Offense gets the headlines. Defense wins championships.
That's an adage as old as the game of football, and it certainly held true this season as the two-time Class 6 state champion Blue Springs High School defense was the best I've seen in nearly 32 years at The Examiner.
I could say the same thing for their offense, too, as headline-makers like two-time Simone Award winner Dalvin Warmack – who is also the two-time winner of The Examiner's Offensive Player of the Year Award – Ian Brown, Darrius Shepherd and Kaleb Prewett enjoyed a dream season.
With the likes of two-time Buck Buchanan Award winner Elijah “The Prophet” Lee – who is also The Examiner's two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner – anchoring a defense that included twin terrors Carlos and Khalil Davis, Gunnar Strickland, Antwon “Mr.” President and Prewett, the 14-0 Wildcats enjoyed a wealth of riches that they turned into a season to remember.
But I want to take a moment to reflect on two other young men who, in any other season, could have easily won the Buchanan Award and The Examiner's top defensive honor – Blue Springs South linebacker Josh Watson and Fort Osage linebacker Nathan Iloilo.
Lee received so much deserved attention because he was the man on the best team in the state, perhaps the best team in the entire Midwest. His three-sack, three-tackles-for-loss game in 35-14 win over Columbia Rock Bridge in the Show-Me Bowl was a preview of what we can see when he attends Kansas State University and, barring injury, the NFL.
He's that good.
So is Watson.
Watson was not surrounded by as much talent as Lee, yet he had the type of monster numbers that upon first glance, you might think are a typo. The Suburban Big Six Conference Defensive Player of the Year finished this season with 170 tackles. Yes, 170!
As one area player said, “I didn't have that many tackles in my career.” And it was an all-state player who made the comment.
I witnessed Watson's greatness on the gridiron on more than one occasion, but his 16-tackle game in a big win at Liberty late in the season proved that he was a man among the boys.
“He's so good,” said South defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Jon Oyler, “I didn't want to screw him up this season. I just let him go out and play, and he did the rest.”
Added head coach Greg Oder, “Josh is the greatest kid you'll ever meet. He's a ‘yes sir, no sir’ player who is smart. He has a high football IQ and is always in the right place at the right time.”
Watson will play football at Colorado State University, and like Lee, barring injuries, we're going to see him play on Sunday afternoons. He was part of Blue Springs South's Class 6 state championship team as a sophomore member of the special teams and he knows the best is yet to come.
Page 2 of 2 - And I can't wait to see what those two young men accomplish, because I'm going to be able to say I saw them back when they represented their school and their respective parts of Blue Springs with class, dignity and style.
The same can be said of Iloilo, who had a game for the ages in a postseason loss to Kearney, accounting for 14 tackles and the Indians’ lone touchdown on an interception return.
He was the Suburban Middle Seven Defensive Player of the Year and an anchor for a Fort Osage defense that held opponents to less than 10 points a game each of the past two seasons.
While Lee and Watson are headed to Division I football, Iloilo is still deciding on his collegiate future. He has some outstanding Division I offers, but might also take time off to serve his church.
“I don't know if you could find a better kid or football player than Nathan,” Indians coach Ryan Schartz said. “We’re going to miss him, as much off the field as on the field. He was one of those guys who looked forward to seeing every day.”
And I looked forward to watching on Friday nights.
We might never see another defensive trio like Lee, Watson and Iloilo in a single season.
One is The Examiner's Defensive Player of the Year, and the others are their respective conferences’ top defenders. It simply doesn't get much better than that.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at 350-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC