The first and last name of the running back who scorched Free State High’s defense like no other this season might not have been uttered by football coach Bob Lisher in the past few days, but his players have heard the name Venus Triplett — amongst themselves or from assistants — more than they would care to.
The Firebirds have nothing but respect for the Olathe North junior running back, but hearing someone say Venus or Triplett conjures up bad memories of when the explosive rusher torched them for 221 rushing yards, a pair of touchdowns on the ground, 39 receiving yards and another TD through the air in a 26-19 O-North victory.
Lisher said he hasn’t had to mention Triplett by name, as FSHS (9-1) prepares for a rematch with O-North (7-3) Friday at Olathe District Activity Center, because his players know just how devastating the back wearing No. 5 can be.
“Obviously we’ve gotta do something different if we want to slow him down this time,” Lisher said.
To that end, Triplett gets brought up at practices this week to Free State defenders more than most opposing players would. Junior defensive end Shane Hofer said they might as well hear his name every defensive snap as they prepare for the rematch in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.
“Just about every play, he can bounce it for 70 yards and a touchdown,” Hofer said of Triplett, who rushed for 1,237 yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season. “Our goal is to keep him under 100 yards, because it’s really hard to stop him.”
The Firebirds have heard most about the elusive runner’s cut-back ability, once he reads the blocks in front of him. Senior linebacker Keith Loneker said preparing to face Triplett again has brought on flashbacks of his performance the last time the two Sunflower League teams met, on Oct. 3. Free State’s coaches don’t want their players forgetting that mastery.
“They emphasize that he’s not a typical running back,” Loneker said. “He’s gonna run hard. He’s gonna burst through holes where he sees ’em.”
Lisher said his defense played hard, but Triplett’s acceleration and power made him unlike any other back the Firebirds faced.
“Against us, he hit the hole hard, and a lot of times there wasn’t much hole there,” Lisher said. “That’s what good running backs do. They find it. They find a crease and they explode through it. He did that all night.”
Reviewing the game video on Monday, Hofer said, was far from enjoyable.
“It was our only loss,” Hofer said, “and watching him run on our defense every single play was hard.”
Loneker expects the defense to respond on Friday at ODAC.
“We’ve got to be gap-sound,” he said. “I think we’ll do pretty good with that.”
Lisher just wishes the defensive game plan could zero in on O-North’s running back.
“They do have Venus Triplett, but they also have some other weapons,” Lisher said. “We can’t key in on Venus Triplett, because they also have Cole Murphy — he’s a good quarterback running the ball and throwing the ball. Then they have (Josh) Moore, the tight end, who is phenomenal.”