I headed out to check out some pre-season high school football Friday night. First stop was Staley where the Falcons were hosting Park Hill South, North Kansas City, and Odessa. There's a good chance we'll see Staley and Park Hill South in the first half of the season on the Game of the Week so I wanted to see both. Add that Staley is close to my house and they were starting early at 4:45. That allowed me to plan a trip to Blue Springs to see the Wildcats, Lee's Summit West, Raytown South, and Grandview at 7pm.
Unfortunately, the weather had something to say about those plans. The format of these jamborees call for a four-team round robin. Staley and Park Hill South met first while Odessa and NKC battled on the other end of the field. I took my time getting in and hunting around for the (not surprisingly) non-existent rosters. So I pretty much missed the entire first rotation.
Four plays into Staley and NKC the lightning moved close enough to suspend the jamboree. They were unable to resume until Saturday morning. I bailed and, looking at the radar, was hopeful everything would stay north of I-70 so I headed to Blue Springs. They got in around 20 plays but had to quit just as I got there. They REALLY wanted to get it done that night so they hung around before conceding to the weather around 8:30 as another batch of heavy rain moved in. I waited five minutes too long to leave and got soaked running to my car in the driving rain, feeling I was imminently going to be struck by the frequent lightning.
All that said, the night wasn't a total waste. I saw a bit of football at Staley, caught up with several coaches, and got to hear some good pressbox gossip.
The four plays I saw at Staley was the Falcons offense against the NKC defense. The Hornets front seven absolutely dominated. Staley's offense probably netted around -10 yards. They got absolutely stuffed every single snap. However, the NKC defense apparently did not fare so well against Odessa, it was the offense that stole the show in that matchup as the Hornets scored from the 35 on three straight plays to open the scrimmage.
The Hornets appear to have some talent on both sides of the ball, but their schedule is brutal. They start with 3 of 4 on the road, at St. Joe Central, at Liberty, home against LS West, and at Ray-Pec. Overall they play five teams in our pre-season top 25 and seven 2009 playoff teams. They'll need to be significantly improved over last year's 1-9 squad to post their first .500 record since 2006.
As for Staley, it wasn't a great, albeit brief, showing by our pre-season #5 team. I'm now hearing whispers from other assistant coaches in the northland that the Falcons may be a bit down. Predictably, the Staley parents I spoke with were decidedly more upbeat. Coach Fred Bouchard is apparently telling his players very positive things about their potential. That could just be motivation tactics, but I still see a lot of talent and experience for the Falcons. And the fact is Fred Bouchard just does not seem to have down years. They went 9-3 without any seniors in 2008! Yes, the schedule is tougher now in Class 5. They'll probably take their lumps week 2 at Blue Springs. But I still see 7 wins, 1 loss, and 2 toss-up games on the Staley schedule.
Part of the reason for my continued optimism is RB Evan Campbell. He rushed for almost 1,600 yards last season and will be a three-year starter. His success has earned him some looks at the next level. I spoke with Evan's dad pretty extensively Friday night. They are still quite optimistic that Evan will have the opportunity to play FCS (D1) football even though he has not yet received an offer. His 5'7 frame is the chief concern for college coaches, but he ran a 4.35 40 for a MAC school over the summer so his speed may overcome his size.
Once I made it to Blue Springs I was able to visit with both Wildcats head coach Kelly Donohoe and Lee's Summit West head coach Royce Boehm briefly. As you would expect, both were generically optimistic about their team's chances this fall. We're talking with Kelly tonight on 1510 in a major high school segment on 3 Guys in a Garage between 6:40 and 8p tonight, so we'll get a little more info on the Wildcats.
Pressbox chatter on Blue Springs focused on the offensive line. I wrote in the pre-season top 10 article that I liked their chances to reload due to the depth they displayed last year. The info I didn't have in front of me is that probably eight of the nine guys that played last year were all seniors. So this will be a very inexperienced group coming back with the exception of Cory Phillips.
Also, the people I talked with were concerned about some of the leadership intangibles for the Wildcats. Keeston Terry, Jared Lanpher, et al were not only experienced and talented players, they were excellent team leaders. That void may prove to be tougher to fill than their prolific production. Donohoe has frequently referenced that star running back Darrian Miller frustrates him sometimes, issues that were usually chalked up to immaturity. Now that Miller is a senior and the unquestioned best player on the team, the Wildcats will need him to put those maturity questions in the past and step into a role as the unquestioned leader on the team as well.
Obviously we'll find out a lot about both of these major question marks this Friday when the Wildcats travel to Rockhurst. The holes Darrian Miller has to run through will be an easy evaluation point for the offensive line. The team's level of preparation and ability to respond to adversity throughout the game will be more abstract evaluation items for the quality of team leadership.
The season's almost here! Again, Jeremy Crabtree and I will be on with Jay and the Garage crew Monday night from 6:40 to 8p talking recruiting and high school football! We'll be joined by St. Pius X coach Rick Byers and Kelly Donohoe!