The job requirements to play on the Free State High football team’s defensive line are straightforward and demanding.
Coach Bob Lisher and his staff insist their down linemen either occupy multiple blockers or go make a play on the ball carrier.
A third-year starter, senior Cody Stanclift knows that better than anyone. That might be why he goes above and beyond as a defensive end.
“The thing with Cody is he commands double-teams and he still makes plays,” Lisher said. “That’s just a big-time plus for us and our defense.”
Stanclift’s unique ability is one of the many reasons Free State’s defense has been so inflexible of late. The Firebirds (7-1) lead the Sunflower League in total defense (233.5 yards a game) and allow just 14.3 points a game (second to Shawnee Mission West’s 13.5 average). FSHS has held its opponent to 14 points or less in six of its seven wins, the most impressive being a shutout against Shawnee Mission East (6-2) on Oct. 5.
Senior Free State nose guard Riley Buller, who has played alongside Stanclift since the two were teammates at West Middle School, said his fellow lineman is not only one of the strongest players on the team, but also exceptionally quick off the line.
“A lot of teams have a big, huge offensive lineman,” Buller said. “Shawnee Mission East had a 330-pound tackle (Reed Harbour) but he wasn’t fast enough (to block Stanclift). That’s probably why we got so many sacks and stuff in the Shawnee Mission East game.”
As far as Stanclift is concerned, his primary role as a part of the FSHS line, with Buller and junior end Fred Wyatt, is to beat the man in front of him and get to the correct gap, because he knows the linebackers behind him are going to be precise in their reads. If Stanclift has done his job, traffic is snarled on the offense’s desired path.
“There’s nowhere to go,” Stanclift said. “All you can do is try to fight through it somehow.”
When the 6-foot-2, 250-pound lineman bursts into the backfield (Stanclift has six tackles for loss), it doesn’t surprise senior FSHS linebacker Corban Schmidt. He saw Stanclift’s dedication in the offseason, both in the weight room and on the field, where Stanclift could be found running sprints. Stanclift’s leadership, Schmidt added, has helped Free State’s defensive front trust one another to make plays.
“We don’t worry about, ‘What if this happens?’” Schmidt said. “Because we know it won’t happen.”
Lisher praised Stanclift for getting bigger and stronger and fundamentally improving each season, calling the 2011 All-Sunflower League lineman a force up front.
“He’s even better this year than he was last year,” Lisher said, “and he’s got to be able to continue to do that for us to have success.”
The Firebirds have won five straight games, but standing in their way of extending that streak is rival Lawrence High (7-1), which has a seven-game winning streak of its own. This Friday’s 7 p.m. city showdown for the District 1 championship (both teams already clinched playoff berths), Stanclift said, has some added importance for Free State. LHS blanked the Firebirds, 20-0, in last year’s season finale, keeping FSHS out of the playoffs.
“It’s kind of a revenge game for us,” Stanclift said.