by Michael Smith
The running game was an important part of the offense for the Grain Valley football team in 2022, especially in the playoffs.
During the 2021 playoffs, the Eagles ran 89 running plays and 46 passing plays in three games. The rushing attempts accounted for 66 percent of their plays.
Having a run-heavy attack is common in high school football and that’s what Grain Valley leaned on last season. However, with senior quarterback Caleb Larson coming back to the team with a full varsity season under his belt, he will likely have more passing plays called for him for the upcoming 2022 campaign.
That doesn’t mean the running game still won’t be a big part of the Eagle offense, though. Grain Valley will have three running backs that will carry the ball for the team, with each bringing a different type of skill set.
“We are hoping to be 50-50 or 60-40 between running and passing plays this season,” Grain Valley head football coach David Allie said. “Our three running backs can do a lot of different things well and bring back some experience which will be good for the team.”
Grain Valley will be without Jaxon Wyatt, who graduated last season, but will still have quality options at the position.
Sophomore DJ Harris and senior Christian Lanear return with varsity experience at running back and junior Ty Williams will get some varsity experience this season after breaking his collarbone in Week 4 of the junior varsity season a year ago.
“Without having Jaxon, it takes away a lot,” Harris said. “I know with Christian and Ty, we will have a lot of speed and a lot of power. I feel we will be better than people might think.”
Harris has the most experience among the three as he was the No. 2 running back last season behind Jaxon Wyatt. He had 69 carries for 344 yards and seven touchdowns and six catches for 71 yards and another score.
Last season, Harris had a bulk of his rushing attempts up the middle, but it’s not the only way he can tote the ball.
“DJ is a hard runner and he can run between the tackles,” Allie said, “but he can bounce it outside when he needs to. That’s how he was used a lot in eighth grade. He was used on a lot of toss plays.”
Lanear returns with a few varsity carries under his belt and he said he aims to earn more playing time this season, especially since it’s his senior season.
“I am trying to sell out and put everything out on the field and get some film out there,” Lanear said. “I wasn’t completely happy with the performance last year. I had a couple of good runs last year, but this year, I am all in.”
Williams brings experience as a quarterback and wide receiver as he played those positions in his freshman and sophomore years, respectively. Because he’s played those positions, Williams brings versatility to the Eagles as he can not only run effectively but can catch passes out of the backfield and read the defense.
“Christian is a fast dude, he has breakaway speed,” Williams said. “And DJ can run anybody over. I can do a little bit of both. I am bigger, but I have some speed on me, too. We all have good hands and we are versatile. We can be used at any position.”
“I have been playing a lot of different positions and it’s helped me progress as a running back. With my quarterback skill, I can see holes and make calls and with my slot (receiver) skills I can catch it and run with it.”
But for them to have success, the offensive line will need to clear space for the running backs to move down field. The running back trio said it had a lot of confidence in the players up front, which includes two returning starters.
“We have a lot of size on the team and a lot of speed with our pulling guards and even our tackles are quick,” Harris said. “I think our offensive line will be good this year.”
Added Lanear: “I definitely think the D line will come up to our O line and look at them and say, ‘Oh, we will tear them apart. Then as soon as that ball snaps and one of those pulling guards comes they’ll be like, “Whoa, what just happened.”
“The guys on our offensive line don’t look like they can kill you, but they will lay somebody out.”
And that will help Grain Valley in the passing game, as well, where the running backs will be important on screens and check downs in a scheme that may involve more passing plays than last season.
“I think now that we have Noah (Olah) and Caleb being more comfortable, I feel like there will be a lot more passing than running this year. We’ll see the season. I have a feeling that passing in the backfield with the running backs will be beneficial.”
Added Lanear: “We got good hands. If the ball is swung to us, we’re going to catch it.”
From left, sophomore DJ Harris, junior Ty Williams and senior Christian Lanear each bring a different skillset to Grain Valley's offense as they make up the running back corps. Photo credit: Michael Smith