by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley football team had one of the best seasons in program history in 2020 when it posted a 10-2 record and made it to the Class 5 quarterfinals.
It was a team that was loaded with talent. And 23 of those players, who were seniors, graduated.
That shrouded the 2021 Eagles in uncertainty. Could they replicate or even exceed what they did after losing 23 seniors, including four all-state selections?
The answer to that question is just starting to get answered as Grain Valley participated in a four-team jamboree Friday at Murray Moody Memorial Field.
The Eagles didn’t look like a team that graduated 23 seniors as they had a strong showing in a jamboree that also featured Truman, Raytown South and Lee’s Summit West. The varsity team scored a total of three touchdowns and only surrendered one.
Against Truman, a Suburban White Conference foe, both teams played their backup players. In that matchup, the Eagles scored three touchdowns and only gave up one.
“Lee’s Summit West is one of the best teams in the city and we went toe to toe with them,” Allie said. “We also did well against Ray South. They always have speed, and they are coached well. I was very happy with our performance.”
In the jamboree, each team played the other three in scrimmages that allowed squads to run 12 plays on offense and 12 on defense to prepare for the regular season that begins next Friday. All four teams played on the field at the same time. Coaches got to stand a few yards behind their teams and call plays while plays for the offenses started at the opponent’s 30-yard line.
One of the questions coming into the season was who was going to replace three-year starter Cole Keller, an all-state selection, at quarterback. Enter Caleb Larson. The junior, who will be starting at quarterback for the first time this season, looked good in his debut against live competition. Against the Titans varsity defense, he rushed for a touchdown on a read option run up the middle and hit wide receiver Logan Pratt on a 30-yard strike for a TD against Raytown South.
“He got rid of the jitters and he was ready to go,” Allie said of Larson. “He’s ready to lead us and he did a great job out there.”
Added wide receiver Keegan Hart: “Caleb did well with his reads and did what he needed to do. And he had great protection from the offensive line.”
Aside from Pratt, Larson has plenty of weapons to throw to as receivers Hart and Anthony Greco each caught two passes apiece. At running back, Grain Valley showcased some of their backups as starter Jaxon Wyatt didn’t play for undisclosed reasons.
Freshman DJ Harris showed his ability to break tackles while running up the middle. Ty Williams, Christian Lanear and Dalton Larry got some carries, too, behind an offensive line that played well.
“As a whole, I thought we did exceptional,” Larson said. “There are some things we need to clean up, but we did a good job.
“Words can’t describe how much I love those guys and how much work they put in,” Larson said of his offensive teammates.
“When I throw the ball to my receivers, I know they are going to catch it and they are going to get down the field and score. And my offensive line was great. Without them, I wouldn’t score.”
Allie was impressed with his running backs and really liked what he saw from Harris.
“I thought he ran the ball tough,” Allie said of Harris. “For a freshman, he knows how to play physically and knows and can run in space.”
Larson had high praise for Harris, as well.
“He was running over people, and he was running to the right gaps. He knew what my checks were. He knew everything. Jaxon is going to have some competition this year.”
On defense, middle linebacker Gage Forkner led his unit with an impressive showing, allowing just one passing touchdown against the Titans. Against Raytown South the Eagles defense shut down the opposition, which included a fumble recovery from safety Vincent Wilkins and a sack from Ethan Schaaf.
“I thought we did pretty good today, but there are a few things we can fix,” Grain Valley linebacker Cole Elliott said. “I think we will be ready to go 100 percent in Week One.”
“We got some guys on defense who are always doing their job. We didn’t have very many missed tackles.”
Grain Valley will try to carry its momentum from the jamboree when it plays in its season opener against Smithville on Friday, August 27th.
Grain Valley freshman running back DJ Harris, ballcarrier, gets upended by a Raytown South defender. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley senior Logan Pratt, left, leaps and chest bumps teammate Eric Rhymes after scoring a touchdown against Raytown South. Photo credit: Michael Smith
Grain Valley sophomore quarterback Brek Sloan takes off along the sideline against Truman.
Photo credit: Michael Smith