshine greeted both teams as they took to the field on a beautiful spring evening. The endzone facing the concession stand witnessed sophomore goalkeeper Camihle Williams practicing blocking fundamentals as Grain Valley head coach Tyler Nichol kicked an array of soccer balls in the direction of Williams prior to the start of the game.
The focus on fundamentals would come in handy for Williams as she would play a solid second half in goal for the Lady Eagles. Seniors Sophie Broockerd, Raena Childers, and Valerie Holcomb would join Williams in putting forth a strong effort in helping secure the 2-1 win against a Suburban Conference opponent. The narrow victory let the Grain Valley sideline breathe a sigh of relief as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Nichol was upbeat in praising the effort of his team as they faced a strong opponent in what felt like a playoff atmosphere. The Lady Eagles had to overcome the Panthers high press and going into the wind in the first half. Furthermore, Park Hill South possessed the ball more as the game progressed, which led to a 19-10 shots on goal advantage for the Panthers. Nichol indicated the satisfaction garnered from watching his team compete during high leverage situations.
“This was a great win. First thing after the game in our team huddle, one of the girls said, ‘that was tough, but fun.’ This was a postseason like game against a team that feels like they could possibly make a run this year in Class 4,” Nichol said.
“We took advantage of the chances we had in the first half (to gain the lead) only to have a couple slip away from us in the second half. Overall, this was a different type of game tonight. Coach (Brett) Lewis said it best when he described this as a ‘gritty’ win for us.”
Nichol continued, “We challenged the girls at halftime about being tougher on corner kicks and facing their (Park Hill South) set pieces. I was happy with how our team responded and the ‘grit’ they displayed. We got passed the initial feeling out period of two good teams who do not know each other that well.”
“The offense we displayed in the first fifteen minutes of the game with the goals by Raena (Childers) and Valerie (Holcomb) provided enough momentum for us to be successful. It would also be easy to say that Camihle (Williams) had her best game of the young season in goal for us tonight as well. Sophie (Broockerd) was all over the place. She does not know any speed other than one hundred percent. Broockerd got her ankle taped at halftime and it did not affect her play.”
Childers would score first for Grain Valley four minutes into the first half on a charge through the middle of the Panthers defense. Holcomb would follow suit thirteen minutes into the first half as well. A deflected shot by Park Hill South goalkeeper Lauren Longenecker off the right foot of Emma Thiessen would spin to the waiting foot of Holcomb to the right of the action for the goal. That would be all the offense Grain Valley would need.
Williams would make three crucial stops for the Lady Eagles in goal at 22 and 28 minutes into the first half to combine with a crucial save made 30 minutes into the second half. Equally as impressive was the four stops made by Broockerd in the second half. Broockerd would square up each charge only to mirror her opponent before halting the soccer ball. The adoration was distinct from Grain Valley teammates and the sideline for Williams and Broockerd in the waning minutes of the contest.
“Emma (Thiessen) and Raena (Childers) did a good job of getting the ball up and I was lucky to get the rebound. I did not even think about the shot, I just reacted. It has been great to start this season undefeated,” Holcomb said.
Broockerd added, “We were all motivated to get our sixth win tonight against a big school. The second half tried us, but we were determined to keep our focus on the basics, and it paid off.”
Childers concluded, “Our two goals early definitely established the pace of the game. I have always been told that a 2-0 lead is the hardest one to keep in a soccer game. It did give us the momentum needed to stay strong down the stretch. Starting the season 6-0 gives us extra motivation to keep this going.”
Grain Valley will next travel to Blue Springs to face the Wildcats on April 9th.
by John Unrein
Patrick Mahomes is a generational talent. The 2018 National Football League Most Valuable Player and 2019 Super Bowl MVP has endeared himself to the hearts of many Kansas City Chiefs fans. And for good reason, as the franchise struggled for years to draft and develop a talent that could bring both the Lamar Hunt (AFC Championship) and Vince Lombardi (Super Bowl) trophies home to One Arrowhead Drive. Those old enough to remember names like Todd Blackledge, Matt Blundin, and Brodie Croyle know exactly what I am talking about.
One of my favorite attributes of football is offensive line play. Even during the era of the spread offense and run pass option (RPO) that produce video game like numbers, football games are still won at the line of scrimmage in the trenches. Offensive lineman must possess the will to fight in a space the size of a phone booth for 50 to 70 snaps a game on average. It takes a toll on the body and challenges the mental toughness of those who man the position.
