In all his years of coaching, Free State High’s Bob Lisher has never had to prepare for a challenge like this.
Olathe Northwest receiver Willie Cauley is not only fast and athletic with great hands.
He’s also 6-foot-10.
“The only way we can defend it and be sure is if we put somebody on top of somebody’s shoulders. Maybe we could match up,” Lisher said with a grin, but only half-joking. “That’s about it. I mean, there’s no other way to do it.”
When Free State travels to face ONW for its first district game at 7 tonight at College Boulevard Activity Center, it will be the second week in a row the Firebirds have gone against a Div. I talent at wide receiver.
Last week, Free State limited Shawnee Mission East’s Elliot Faerber —an Illinois commit — to just two catches for 10 yards.
Cauley, Rivals.com’s 39th-best basketball player in the class of 2012, will be a different challenge altogether.
The senior, who is considering Kentucky and Florida for basketball, leads the Sunflower League in receptions (43), yards (831) and touchdowns (11).
In yards, it’s not even close. Cauley’s closest competition is 330 yards back.
“People have double-covered him. People have pressed him. People have done all kinds of combo coverages on him,” Lisher said. “It’s just, he’s 6-10. And he’s got a wingspan that’s probably 7-10. His arms are so long, it’s unbelievable. The kid’s just an athlete.”
Olathe Northwest (3-3) hasn’t made it complicated for its best player.
Lisher said that on the film, he’s mostly seen just three routes from Cauley: a fade route, a crossing route and a hitch route (where the receiver takes a few steps before stopping quickly and turning toward the quarterback).
The Ravens don’t have to be much fancier than that, because opponents have a difficult time stopping those three plays.
“He can reach over the top of defensive backs and get a football,” Lisher said. “He’s just got good hands that can pull it in. Plus, for a 6-10 guy, he’s not afraid to run over you. He’ll run through you.”
The Firebirds (4-2) don’t plan to use any exotic defenses to stop Cauley.
Lisher believes the best way to slow the receiver down will be to put pressure on Northwest quarterback Dalton Rook.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Rook leads the Sunflower League in passing with 1,364 yards. He’s also thrown 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Free State, meanwhile, will try to continue its success on the ground with its undersized offensive line.
The Firebirds ran for 263 yards in last week’s 14-12 loss to Shawnee Mission East, while quarterback Kyle McFarland had at least 100 rushing yards for the third straight game.
“Coach always says we’re not the biggest people, so we have to be technically sound,” Free state senior left guard Jimmy Fernandez said. “I think we’re getting better at doing that each week.”
For the 5-11, 205-pound Fernandez, much of his progress has come from simply staying upright.
Earlier in the year, he had a tendency to lean on people without moving his feet, which caused him to fall down quite a bit.
With recent strides, he has been cited by Lisher as one of the Firebirds’ most improved players.
“I’d always tell myself, ‘Hey, I need to be good for Coach,’” Fernandez said. “I just started improving, and I need to keep doing that, because seniors have to be leaders, and leaders improve and get better.”
The game could be high scoring. Olathe Northwest averages 36.3 points per contest while giving up 35.3 points.
The Ravens also have allowed at least 40 points in each of their last three games, including a 49-40 victory over Shawnee Mission North on Thursday.