Rushing toward a state title

Supersenior’ class tackles Sunflower League with superstar offensive lineup, keeps undefeated record for the team

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Rushing toward a state title

Senior JD Woods runs the ball at the Jamboree. Woods recently broke the school record for career rushing yards in a game at Olathe Northwest.

Senior JD Woods runs the ball at the Jamboree. Woods recently broke the school record for career rushing yards in a game at Olathe Northwest.

Cooper Avery

Senior JD Woods runs the ball at the Jamboree. Woods recently broke the school record for career rushing yards in a game at Olathe Northwest.

Cooper Avery

Cooper Avery

Senior JD Woods runs the ball at the Jamboree. Woods recently broke the school record for career rushing yards in a game at Olathe Northwest.

By Colton Lovelace

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Two years ago, 11 sophomores began their first seasons on varsity. A majority of them lettered, but struggled with a 3-6 record.

Two years later, those struggles have finally proven worthwhile as they are now veteran seniors leading the team to a perfect 7-0 record to start the year ­— and to the No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2004.

One of those players is senior free safety Coulter Strauss, who said that the experience has been huge this year. Being the leaders of the team is a different feeling, and those 11 have embraced this and are taking the team to new heights.

“There’s nothing different with the team this year from the last couple years. We’ve had the same people out there for a few years now,” Strauss said. “We’re the seniors and the leaders now, and getting help from good underclassmen has really helped us out a lot.”

A surprising part of the undefeated start is how the offense has fired on all cylinders, excelling in both the passing game and running game.

The running game, led by returning Sunflower League MVP senior JD Woods and a senior-led line, was expected to be great again. It has been that and even more. Through the first seven games, Woods ran for 1,291 yards and 25 touchdowns on 138 carries, putting him on pace to run away with the MVP once again.

“He’s been a big help for the offense and a really great back,” senior cornerback Ivan Hollins said. “He’s put up a ton of points for us.”

The unexpected part of the offense has been how consistent the passing game has been. Through seven games, senior Alan Clothier has thrown 494 yards and five touchdowns and zero interceptions. The last few years, teams have put eight or nine defenders in the box to defend the run, and with a consistent passing game, the play action is there for the taken and has been executed perfectly to start the year.

“Our pass game has improved a lot this year, so being able to run and throw has been really important, since we know we can run the ball really well,” Strauss said.

Another mainstay through the season has been the excellent defensive play through the front seven. Led by Division I prospects Amani Bledsoe and Trey Georgie, they’ve combined to allow barely any rushing yards, forcing opposing teams to go to the passing game where the team also excels in rushing the passer.

“Our lineman and linebackers do a really great job of stopping the run, but they’ve really done good with the pass rush,” Strauss said. “A result of this is the secondary has been tested a lot, and they’ve also done a really good job of stepping up and getting the job done.”

Defensive coordinator Adam Green also said the front seven have been key up to this point.

“Anyone that knows football, knows the game is won and lost up front,” Green said. “We are very fortunate to have a quality front seven. We are always striving to become more physical and nasty up front. Our guys in those positions have done a great job of playing aggressive and setting a tone for our football team.”

The defense is putting up record-breaking numbers and continues to lock up offenses game after game, but it’s still early to call it the best in school history.

“There is no doubt this is a very good defense,” Green said. “As far as the best that we have ever coached, I will answer that question again at the end of the season. We still have a lot to prove.”

During the second game of the year at Leavenworth, the secondary took a hit when it lost Strauss for the season with a torn shoulder labrum. Juniors James Reeder and Santino Gee have filled his vacancy, solidifying the position once again and showing just how deep the team is this year.

“I was pretty disappointed knowing I don’t get to play for the rest of the season, but my shoulder has hurt for a while now, and I think that’s helped me to get through it knowing it’ll be better,” Strauss said.

“James [Reeder] and Santino [Gee] replaced me, and they’ve both stepped up big time when we’ve needed them.”

The team’s mentality all year long has been ‘Next man up,’ which has been proven with Gee being thrust into the spotlight of the secondary.

“Losing Coulter hurt our team from a leadership perspective, but we talk all the time about a next man up mentality,” Green said. “Santino [Gee] has stepped in and done a great job. We constantly are trying to find players, because unfortunately injuries happen in our game.”

After the team’s sixth win, blowing out Olathe South 63-7 behind Woods’ six touchdowns, they learned they had clinched at least a share of the League title, one of the earliest times in school history to get to this mark, but to this team, it’s just another feat along the way to the main goal.

“We actually didn’t have too much emotion,” Hollins said. “We have to stay focused on the next game and not get our heads wrapped around the media.”

In the fourth quarter of the team’s seventh win at Olathe Northwest, senior back JD Woods burst for another touchdown early in the fourth quarterback to give him 25 on the year. During that run, he broke the school’s career rushing record set by Michael Cosey’s 3,281 yards. With that run, it put Woods’ career total to 3,289, putting him firmly in first in school history.

“Me and the team are really proud of him for breaking the record,” Hollins said. “It’s a really big accomplishment and hopefully he uses it as motivation going forward.”

The team is shutting out opponents, averaging over 38 points a game, and breaking school records left and right, but there is one notable omission the team wants to cap off this historic season: a state title.

“I’m really excited to see where we stand at the end of the season,” Hollins said. “Hopefully we’re holding up the state trophy off the field. We’ve put in so much work over the off-season, and now it’s time for it all to pay off.”