It has been said that it does not matter how you get to the NFL, just that you seize the opportunity upon arrival. Both of my two favorite Chiefs players are examples of this mantra. Andrew Wylie and Nick Allegretti would by my first picks to walk through a dark alley with on the current roster. Wylie and Allegretti carved out starting spots along the Chiefs offensive line as an undrafted free agent and 7th round draft pick, respectively.
Wylie broke into the NFL in 2017 after signing as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Baltimore Ravens before bouncing to the Indianapolis Colts roster, prior to ending up with the Chiefs. He was one of the stars of Chiefs training camp in 2018. Wylie would go on to play in all 16 games that season, including starting the final 10 games at right guard after a leg injury sidelined Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. A trend that continued again this past season as Wylie started in the same spot with Duvernay-Tardif opting out of the season for COVID-19 reasons.
The 6’ 6” three hundred and nine pound lineman starred collegiately at Eastern Michigan as an offensive tackle and was used primarily at that spot as a reserve for the Chiefs prior to Tardif’s injury. Wylie has possessed the Twitter handles of, “Lineman versus everyone,” and “My Madden ranking does not define me.” Both are a window into Wylie’s mindset as he has had to earn everything thus far during his professional career.
Surprisingly enough, Wylie was not invited to the NFL combine, despite being recognized with All-MAC Conference Honors and staring 44 games at Eastern Michigan in helping to propel his alma mater to its first bowl game in 29 years during his senior campaign. However, NFL teams could not ignore the numbers Wylie put up during his pro day in the spring of 2017.
His numbers turned the heads of professional scouts. Wylie bench pressed 340 pounds, along with posting a 4.5 second 20-yard shuttle, a 9-foot7 inch broad jump, and a 34-inch vertical leap. This performance would have placed him near the top of all offensive lineman at the NFL combine.
Wylie reaped respect from his teammates in 2018 by winning the Mack Lee Hill Award, given to the Chiefs Rookie of the Year as voted on by the team. Wylie’s tenacious play in the trenches is what has been most impressive though. He plays to end of the whistle, often getting under the skin of his opponents. This was apparent during the Chiefs week 14 matchup of the 2018 season against the Baltimore Ravens during the regular season. The Ravens defense was unnerved by Wylie’s use of leverage in the run game as well as his final hand placement in pass protection. Usually, it is the Ravens’ opponents that take exception to their physical play, not the other way around.
A similar scenario played out during the Chiefs Super Bowl LIV loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Wylie replaced starter Mike Remmers at right tackle due to Remmers moving to left tackle to fill in for the injured Eric Fisher. Wylie went toe to toe with Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Shaquil Barrett on football’s biggest stage. Words were exchanged between Wylie and his Buccaneer foes without a fight occurring. Wylie did not back down when challenged and put forth a resolute effort against the NFL’s sixth overall rated defense in 2020.
No one has accused Wylie of being a dirty player. On the contrary, the pushing and shoving that occurs with Wylie after the play has been because opponents know it is going to be a long day against number 77 for the Chiefs. Wylie has simply done whatever has been asked of him for the betterment of the team.
Wylie’s unselfishness has paid off for him. The NFLPA has recently announced 2020 performance-based pay distributions. Wylie was the highest grossing Chief on the list following his third season in the league, obtaining $542,979 in performance based pay for his performance on the gridiron last season. That number is on top of the $750,000 base salary that Wylie already earned with the franchise in 2020.
Wylie has started 35 games for the Chiefs overall, including a career high 14 starts that was good for 92% of the team’s offensive downs played last season. Wylie’s playing time during 2020 is what earned him the additional pay day. Most often, it is a player that contributes significant snaps for his team with a lower range salary that is rewarded under the NFL’s performance based pay formula.
Allegretti has not been far away from Wylie both literally and figuratively since entering the NFL in 2019 as a seventh-round pick (216th overall) by the Chiefs. The 6’ 4” three hundred and twenty pound lineman played left guard opposite of Wylie for most of the 2020 season, starting in 9 games. Versatility is one of Allegretti’s calling cards, much like the aforementioned Wylie. Allegretti has lined up at both center and guard for the Chiefs. A trait that was copied during his collegiate career at the University of Illinois as well.
Allegretti was the number three rated guard in the county by Pro Football Focus in 2018 while earning PFF All-Big 10 Second Team honors. The Fighting Illini product was tied for first in pass blocking efficiency (99.4) among Power 5 offensive guards in the 2019 draft class according to PFF. Allegretti “left the pocket clean” as they say while giving up zero sacks and zero quarterback hits in his last fifteen collegiate games.
