As members of the Blue Springs High School offensive line gather for a photo prior to practice Thursday evening at Peve Stadium, a voice from the back of the pack yells out, “The big uglies are getting their picture taken.”
Upon hearing that comment, running back Aveion Bailey just smiles and shakes his head. To the man who has carried the bulk of the load in the backfield all season, they are anything but ugly.
“They’re beautiful, they’re my guys,” said Bailey, who had 150 yards rushing in last Saturday’s 34-14 Class 6 state semifinal win over Park Hill that advanced the Wildcats to Saturday’s Show-Me Bowl state championship game in Springfield against Christian Brothers College High School of St. Louis.
“I love those guys and would do anything for them,” Bailey added. “I’m nothing without them. Whenever I can I go over to them and thank them for a block, because I know how hard they’re working. And I want them to know how hard I’m working.
“If they give me a seam, just give me an inch, I’m gone. And I owe it all to them.”
Quarterback Chase Donohoe, who was an efficient 8 of 13 passing for 127 yards and a touchdown against Park Hill, agrees with Bailey.
“I have so much confidence in the line – running or passing. I know I’m going to get protection and our back is going to get a hole to run through,” said Donohoe, who runs this high-octane offense with precision. “The guys up front have really stepped it up, especially the last seven or eight weeks. We have some young guys in the line and it took a while for them to bond, to come together as a unit. Now, I think they’re the best offensive line in the state.”
The line – junior right guard Jessup Leakey, junior left guard Jack Johnson, senior right tackle Daniel Parker, junior left tackle Conrad Rowley, senior right guard Kristian Frisbey, senior center Trenton Jordan and freshman left guard Beau Stephens – is made up of a diverse group of individuals who have their own unique personalities, which makes them so much fun for coach Joel Page to deal with on a daily basis.
They have helped the Wildcats out-gain their opponents 4,485 yards to 2,565 and average 208.6 yards rushing per game. They have given Donohoe time to complete 60.3 percent of his passes for 1,672 yards and 15 touchdowns. They have helped the Wildcats outscore their opponents 416-171, including 164-75 in the playoffs.
“I’ve never seen a group come together the last seven or eight weeks like this group,” said Page, who has been working with the offensive line at Blue Springs the past three seasons. “They take so much pride in what they do, and their intensity level has really stepped up.”
Rowley, a junior who ranks among the best tackles in school history, said there is a big reason for that.
“We have to be intense, because Coach Page is so intense – he’s the best coach I’ve personally ever played for,” Rowley said. “If we’re out there goofing around – and we do goof around sometimes – he gets us back on track and keeps us focused.
“I love him, and every other guy on the team loves him, too. He keeps us fired up, and blocking for someone like Aveion makes our job special.
“I’ve known Aveion since we were little kids playing on the same team or against each other in little league ball, and all we ever talked about was winning a state championship at Blue Springs High School.
“He and I are juniors, and we want to win it this year for the seniors on the line – Daniel, Kristian and Trenton. The guys who are coming back know what this means to our seniors, and we’re going to work hard to send them out the right way.”
That means a lot to Parker, a two-way all-conference offensive and defensive lineman who was named a Buck Buchanan Award semifinalist on Tuesday, and Jordan, who stepped in at center when senior starter Jacob Keltner was injured in the Blue Springs South game.
“Winning is what it’s all about,” said Parker, an all-state offensive lineman last season who could earn all-state honors on both sides of the ball this season. “This group is so close, man; we do everything together. We’re always going to someone’s house for dinner or going out to eat at a local restaurant.
“We just can’t get enough of each other – and that’s what has made this season so much fun. Now, we have one game left, and a win Saturday makes all our dreams – those dreams we’ve been dreaming since we were little kids – come true.”
Jordan said he felt no pressure when he stepped in for Keltner at center.
“It’s the next man up, and I was the next man up,” Jordan said. “You have to get ready to go in, to get the job done, at any time. My name was called and I was ready to go. We lost at state last year and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen this year, and the O-line is going to do all we can to make sure we win on Saturday.”
And a solid running game will make that a much easier task.
“We’re going to open some holes for Aveion,” Johnson said. “If we open a seam, he’s going to get some yards because he’s Aveion – he’s the best. If we give him a big hole to run through, he’s taking it to the house. And it feels so good when you’re back there watching him get a 77-yard run. It lets you know you did your job.”
Added Leakey: “It all starts up front with our line and we all take so much pride in what we do and what we have done this season. We’re playing our best football right now – we’re tougher and better than we were at the start of the season. We’re a family, a band of brothers, and we’re not going to let anyone down.”