The Blue Springs defensive secondary is making quite a name for itself as the Wildcats prepare for their second consecutive Class 6 state championship contest this Saturday in Springfield.
“They are as good as any group of secondary guys I’ve coached, and they are as close as a family,” secondary coach Matt Marble said of corners Xavier Hall and Nick Hessefort and safeties Ramond Brown and Azaiah Bello. “They’re all like brothers. I spend so much time with them, I feel like they are members of my family – and so do my little girls.”
Siena, 8, asked Hall to autograph her basketball shoes before her first practice, and in return, Hall asked Siena and her sisters, 5-year-old Livvy and 2-year-old Quinn, to sign his football cleats.
“Quinn is just 2, she needs to work on her autograph,” quipped Marble. “It was more of a scribble.”
This quartet accounted for 10 tackles and a Bello interception in last Saturday’s 34-14 Class 6 state semifinal win over Park Hill. Standout Park Hill quarterback Billy Maples suffered through a tough afternoon, completing just 7 of 24 passes for 143 yards – and many of those yards came after coach Kelly Donohoe yanked his starters and put in his reserves.
“The guys in the secondary make our job easy,” said defensive lineman Daniel Parker, who had four of the Wildcats’ nine sacks in the game. “They do such a great job on coverage, it gives us a lot of time to get to the quarterback. Our secondary is the best!”
No argument from Donohoe, who knows a tough defensive performance Saturday could lead to his fifth state championship and the sixth in school history.
“Our secondary covers so well, and like Daniel said, they give the guys up front the chance to make some big plays because of our tough coverage. Xavier and Nick stick to their guys like Velcro on the corners and that allows Azaiah and Ramond to lower the boom on anyone who gets away back there.
“We have so much faith in our secondary – they’ve gotten the job done all season.”
The quiet leader of the group is Bello, who goes into the state championship game with a team-high six interceptions and is second on the team with 58 tackles.
“I think one reason we’ve had such a successful season is because we are all so close – like Coach Marble said, members of a family,” Bello said before practice Tuesday. “Most of us have played together since the seventh grade, and before that we played together or against each other in little league ball.
“We have confidence in each other and know that each one of us are going to take care of our responsibilities, and that we don’t have to worry about what the other guys are doing. But anyone needs some help, they’re going to get it.”
Brown heads into the championship game with 44 tackles and one interception, Hessefort has 39 tackles and a theft and Hall has 37 tackles.
While preparing for the state final, Bello is dealing with some heartfelt emotions.
“It’s like today is going to be my last Tuesday practice,” he said, grinning. “Last Saturday was our last home game, and a bunch of us took a photo to remember it. And now, we have the chance to go out on top as state champions.
“And that’s all we’re thinking about. We’ve talked about being state champions since the seventh grade and now, we’re a win away from making that happen. So you know how hard we’re going to be working this week to make that happen.”