by Michael Smith
Last season, the Grain Valley football team suffered some injuries in the secondary, which opened the door for some backups to get some playing time.
Players like Braylon Harden, Jackson Stewart and Mason Morris got some valuable varsity playing time when the senior cornerbacks were injured.
That experience may prove vital for the secondary this season as they trio could see more playing time as they will join experienced safeties Keegan Hart and Gabe Storment.
Hart will be a starter at free safety for the third consecutive season. In 2021, he recorded 36 tackles, four interceptions and four pass breakups in a season in which he earned all-conference and all-district honors.
“He’s a ball hawk,” Grain Valley head football coach David Allie said. “It’s pretty nice to have a kid with his experience back there. He’s progressed every year. He is truly the leader of that secondary for sure.”
The senior will be playing on both sides of the ball this season as he will also be lining up as a wide receiver on offense.
“I don’t think I have to change a whole lot,” Hart said of playing both sides of the ball full time. “Obviously I have to stay in shape but the biggest thing is drinking water and staying hydrated.”
Storment also returns with a year of varsity experience. He can play either safety position but plays more like a strong safety as he likes to make tackles and hits near the line of scrimmage. Last season he was third on the team in tackles with 46.
(Hart’s) buddy, Gabe, is a very similar player,” Allie said. “He was a kid who kind of surprised us last year as a sophomore. We knew he was a good athlete, but with his hard-hitting and hard-working style, he pressed and did a great job back there and he and Keegan really solidified the back of our defense.”
In 2021, Tristan Pouncil and Jordan Jones were the Eagles’ top two corners but now Stewart, Harden and Morris like to fill the void left by last year’s seniors. Anthony Greco and Vincent Wilkins also could see some time in the secondary.”
“Braylon is what everyone is looking for in a corner now,” Allie said. “He’s long and he’s pretty tall at 6-foot-1. He’s a long jumper for the track team. That gives you an idea what his athleticism is like.
“Jackson is not too slow himself. He’s not as big as Braylon but maybe a little quicker. He’s an aggressive kid. He doesn’t mind the contact. With the playing time they got last year, hopefully that will pay dividends.”
Hart praised the work ethic of the cornerbacks.
“Those guys have been working hard and showing up every day,” Hart said. “They have stepped up and have improved every day.”
Added Storment: (Harden and Stewart) are both pretty fast guys. They run under 4.5 (seconds) (40-yard dash time). They are both pretty good.”
Another thing that could pay dividends is the group’s athleticism, an attribute that Allie said is the secondary’s biggest strength.
“The guys are really athletic, so that will allow us to play up if we need to or drop back into a zone,” Allie said. “It’s also great that we have two guys back there that have played a lot of games for us.”
Hart said he believes the secondary this season can be just as good if not better than the 2021 version.
“Everybody that we lost, we can replace, I feel like,” Hart said. “We have had some guys that have been able to step up and fill out some shoes.”
Junior Gabe Storment, left, and Keegan Hart will lead the Grain Valley secondary in 2022.
Photo credit: Michael Smith