by Michael Smith
Grain Valley graduate Cole Keller made an impact on the Eagles as a three-year starter at quarterback.
During his senior season last fall, he led the 6-foot-4, 203-pound signal caller led the Eagles to the Class 5 state quarterfinals. He completed 80 of 125 passes for 1,408 yards and 16 touchdowns and had 130 carries for 1,332 yards and 20 more scores on the ground.
He was also named to the Class 5 second-team, all-state team.
Now that he’s moving on to play for Washburn University, Grain Valley has some big shoes to fill. The team currently has three candidates to take over the signal caller position for a young Eagles squad.
Currently, junior Caleb Larson comes into offseason training camp as the No. 1 quarterback, sophomore Brek Sloan is No. 2 and Ty Williams is the No. 3 who could end up playing as a running back.
“I have been really happy with our quarterback play over the summer,” Grain Valley head coach David Allie said. “That was a big question mark after Cole graduated after starting three years for us. I have been pleasantly optimistic about what our quarterbacks have done this summer.”
Added Larson: “We have some great quarterbacks here. We have all been working hard and have been watching a lot of film. We have big shoes to fill with Cole, but we have been doing well this summer.”
The starting job is still up for grabs, but both Sloan and Williams yielded to Larson as the most likely to earn the starting job.
“I think we are going to stick to one quarterback, this man right here,” Williams said while tapping Larson on the shoulder.
Allie said Larson has the most experience as he was the starter for the junior varsity squad last season and that could aid him in earning the position for 2021.
“Near the end of the season, he did really well and he was our scout quarterback,” Allie said. “The good thing about making a deep playoff run is you get more practice time. It makes your team better. Caleb really grew as a scout team quarterback. He wants the job.
“Williams and Sloan split time on the freshman team and got some junior varsity experience, too. We know they want to play and they each bring things to the table.”
Larson is an accurate passer, has increased his arm strength and moves well in the pocket. He has built solid chemistry with a receiver that Allie calls “one of the fastest kids in the state,” Logan Pratt.
“Caleb has really connected with Logan on fade and go routes,” Allie said. “He’s really stepping up as a passer. In 7-on 7s, he did a great job being thrown into the fire and trying to respond under pressure. I really like how his arm has developed.
This season, Larson will be used as a bootleg and roll out quarterback on passing plays.
“He’s a fearless kid. Not much rattles him. He’ll tuck it and run and deliver a below. I admire that in a quarterback. I know he’s going to be a great football player and quarterback because he wants to be.”
Added Sloan: “I can sling it down the field a little bit and get outside the pocket. I want to be able to get out on the run when the pocket collapses and be a playmaker.”
Sloan has a strong arm as he is also a catcher for the Grain Valley junior varsity baseball team.
“His strengths are similar to Caleb,” Allie said. “He has the mechanics to have a stronger arm. He has really good football knowledge. We have to get him to throw with his legs and he will throw the ball better. He’s more of a pocket type kid.”
Sloan said he wants to improve on reading defenses.
“I think I can read defenses OK,” Sloan said. “I want to be able to see which guy does what and if the defense is in Cover 2. I want to see what routes work on different teams.”
Williams is perhaps the best at carrying the ball out of the three candidates, which is why he likely will see time at running back. He still has room to grow as a passer, but may get on the field quicker as a running back or slot receiver, Allie said.
“He’s like Tim Tebow,” Allie said. “When you look at him, he’s a big kid. He doesn’t mind lowering his shoulder into you. He’s not afraid of contact. He’s more of a runner and every once in a while he will pop out and throw.
“He will have a chance to really succeed at a lot of different places.”
Williams said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.
“I talked to coach and he said to try and play H-back,” Williams said. “I have played quarterback my whole life, so I am more comfortable with that, but I want to benefit the team by playing as a slot receiver, H-Back, anything I can.”
The trio of quarterbacks will have a chance to get reps in against live competition in a scrimmage against Lee’s Summit North Wednesday.