'We're a family': Eagles off to soaring start

By Bill Althaus
Grain Valley quarterback Cole Keller races downfield on a keeper in last Friday's game against Truman. Keller, who missed the end of last season with a knee injury, has thrown for more than 500 yards to lead the Eagles to a 4-0 start and a Class 5 No. 4 state ranking.

A couple of senior standouts wanted to make sure that Grain Valley sophomore defensive back Keegan Hart didn’t get flustered before his first interview.

“He’s a rookie,” joked senior quarterback Cole Keller, who was joined by senior defensive end Donovan McBride, as Hart stood on the sidelines before a recent practice. “If he can do an interview like he plays the game, he’ll be fine.”

McBride nodded in approval.

Hart – the son of Grain Valley activities director Brandon Hart, who was a star linebacker at Blue Springs High School – was up for the challenge.

“All I want to do is help our team win,” said Hart, who is near the top of the team’s tackling chart with an average of just over six tackles per game. “I’m just a sophomore, and I want all the guys to be able to depend on me, I want them to know that they can take care of their business because I’ll take care of mine.”

Grain Valley defensive back Keegan Hart (40) wraps up Truman's Randie Carver in last week's win against Truman.  Hart, the son of activities director Brandon Hart, is one of the leading tacklers for the undefeated Eagles.

As Hart spoke, McBride and Keller politely excused themselves.

“He’s doing just fine,” said Keller, one of the premier quarterbacks in the area this fall, “he doesn’t need our help.”

That comment brought a grin to Hart’s face, as his confidence seemed to grow.

“This is such a great team to be a part of. We have so many talented players on both sides of the ball and the guys really care of each other – like Cole and Donovan – and all the guys on the team,” Hart added. “We’re a family.”

And that family is 4-0 and ranked No. 4 in the state in the Class 5 media poll as it heads into Friday’s 7 p.m. game against visiting Kearney (2-2).

Keller, who missed the end of last season with a leg injury, has roared into 2020. He has completed 26 of 40 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns.

In a 35-28 win over Park Hill South he carried the ball 24 times for 201 yards and three scores. In last week’s 38-0 rout of Truman, the 6-foot-4 standout bounced back from an interception on the first play of the game, rushing for 91 yards and two scores on just four carries completing 6 of 9 passes for 169 yards and another two scores in just more than two quarters of time on the field.

“Friday’s game is huge because we want to keep this winning streak going,” Keller said. “And this season is so important to all of us. We want to do well for each other, for our coaches, our school and our fans.

“We all had friends who lost out on last spring (when all sports were canceled) and we’re playing each game like it’s our last.”

The Missouri State High School Activities Association recently released its district pairings and the Eagles are currently seeded No. 1 in their district.

“That was so great because now we have an end game, something to play for – the postseason, the playoffs,” Eagles coach David Allie said. “And this team is special. These guys are working so hard in practice and you can see the end result of that hard work on Friday nights.”

Hunter Newsom, a linebacker who is averaging more than seven tackles a game, is a senior ringleader on defense and Friday nights are his showcase.

“We didn’t know if we would have a season, especially all of us seniors, and we’re giving it everything we have and more,” Newsom said. “The offense is getting the job done, the defense is getting it done, we have great coaches and special team players. It’s been the type of senior season you dream about.”