Column: Two-way players key for Lions
Defensive end or right tackle? Defensive end or left tackle? Nose guard or left guard? Linebacker or tight end?
On a roster loaded with as much two-way talent as the 2015 Lawrence High football team has, it can be easy to forget that a player like Amani Bledsoe, so gifted and dominant on defense, or a play-making linebacker like Price Morgan, who plays faster and hits harder than a man his size should, even on an X-Box, can have just as much value on one side of the ball as he does on the other.
That fact is not lost on LHS coach Dirk Wedd, who rode his horses to a thrilling 14-12 victory over crosstown rival Free State on Friday night at FSHS, ending the Lions’ three-year losing streak to the Firebirds.
Wedd, an old-school football coach if ever there were one, has been hesitant to join the trend that has taken over high school football in recent years, where coaches have elected to go away from the two-way strategy in an effort to be more specialized and stay fresher for four quarters.
The way Wedd sees it, the best way to make sure his players are as fresh in the fourth quarter as they are in the first is to put in more work during the summer. These Lions, who improved to 3-0 Friday night, did that, and now they’re reaping the benefits.
“Whoever backs up Bledsoe is not as good as Bledsoe, even if he’s tired,” Wedd said of his high-profile defensive end who took over portions of Friday’s victory. “Same way with Price (Morgan). Same way with Trey (Georgie) and a few others. So they know they have to get in shape, because we’re about the last of a dying animal of kids going both ways.”
Others who do it on the majority of the snaps for this LHS team include: seniors J’Mony Bryant, Tanner Green, Konner Kelley and Ivan Hollins, along with junior Jake Unruh. Four or five other Lions who play significant roles on one side or the other are sprinkled into the lineup on the other side as well.
Following the City Showdown, during which the LHS defense turned the Firebirds away on a fourth-down attempt thrown to the end zone, several Lions credited the offseason efforts of LHS assistant Jamie Resseguie for helping them get into the best shape of their careers. Wedd also tipped his cap to Resseguie and a few other members of his staff.
“We have three or four other assistants who are there every day at 7 o’clock,” Wedd marveled. “They just pour their heart and soul into the summer, and this is what happens: You win in the fourth quarter.”
For Morgan, who called the defense and made a handful of highlight-reel tackles and also came up with a huge third-down catch late, that last part of Wedd’s statement is the most important. Winning is why he and his teammates are willing to lay it on the line week after week, playing two ways or even three or four ways when certain special-teams packages call for it.
“We just want to win the game,” Morgan said. “And we will do absolutely anything it takes to do that. It’s just a love for the game, love for this school and pride. We had a lot of great two-way players who came before us here, and we want to hold up that tradition and set an example for the younger kids coming up.”
Added left tackle and defensive end Georgie, who said that one year ago he considered himself a D-lineman but now finds himself enjoying offense as much or more: “It’s been tradition where quarterbacks sometimes go both ways, and linemen go both ways, and we just hang our hat on the fact that we can go both ways and help our team on both sides of the ball. We do get tired, but it’s nothing that we can’t overcome.”
The Lions’ 3-0 start and strong second half Friday are proof of that.