The strong play of Allegretti has carried over to the pro level. Fox Sports television analyst and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman lauded Allegretti’s play during his first career start on October 19th in a matchup against the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs would amass 245 rushing yards in a 26-19 victory over the Bills.
It is rare for a young offensive lineman to receive the praise that Allegretti did from Aikman in that game with ten minutes left to go in the fourth quarter on national television. Allegretti represented himself and his team well in filling in for Mike Remmers at left guard, who was moved to right tackle to start for the injured Mitchell Schwartz against the Bills.
Allegretti would go on to only give up one sack and accumulate four penalties of the 694 snaps he played during the 2020 season according to PFF. It is easy to say that Allegretti was part of the solution and not the problems that hampered the Chiefs offensive line last season. That is likely why Allegretti will be permitted to compete for a starting role at center along with recent free agent signee Austin Blythe. The previous starting center for the Los Angeles Rams, Blythe gave up four sacks and accrued one penalty in 1120 offensive snaps during the 2020 campaign per PFF.
A generous heart has also been displayed by Allegretti off the field. The Illini’s “Lift for Life” campaign raised more than $88,000 for charity over the course of Allegretti’s last two years on campus. Allegretti was also the President of the Illinois Uplifting Athletes Chapter, which raises funds for rare disease research and treatment. Furthermore, Allegretti was a two-time Wuerffel Trophy nominee, which annually recognizes those that excel both on the field and in community service.
The Chiefs have been busy this offseason retooling their offensive line during free agency. Remmers has been resigned to a one year deal. Blythe, Joe Thuney, and Kyle Long round out the remainder of the Chiefs additions up front. Also returning to the Chiefs for the 2021 season will be their 3rd round selection in the 2020 draft, right tackle Lucas Niang from Texas Christian University, who opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
There are 80 million reasons why Thuney will be given the starting nod at left guard for the Chiefs heading into the 2021 season. The five year contract signed by Thuney this offseason is worth $80,000,000, including a $17,000,000 signing bonus, and has $46,890,000 million of the agreement guaranteed. Not too shabby for the former Patriots Pro-Bowl selection.
Both Remmers and Long will be 32 years of age when the season begins. Duvernay-Tardif will be 30 years old. Father Time eventually catches up to offensive lineman who pass the threshold of 30 in the NFL. There are rare exceptions like tackles Andrew Whitworth and Trent Williams (who recently signed a 6 year $138 million with the 49ers at the age of 32). However, technique and strength are relied upon more than athleticism as age accumulates in football.
Long and Duvernay-Tardif are slated to compete for the starting job at right guard. Tardif has appeared to the naked eye to lack the same lateral quickness he possessed prior to fracturing his fibula in week five of the 2018 season. Long has suffered shoulder, hip, and ankle injuries that eventually led to his retirement from professional football prior to the 2020 season. Long, the son of former Raiders Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long is a difference maker along the offensive line when healthy. Long was selected to the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons from 2013-2015.
All of this leads to Wylie standing on the outside looking in and Allegretti competing with an established veteran for a starting role. It is an old football adage that “depth charts are not set in stone.” This bring me solace in knowing that Wylie and Allegretti will be rewarded if they continue to perform at a high level during the offseason and training camp. Wins are too hard to come by in the NFL not to have your best offensive lineman start for you. Especially, when they are protecting the best player in the National Football League in Patrick Mahomes.
I would enjoy the opportunity to meet my two favorite Kansas City Chiefs. My hope is that some day I get to take my picture with both Wylie and Allegretti in a post-pandemic world. I look forward to watching them compete and the return of football to Chiefs Kingdom.
by John Unrein
Shortstop Parker Bosserman sprinted to his right deep in the hole before picking up the baseball with his glove hand. A smooth exchange would follow prior to the senior launching the ball across the diamond towards first base. Bosserman would trade force on his throw for accuracy in the hope first baseman Parker Stone would be able to pick the ball out of the dirt at first base. The calculated risk paid off for Bosserman as Stone plucked the baseball out of the dust to record the final out of the game for Grain Valley.
