by Michael Smith
Last season, the defense for the Grain Valley football team was a model of consistency.
The Eagles surrendered an average of 20.4 points per game and allowed fewer than 14 points in seven of their 12 games.
Head coach David Allie said he hopes they can repeat the similar or greater success in 2022, and that will start with the team’s most experienced unit – the defensive line.
That group will be led by returning starters and defensive ends Rhylan Alcanter and Jake Allen, both of whom were adept at pressuring the opposing quarterback last season.
Alcanter is long and strong at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds and has received offers from some college programs in the Midwest. In 2021, he racked up 27 ½ tackles, 9 ½ tackles for loss and 6 ½ sacks to lead the team.
“Rhylan is long and fast and great at pressuring the quarterback,” Allie said. “We are working on trying to stop the run better, too. He’s been doing a good job of working on that this summer.”
While Alcanter will line up as the left end, Allen will be on the right and also presents a pass rushing threat for the Eagles. He is at a good size for the position, standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing 230 pounds. Allie called Allen the emotional leader of the defense and a player who has a high motor.
Last year, Allen totaled 38 ½ tackles, 10 ½ tackles for loss and 2 ½ sacks.
“He probably has the best motor on the team. He never stops,” Allie said. “He only has one speed and that’s full speed ahead. He is also pound for pound the strongest kid on the team. He’s also a great leader. We think (Alcanter and Allen) will make the edge of our defense pretty solid.”
And that kind of talent could lead to Alcanter and Allen to achieve their goals.
“I want to get all-state this year,” Allen said. “I was all-conference and all-district last year, but couldn’t get that all-state. That is what I am working for.”
Added Alcanter: “I definitely want to get all-state and all-conference and that’s all real sweet to put on your letterman’s jacket, but I want that ring (state championship).”
Those two will contribute to a big strength of the defensive line, which is speed. Alcanter said that will be a factor in getting after the opposing team’s quarterback.
“We should be just as fierce and just as aggressive as last season and even more aggressive,” Alcanter said. “We will be extremely fast this year. We also play intelligently. We don’t just rely on size and force to beat the other team, we are using our intelligence.”
Added Allen: “It starts up front. The game depends on us. We have to win up front. We are a little bit smaller than we were last year, but we are just as fierce.”
Joining Allen and Alcanter up front is defensive tackle Stylz Blackmon, who mainly focused on the offensive line in 2021. He played a few snaps on defense last season and even had a sack in Grain Valley’s first game against Smithville. He will provide a good amount of size at the position at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds.
“He was important for us on the offensive side of the ball last year, and as a sophomore, it’s hard to get a kid to go two ways,” Allie said of Blackmon. “Mentally, it’s hard to focus on both offensive and defensive schemes.
“This year, we plan on him not coming off the field. He will probably be involved in special teams, too. He’s got high character and he’s dedicated, and he’s been blessed with size and strength.”
Some newcomers joining those three in the defensive line rotation are Collin Burd and Cam Nelson, who should contribute some at defensive end and possibly defensive tackle. Eli Early also could see some time on the defensive line, as well.
Allen and Alcanter praised the newcomers for their hard work over the summer.
“These are younger guys, and they have something to prove,” Allen said.
Added Alcanter: They just bring work ethic. They want to be here, and they want to be better.”
The Eagles defensive line will have a chance to show what it can do at the preseason jamboree Friday, Aug. 19, at Lee’s Summit High School. Grain Valley will have its season opener against Fort Osage at 7 p.m. Aug. 26.
Grain Valley defensive ends Jake Allen, left, and Rhylan Alcantrer will lead the defensive line unit for the Eagles in 2022. The duo combined for 9 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2021. Photo credit: Michael Smith