Trailblazers to bring physicality to 2017 campaign

By Pete Logan

Special to The Gardner News

If Gardner-Edgerton High School head football coach Marvin Diener has his way, the Trail Blazers’ 2017 opponents are going to need some serious recovery time after their game nights against GEHS.

In recapping the Blazers’ first two weeks of practice — and ahead of Friday’s Gatorade scrimmage — Diener noted this year’s squad’s toughness. “Overall,” said Diener, “our play has been at a very high level of physicality and fast. Those are things we’ve worked hard to get back to, and we hope to see that on Friday night. I’m really pleased with the speed we’re playing at as far as the physicality.”

Much of that speed and physicality stems from a defense that returns most of its starting front seven from the 2016 season, including senior linebackers Tyler Henry and Tucker Tribble, and senior defensive end Jackson Flowers.

“We think we’re going to be very good up front with our front seven,” stated Diener, “and we have a lot of experience back there. I think we’ll be very good defensively.”

When asked if he expected this year’s defense to create more turnovers, Diener replied positively but also mentioned that the Blazers’ defensive strength can base itself in being excellent in something even more fundamental than creating TOs.

“We hope so,” said Diener when answering a question regarding the turnover-causing potential of the Blazers’ D, “but, more than that, to be able to cover the field and tackle well. I like our schemes, but — again — our strength is our front seven.”

Besides Henry, Tribble, and Flowers, seniors Austin Bond (defensive back) and Emilio Oropeza (defensive line) both return, as well as junior defensive lineman Peyton Vance. While Tribble moves to defensive end for his senior campaign, defensive coordinator and associate coach Kris Henry will now be able to utilize former 2016 offensive starters Gage Gulley (Jr.) and Baylor Maxwell (Jr.) on the defensive side of the ball.

“We’ve watched him a lot of years at linebacker,” stated Diener regarding the younger Henry, “and he’s really, really good. We really like our line backing corps. We have two juniors with him and we really like those guys.”

On offense, the Trailblazers return eight starters, including four at the skill positions. Starting tailback Keegan Michael returns, as does starting running back Matt Layng. Senior wide receiver Jace Sprague makes his return as a starter, and junior tight end Luke Jennings also returns. A strong offensive line brings back four senior starters in Parker Guffey, Colton Kane, Hayden Mulford, and Doug Plank.

Diener believes that this season’s offense and defense can play to each other’s strengths.

“I think both the offense and the defense complement each other very much,” Diener stated. “We’re not going to have a very high explosive offense, but we do expect to snap the ball a lot. If we can do that and keep, what we consider, a very good defense fresh, we can hold opponents under 20 points, and we stand a good chance to win.”

One of the most important debut starters will be sophomore Teven McKelvey, who takes the reins as quarterback. After talented passer Griffin Johns led the Blazers in 2016, Diener intends his 2017 QB to be more of a running threat.

“Our quarterbacks will carry the ball more,” Diener said. “We won’t throw the ball as much as we did with Griff. The quarterbacks will be very involved in the ground game. Teven’s early development and play will be key for this season’s offense that has a lot of quarters of experience.”

Diener expects the Trailblazers’ 2017 EKL campaign (GEHS’ last before moving to the Sunflower League in 2018) to be another battle royale. Pre-season rankings have the Blazers in the middle of the pack, but Diener expects more.

“”It’s going to be really tough,” stated Diener. “I think we can be better than that (the Blazers’ preseason ranking), but it’s awfully hard to climb over the guys who are ahead of us. When you look at the four top teams — excluding us — you’re looking at Blue Valley, Blue Valley North, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Miege. We think we can be competitive with any of those, but even from that point down, there’s not an easy opponent in the EKL.”

The Blazers’ road to a potential EKL title begins with huge tests in their first two games. Aquinas comes to Gardner for an opening night, September 1st, tilt at 7:00 P.M.. The Blazers then travel the following Friday for a September 8th matchup at Miege.

“There would be no better way to go out than to win it (the EKL),” said Diener, “but — more than that — we need to do well enough in it that we give ourselves a good seed for the playoffs. That’s what we’re looking at. We have two very, very tough openers. We’ll find out a lot early