by John Unrein
There are only eight teams left in Missouri Class 5 football heading into the next playoff round on November 20th. The Grain Valley Eagles football team is among them. Each team no doubt has something special about them that has propelled them to this point in the season.
The Eagles football roster boasts 23 seniors. A significant number, even by Class 5 standards. Grain Valley’s black shirt defense has limited their opponents to a paltry 129 points through 11 games. Quarterback Cole Keller is receiving NCAA Division I and II college football offers. Head football coach David Allie and his team were named the Kansas City area Hy-Vee high school team of the week at the end of October.
Not to be lost in the shuffle is Grain Valley’s offensive line. Cooper Terry, Jack Bailey, Donovan McBride, Landen Hinton, and Connor Heitman make up the starting five that clear rushing lanes in the trenches for the Eagles. The quintet is coached by Gavin Grillo and Mike Tarrants.
A typical Tuesday practice for the group up front consists of stretching and chute work to promote hip flexibility. The menu of drills that follow include work on hook blocks, down blocks, double team blocks, and fold blocks. This is a warmup for the group prior to hitting the 3-man sled where rolling of the hips and short choppy steps are encouraged to foster proper low leverage.
The culmination of this work spills into the “spirited” inside run period where the offensive and defensive lines attempt to execute the fundamentals they have worked on so diligently to determine who is better prepared to control the line of scrimmage. This along with the team offense and defense periods that follow are all recorded under the watchful eye of a video camera, the results from which the group will view at the end of practice to find opportunities for improvement.
This rigorous schedule of physical contact in close quarters is akin to a fight taking place in a phone booth. Soreness and pain become the norm for those who choose to subject themselves to this gauntlet. So is the type of strong bond that is created only by going through this process together.
Tarrants is proud of the group he coaches. One of the best compliments received by the Eagles offensive line this season came from an opponent. Greg Reynolds was the long time head football coach at Park Hill High School who now coaches the defensive line at Oak Park High School. Following a week two loss by Oak Park to Grain Valley, Reynolds shared with Allie and Tarrants that their offensive line doesn’t look like much until the football is snapped.
“That was a nice compliment from Coach Reynolds,” Tarrants said.
“This group puts in the work. There is some grit to this group, and they are one of the closest groups that I have ever coached. They spend a lot of time together outside of the sport and it shows.”
The Eagles offensive line can quantify their success past compliments. The numbers speak for themselves. Grain Valley has gained a total of 2,926 rushing yards so far this season on 408 rushing attempts, good for a 7.1 yard per rush average. No doubt a rushing average that would be the envy of many football coaches at any level.
Each member of the Eagles offensive line shared their thoughts in a series of get to know you questions as they prepare for their matchup with the Platte County Pirates on November 20th at 7:00 pm.
What is your favorite food?
“I like a good Kansas City strip steak. Medium rare, it has to have some red to it,” Hinton said.
What is the hardest thing about playing football?
“I try not to take the competition personal, which I fail at every game. I still hate the other guy I go against for a while after the game. It keeps me driven, but I am trying to grow in that area,” Terry said.
What is the best thing about playing offensive line?
“A lot of guys don’t expect me to be able to block like I can due to my size. I surprise a few every now and then by flat backing them,” Heitman said.
If you could play football with anyone besides present company, who would it be and why?
“I would choose Ray Lewis. He’s a motivational guy who could get me to run through a brick wall,” McBride said.
Do you have a prediction for the football game this Friday against Platte County?
“We will take care of business. This team will be as physical as possible. We look forward to the opportunity,” Bailey said.