The final sequence in the bottom of the seventh inning put the icing on the cake for the Eagles. The defensive jewel mustered by Bosserman and the strong pitching of Riley Bown would propel the Eagles to a 3-2 victory over the Lee’s Summit Tigers on April 2nd. Making the victory that much sweeter was the double hitter sweep of a Suburban Conference opponent on the diamond by Grain Valley. A success that led to an abundance of postgame handshakes in the dugout and moves the Eagles to a 6-4 record on the young season.
Bown would relieve starter Cole Keller in the second inning and compile four and one-third scoreless innings for Grain Valley. Lee’s Summit would produce at least one baserunner each frame that Bown was on the mound. The senior pitcher would work around trouble each inning to defend the Eagles lead. Making the contribution more noteworthy was that Bown was called on to close out the game prior during the first matchup of the double hitter.
“When I go to the mound, it is to throw strikes and let my defense make plays behind me. That permits me to fill up the zone and avoid pressure getting to me,” Bown said.
“My fastball tends to get better as the game progresses. That was the case again today. Winning two games on a Friday puts a sunny outlook for the pace we are on headed into next week. This puts a good taste in your mouth.”
Bosserman has worked hard during the first ten games of the season to avoid being out in front while at the plate. A common misstep that hitters battle in keeping their weight balanced through their swing. The senior would adjust his approach to produce a base hit in the third inning and a no doubt home run that cleared the left field fence in the fifth inning. Bosserman exhibited strong hands and wrists to pull the ball as a right handed hitter on his homer that would deliver two runs batted in for the Eagles. The outcome would lead to the difference in victory for Grain Valley in a one run game.
“The home run in the fifth came on a 2-0 pitch. I was looking for an inside fastball and got one. I struggled to be on time today. I was determined to see that one in and I did,” Bosserman said.
“I got a good read off the bat with the sharp grounder in the seventh inning. Once I got to the ball, I put faith in (Parker) Stone that he would deliver because the throw was so hurried. It turned out great.”
Bosserman finished, “This is a new set. Hanging out with the guys has been fun since we graduated a good number of seniors last season. The new faces have been good to get to know.”
The Eagles have produced five runs per game on average so far this season. The team has been involved in four games that have been decided by a one run margin. Learning to be competitive in those circumstances toughens teams for pressure cooker situations that arrive as the campaign unfolds in late April and May. A fact not lost on Eagles head baseball coach Brian Driskell. A humble Driskell spoke to the determination his team displayed following back to back wins over the Tigers.
“This is a fun team be around. We talked after the previous game about our persistence, even when throwing strikes has fallen away for us. Bown finished out the first game and only threw twelve (pitches). I knew he was going to be the first guy I called upon in the second game if needed. Bown’s ability to get outs with runners on base was Houdini like. It speaks to how invaluable it is to throw strikes,” Driskell said.
“Parker (Bosserman) had a big hit for us today. He drew the praise of the opposition and their head coach. Bosserman’s play late in the game in getting rid of it quick was special, and man, Parker Stone who has been dealing with an injury, made a great pick at first and saved the game for us.”
Driskell continued, “When you have a three run lead, you are not always aware you will need every bit of that to come out on top. It is a massive advantage to have a leadoff hitter like Bosserman who can bunt for a base hit or put one over the left field fence.”
Grain Valley will face Oak Park, Staley, and William Chrisman the week of April 5th prior to competing in the Northland Baseball Tournament the week of April 12th.
From left to right: Seniors Riley Bown and Parker Bosserman.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
Eagles leadoff hitter Parker Bosserman makes contact with the ball at the plate.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
by John Unrein
Sound pitching and timely hitting adorned the Grain Valley Eagles baseball team as the Lee’s Summit Tigers came calling on April 2nd. Eagles starting hurler Joel Palecek dealt a gem on the mound to team with the clutch effort at the plate of first baseman Kaden Jeffries. Grain Valley would carry the first game of the double hitter on Good Friday against Lee’s Summit by a score of 3-2.
Palecek gained command of his fastball after the first inning and paired it with an effective changeup to stymy the Tigers offense. The junior hurler for the Eagles would strike out five and only give up one earned run across six and one-third innings. Palecek received a robust round of applause from the crowd upon exiting the game in the top of the seventh inning.
“I was able to hit my spot with the fastball. I thank my catcher (Blake Prewitt) for that. He provided a stable target behind the plate and called a good game,” Palecek said.
“During warmups I typically struggle with my changeup. It felt good getting started and I had a feel for it today. Everything was taken care of by our team that allowed us to win the first game of this double hitter.”
