Watch Free State High football team’s three starting defensive linemen on most snaps in most games and, in some fashion or another, the same thing is bound to happen. Either senior tackle Riley Buller, senior end Cody Stanclift, junior end Fred Wyatt or some combination of the three is likely getting double-teamed.
Ask each of the three Firebirds which takes on the most of the opposing offense’s attention, and they might give you different answers. But Buller makes the strongest case.
“I definitely get double-teamed the most,” the 6-foot, 215-pound nose tackle said. “Fred and Cody always complain about getting double-teamed, but that doesn’t bother me because that’s basically what I’m supposed to do. If I’m taking the double-team, then linebackers are running free and making tackles.”
Indeed, coach Bob Lisher said Free State’s defensive success (15.2 points allowed this season) has everything to do with Buller, Stanclift and Wyatt.
“If we control the line of scrimmage, our defense is gonna control the game,” Lisher said. “And that’s what you’re after.”
At practices, the valuable linemen at times get after each other. An open-ended debate exists between Wyatt and Stanclift regarding who is faster. At practice Monday, Stanclift finished ahead of Wyatt in a sprint.
“I decided to call him out,” Stanclift said. Wyatt responded by winning the next one.
Still, the linemen don’t tire of each other or working hard. Wyatt said all three are laid-back with one shared desire: “We all want to get off and make plays.”
Stanclift leads the group with 44 total tackles (nine for loss), Wyatt has 35 (17 for loss), and Buller has totaled 28 (three for loss). Even if they’re double-teamed or find themselves out of position, Lisher said all three still have the athleticism to go bring down a ball carrier. Assistant coaches Brett Romme and Mike Gillman, Lisher added, have helped the linemen become fundamentally sound.
Stanclift earned first-team All-Sunflower League honors last season, Buller started for FSHS, and Wyatt played as many snaps as a starter. Lisher said that experience is paying off now as the Firebirds (10-1) prepare to face Shawnee Mission West (10-1) on Friday in the Class 6A state semifinals.
“They know the angles to get to the ball carrier much better than they used to and fill in the gaps that they’re supposed to fill,” Lisher said. “As long as they’re doing their job, it makes everybody else’s job easier.”
The defensive linemen know, Buller said, the rest of the defense depends on them.
“A lot of D-lines are, ‘Go get the quarterback. Get upfield.’ But if we get upfield, we play ourselves out of position and get in trouble,” he said.
The linemen, Stanclift added, trust the linebackers — Corban Schmidt, Keith Loneker, Blake Winslow, Stan Skwarlo and Tye Hughes — and defensive backs — Kyle McFarland, Demarko Bobo and Joe Dineen — behind them.
“We can’t make a play every down,” Stanclift said. “We have to rely on our teammates, and our teammates are gonna rely on us to make plays every now and then.”