New quarterback, experienced running back gear up for Grain Valley football season
Caleb Larson doesn't want to be the next Cole Keller.
No, the heir apparent to perhaps the finest quarterback and all-around athlete in Grain Valley High School history, just wants to be, well, Caleb Larson.
"I'm happy with being Caleb Larson," said the junior quarterback, a likeable and entertaining junior who is not shy about talking about the giant shadow his predecessor cast following a senior year in which he was named The Examiner's Offensive Player of the Year, named to the coaches’ and media’s Class 5 all-state teams and was a Simone Award semifinalist.
"I can't go after Cole's legacy because he was a great player, a great leader on this team and a great teammate. He would offer me help anytime I asked, and he was always there for any of his teammates, like I want to be someday. But I have to earn their respect and that is going to be one of my biggest goals this season.
"I'm not trying to make anyone forget about Cole. I just want them to give me a chance and see what I can do."
Senior running back Jaxon Wyatt does not have to worry about the shadow cast by a former teammate, but he, too has a goal for this season.
"I want to help our team win," said Wyatt, who helped lead the Eagles to the Class 5 state quarterfinals. "I want to do anything I can to take the pressure off Caleb – whether I am running the ball, catching it or blocking –and I want to be a great teammate. We don't really talk about our team, we talk about our family, because we really are a family in Grain Valley."
Both players have attended all the Eagles team workouts, and attended some outside camps to get them primed and ready for the 2021 season.
"I love to call the guys, meet them at school and work on routes," said Larson, who was the starting junior varsity quarterback while getting some playing time in varsity games when the Eagles had a big lead. "We won so many blowouts I got to play in some varsity games, but I always watched Cole to see how he handled any situation. I learned a lot from him and I can't wait to be a leader this year."
Coach David Allie believes both will have an impact on a team that had great success, then graduated 22 seniors.
"It's funny," Allie said, "because they are going to be so important to our team, and they couldn't be any different off the field. Caleb reminds me a lot of Cole when he was younger – he loved to talk about the game, he had a world of confidence and he worked so hard.
"There were a couple of JV games where Caleb carried the team on his back to wins. And during the week, he would be the quarterback on our scout teams, and that was so important to the success we had this season.
"Jaxon just lets his play do most of his talking. He's a gamer. I remember one night when we came home from a track meet (Allie coaches the throwers) and there was Jaxon and his dad working on his receiving game. It was dark, and the only lights were from Jaxon's dad's car and his dad is throwing Jaxon passes. That's the type of work ethic he has.
"We told him we need him to work on catching the ball, and he took that to heart."
Wyatt finished last season with 150 carries for 959 yards, a 6.4 per carry average, and eight touchdowns for the 10-2 Eagles.
"We call him a 1,000-yard rusher because he rushed for more than 1,000 yards but had some of the runs called back because of penalties," Allie said. "He kept getting better and better at seeing the field, finding the gap. And we think he can have a big season catching the ball. And he's fast, really fast."
Like Keller, Larson believes he can beat an opponent with his arm or his legs. He will also have experienced players like Wyatt to lean on.
"I'm not as big as Cole (6-foot-5)," said Larson, who is 5-11 and weighs in at 180 pounds, "but I'm not afraid of contact. I'll stay in the pocket and take a hit if I think I can get a pass off. And I like to run the ball. I just can't wait for the season to get started.
"We're going to have a lot of new guys, like me, and returning guys like Jaxon, and we're going to become a team, a football family, and hopefully continue the success we've had the past few seasons."