Jeffries showed good eye discipline at the plate for the Eagles. The junior clean up hitter would draw a walk to couple with a double and single in getting on base three times consecutively. Jeffries would wait on both balls struck hard to center and right center field, respectively. The latter hit would yield two key runs batted in for Grain Valley in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“I picked out two good pitches at the plate and got the bat on them. It feels good to win and make contact like that for my team,” Jeffries said.
Grain Valley Eagles head baseball coach Brian Driskell was determined to manufacture a run with Jeffries first hit in the bottom of the fourth inning. A scoreless game witnessed Driskell call time and summon pinch runner Logan Pratt out of the dugout to take over for Jeffries at second base. The move paid dividends for the Eagles as Pratt would use his speed to make it home during the frame. The junior sprinter who has put together a solid track season thus far provides a swift option off the pine that opposing defenses cannot ignore.
The Eagles were encouraged to stay hungry by their skipper between games. A speech that preceded raking and watering the infield by Grain Valley’s head coach to prevent dust from flying on a breezy spring afternoon. Driskell was encouraged by what he saw out of his squad during the first tilt of the double hitter.
“Joel (Palecek) has been an excellent surprise for us this season. He has pounded the strike zone and that permits our defense to handle baseballs that are put in play. We have been able to scratch a couple of runs across at the plate that has fueled some wins for us at this point in the season,” Driskell said.
“Depending on the day, we may or may not have some additional speed on the bench (due to their track commitment). We have three of the four by one hundred and four by two hundred sprinters on our roster. This was (Logan) Pratt’s first game that he could be at today. I gave him the heads up before the start of the fourth inning to be ready. He got stretched, scored an important run for us, and it worked out.”
Driskell finished, “Jeffries had some big at bats today. That is going to be massive for him as the season progresses for his confidence. We talk all the time about comfortable and uncomfortable situations. Both of his hits today were uncomfortable situations, and he came through for us.”
Senior Riley Bown would come in during the top of the seventh inning for the save in relief of Palecek. The victory moved Grain Valley to one game above .500 baseball with a 5-4 record.
Eagles pitcher Joel Palecek delivers the ball from the mound.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
First baseman Kaden Jeffries makes contact at the plate for the Eagles.
Photo credit: Valley News staff
by John Unrein
We all have our own reasons as to why we enjoy racing. It could be the unmistakable sight of a driver navigating a turn only to slingshot past an opponent on the straightaway. Perhaps it is the smell of burning motor oil or concession stand hot dogs. Maybe the loud crackle in our ears upon engines starting up is what got us hooked. Whatever the motivation, racing is set to begin again at Valley Speedway for the 2021 season.
Dennis Shrout has a labor of love he engages in each year from early spring to late fall. The owner of Valley Speedway at 348 East Old US 40 Highway in Grain Valley has a lot on his plate as March ends and April begins. Shrout’s mind wanders from how many cars are finished and ready to race, to is all the necessary equipment ready for the season to start. The efforts continue in making sure staff is hired along with preparing food and beverage for the opening points race night on April 3rd before praying that mother nature smiles on everyone.
Shrout would not have it any other way as racing resumes for families to enjoy in Eastern Jackson County.
“In addition to our points racing schedule, we have five specials that include race teams from 20 states. We also do a monster truck show, two demolition derbies, and a three mile fitness course for the ladies called the Muddy Princess,” Shrout said.
“We are also working on a Swap and Shop program that will include food trucks, hayrides, a bounce house, and walking trails. We continue working on a paintball project that will have people riding in buses around a course with targets set up.”
Shrout concluded, “All of our programs are set up to be events for the entire family to enjoy. We are always working on new projects to utilize the facility.”
The Oil Pressure racing website asked readers in 2019 why they chose to attend their local racetracks on race days. There were four popular answers that continually showed up in responses. The most common response was getting out of the house to enjoy doing something outside. That was followed by cheering for a favorite driver or event sponsored at the racetrack. Third was introducing the sport of racing or passing it on to a younger generation. The final universal response rounding out replies was “date night”.
NASCAR racing is the fastest growing sport in terms of popularity in the United States. This can be attributed to the rules for racing being fairly easy to understand as well as fans relating well to drivers. Many NASCAR drivers started on a local dirt track like Valley Speedway and come from typical upbringings. Racing continues to become part of the American fabric, much like football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer.
A night of local racing awaits those yearning for the competition of speed at Valley Speedway.
For a complete schedule and ticket information, visit www.valleyspeedway.com.
Photo credit: Valley Speedway