Beloved assistant Pete Carpino ready to retire
Last week, as a blazing sun turned in an orange-hued sunset, all-state linebacker Hunter Newsom watched with equal parts of amazement and pride as defensive coordinator Pete Carpino reworked an Eagles defense that was shredded for 455 rushing yards by Raytown in a 21-14 regular season loss.
It would be Grain Valley's lone defeat of the season so far and, as luck would have it, the two conference rivals were about to meet again for the Class 5 District 7 championship.
"I couldn’t guarantee we were going to beat Raytown in that championship game, but I knew they weren't going to run for 455 yards and three touchdowns," Newsom said. "Coach Carpino went to work, and when he was done, we had a new-look defense and enough confidence to beat anyone.
“It started off and I’m like, ‘OK, what are we doing with the line?’ Then I kept watching and working the linemen and what he did was unbelievable."
Early in the week, Carpino instructed his defensive linemen to stem – or shift – from one position to another.
"We were shifting while their quarterback was calling out the signals, and there was a lot of confusion on their part," Eagles defensive end Josh McCoy said. "It was really kind of simple – we'd move from in front of the center, to the guard to the left tackle – just make that stem move and create an instant of confusion and that opened things up for our linebackers."
Especially Newsom, who had 16 tackles, including two sacks and two tackles for loss.
"It was beautiful," Newsom said. "That's what makes Coach Carpino so special. In some ways, he's one of the guys – we love to fool around with him and have some fun. But when we're on the field, we're all business, and that comes from him too. When it's time to be all business, you know it."
Carpino is back to the drawing board this week as the Eagles prepare for their Class 5 state quarterfinal game at Platte County, facing a 9-1 Pirates team that ended their postseason in 2019 with a 38-21 Class 4 quarterfinal victory that featured 21 points in a devastating third period that Grain Valley could not overcome.
Much like the seniors on his 10-1 team, when the Eagles play their final game of 2020, it will be the end of a 32-year coaching legacy. Carpino has already announced his retirement as a coach and teacher.
"Pete and I were young coaches on Kelly Donohoe's staff when he was a first-year head coach at Raytown South," said Eagles head coach David Allie, who brought Carpino along when he accepted the Grain Valley job seven years ago.
"I had one condition about taking the job at Grain Valley," said Allie, who led the Eagles to their first district championship since many of his players were toddlers, in 2019, "and that was that I could bring Pete on as my defensive coordinator."
This duo has helped make Grain Valley – which has jumped two classes the past two seasons – into one of the most respected programs in Eastern Jackson County.
"You're never going to find two better coaches on the same staff than David and Pete," said Donohoe, who enjoyed great success at Blue Springs High School before taking over as the head coach at Rockhurst this season. "We were all so young, and we had so much fun those two years we coached together at South."
Donohoe paused for a minute, and chuckled as he recalled one of his first days on the job.
"I was young, and wanted all the coaches to dress alike and look professional, and the first day Pete came over from his teaching job in Shawnee Mission, and was wearing jeans," Donohoe said, laughing. "Only Pete could get away with that.
"But you know what? No one can out-coach him on defense and you will never meet a better man."
Former Grain Valley defensive lineman Steele Blackmon will back that statement, as he calls Carpino "my second dad."
A loving pair of grandparents and a “second dad” helped pave the road for Blackmon, who lives up to a name that symbolizes toughness and resolve.
The Grain Valley lineman moved to Grain Valley when he was 8 years old. His parents soon divorced and his grandparents, Robert and Glenda Spurgeon, took him into their home and raised him as their own.
When he finally arrived at Grain Valley High School, he met his “second dad,” in Carpino, who told the youngster, “One day you are going to be a great leader and a great husband and a great father.”
Those words are as fresh in Blackmon’s mind today as they were four years ago in the Eagles’ weight room.
“I was holding the door for some students going in and out of the weight room,” Blackmon said, “And Coach came over and told me that I was going to be a great leader and husband and father. No one had ever really said anything like that to me before. I hope he knows how important he is in my life.”
The same can be said for all the players he has encouraged and inspired on coach Randy Draper's girls basketball team at Grain Valley.
"I didn't know Pete that well, but I knew he was a great guy and a great football coach," Draper said, "so I asked him if he would join our staff.
"He looked at me and said, 'I've never coached girls.' And he turned it down. In fact, he turned it down three times – but I wasn't going to give up. I finally wore him down. I told him, 'You're going to be a great basketball coach.' And you know what? I was right!'
Carpino, who has served as an assistant in several programs and was Oak Grove head coach for four years, remembers that conversation.
"Drape got me," Carpino said during a rare break from preparing for Friday's football quarterfinal. "Man, I am so lucky. Just look at the guys I've worked with – Kelly, Draper, David and all the guys on this staff and our other staffs. I've been blessed."
Yet when asked about his special memories, he turns to a different family.
"We work so hard during the week, that the special memories are those Saturday nights when my wife Stephanie and our daughters Rachel, Sarah and Elizabeth just sit around our fire pit in our back yard as a family," Carpino added. "I love my family so much, Steph and those girls mean everything to me."
And so do the members of his Eagles family.
"This has been a crazy year with the COVID and everything going on, and I've told our guys to prepare for every game like and every practice like it's their last one – because it might be," said Carpino, who was the defensive coordinator at Raytown High School before joining Allie at Grain Valley. "I'm not ready for the season to end and I know they aren't either. We've got a lot of work to do, and we're all in this together."
Donohoe, who won 191 games over his 20-year career at Blue Springs, knows a thing or two about winning.
"Nobody in coaching deserves to go out on top anymore than Pete," Donohoe said of Carpino, who served as his defensive coordinator at Blue Springs in 2005 and 2006 before becoming head coach at Oak Grove. "I'm with him and the Eagles all the way and know what he meant to our team and our kids, and I know that's what he means to David and the kids over at Grain Valley."