Second-year Blue Springs High School offensive line coach Joel Page looks like he was chiseled from granite and steel.
When he speaks, you listen.
And he has plenty to say when asked about a group that ranks among the best offensive linemen in Wildcats history – and that’s saying something as coach Kelly Donohoe’s squads have won four state championships and the program owns five state crowns.
"We want to turn everything into a fistfight in a phone booth,” Page said, “because we're going to win with our guys when that happens."
The Wildcats haven’t just won in postseason play, they have dominated.
Blue Springs takes a 10-2 record to Christian Brothers College High School of St. Louis for a 7 p.m. Friday Class 6 state semifinal contest against an 11-1 Cadets squad.
The Wildcats have scored an unprecedented 154 points in three postseason victories (49, 56, 49) and hope to continue that trend in the biggest game of the season.
What makes that point total even more remarkable is the simple fact that the Wildcats have achieved those lofty numbers without a starter in the backfield.
Most of the damage has been done by Dylan Cowling and Michael Warmack.
Cowling began the season as a linebacker, but was forced to jump over to the offensive side of the ball when starting quarterback Chase Donohoe broke his foot in a 31-17 victory late in the regular season against crosstown rival Blue Springs South.
Warmack started the season on crutches, missing the first five games with a lower body injury that led to the solid play of backups Aveion Bailey and Nick Wood – who are both out of the lineup now with season-ending leg injuries.
Jaylen Ivey, the explosive back who scored seven touchdowns in the season opener, is working his way back into the starting rotation in the backfield following a high ankle sprain that put him on the bench.
“Our offensive line is a very special group,” Page said. “And you consider that only two of them are seniors and two are sophomores, we should be solid on the line for the next couple of years.”
The most talked about member of the line is 6-foot-4, 260-pound right tackle Daniel Parker, who is being highly recruited by several top Division I schools. He is joined by brothers Spencer Johnson, a 6-1, 275-pound senior center, and Jack, a 6-0, 265-pound left guard.
Rounding out the talented group are 6-4, 230-pound sophomore left tackle Conrad Rowley and 6-2, 260-pound right guard Forest Dodge.
“We’re brothers,” Rowley said. “I grew up with two sisters and I really think of these guys as my brothers. We do so much together and we always have each other’s back – on and off the field.”
The “Band of Brothers” theme works with the Wildcats but is especially suited to this unique group.
“We’re brothers, but it’s really cool to share this with my real brother,” said Spencer, the three-year starter and leader of the group. “I never thought that Jack and I would be playing next to each other my senior year and his sophomore year and that makes this season even more special.”
Jack – whom coach Kelly Donohoe joked, “Rolls out of bed in the morning looking for someone to punch in the mouth” – grins and nods in agreement.
“I’m so proud of what our line and this team has done this season,” Jack said. “We don’t care about getting a story or our names in headlines – although this is pretty cool. We feel like we’re honored every time a player like Dylan or Michael or Jaylen get their names in the headlines.”
Whenever Cowling or Warmack or any of the Wildcat backs have a big game, they make sure to point the spotlight in the direction of their brothers on the line.
“With those guys blocking for me, it’s like a piece of cake back there,” said Cowling, who looks stronger at the quarterback position with each passing start. “And they take care of me in other ways, too. We had a game where I threw a bad ball and someone said something about it in the huddle. Spencer said, ‘He’s fine! It happens! Get out there and play!’ He took care of the situation; he’s been doing that all season.”
Added Warmack, who has looked like his older brother Dalvin – a two-time state champion, two-time Simone Award winner and current Kansas State running back – in this postseason run.
“I say it after every game – I’m nothing without the guys up front,” Warmack said. “They mean everything to me and Dylan and all our backs. They are the best, the best in the state, the best anywhere.”
Parker is the most talked about member of the group, as he has already received several Division I offers during his junior year, recently visiting Arkansas.
But the big man has just one thing on his mind – a championship ring.
“We all got together a few months back and said it didn’t matter who was passing the ball or who was carrying the ball, we were going to give them all the protection they needed and we were going to open some big holes, and we’ve been doing it and it’s worked out great for us and our team,” Parker said.
“We have a saying here at Blue Springs: ‘Next man up.’ What that means is the next man who steps into a starting role is going to have the same kind of success of the player he’s replacing because we care so much about the team and our teammates’ success.
“We love Coach Page and Coach D (Donohoe) and all our guys. We’ve been having success and living the dream, and now, we’re one win away from going to state. And since day one, our only goal has been winning a state championship.
“A win Friday in St. Louis, and we get that chance.”