Confident Lawrence secondary ready for challenge of facing Derby in quarterfinals

photo by: Carter Gaskins

LHS senior Corban Oberzan (30) tries to prevent a touchdown by Saint Thomas Aquinas RB Tyron Young (28) in the second quarter Friday night at St. Thomas Aquinas on Oct. 9, 2020. The Lions improved to 5-0 with a 39-27 win over the Saints.

There is no shortage of confidence among members of the secondary unit for the Lawrence High football program.

Seniors Corban Oberzan and Kallun Chitama lead a veteran group from their safety positions. Senior Tre’ Jackson holds down one starting cornerback position, while junior Truman Juelsgaard slots in at the other cornerback spot.

It is a group that firmly believes they can take on any challenge in Class 6A.

“I think we are the best secondary in the state,” Chitama said. “Just the confidence level for all of us back there is through the roof.”

That level of confidence is practically a requirement for the position. Defensive backs are often in so many one-on-one matchups in the passing game, and they need to learn to move on from any one play.

And that has certainly been the case for this unit, which has helped the Lions (9-0) win more games in a year than they have since 2015. Lawrence (No. 1 in Class 6A) is slated to host Derby (6-2, No. 3 in Class 6A) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 6A quarterfinals.

“That is very important,” said assistant coach Jeff Colter, who has been in charge of the cornerbacks for seven seasons. “As a defensive back, you have to have a short-term memory. If you make a play, you can’t get too excited. If you get burnt, you can’t be too down on yourself.”

A lot of that confidence simply comes from getting meaningful experience at the varsity level. All four players have been doing this for multiple seasons at this point. It all led to Lawrence only giving up three total touchdowns through the first month of the season.

“We came out really hot and ready to play this season,” said Jeff Lyster, who coaches the safeties and is the defensive coordinator. “The number of games our secondary has played, coming into this season, allowed us to really start out hot.”

Lawrence High’s Karson Green (47) slaps teammate Kallun Chitama on the helmet after Chitama’s punt return for a touchdown against Wichita North during the first quarter on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 at Lawrence High School. (Photo by Nick Krug)

Throughout the season, each member of the quartet has brought his own style to make up a well-rounded secondary unit. Oberzan is essentially the quarterback of the secondary, as he’s tasked with making sure everybody is lined up in the right spot on every snap.

Chitama is the shutdown guy on the back end, taking away the opposition’s best player from the game. Jackson, who also plays receiver on offense, has the speed to hang with just about any receiver and makes a ton of big plays on the defensive end.

Juelsgaard is described as the “young gun” by his coaches and teammates, but he has made sure that his impact is felt. Juelsgaard is the heavy hitter of the group, delivering some of the hardest tackles on the season.

“Throw anybody in front of us, we are just going to work,” Chitama said. “I’ve never had to go up against us. I wouldn’t want to.”

The confidence and experience is especially evident during crunch time for the Lions.

This secondary unit has a knack for making plays when the game is on the line. During Lawrence’s 37-28 win over Bishop Carroll (No. 3 in Class 5A), Oberzan came flying up the field to make a game-sealing stop on fourth-and-12 on an 11-yard pass.

One week later, that group surrendered just 147 passing yards to help LHS become the first team to defeat St. Thomas Aquinas at home since 2017. All of that was during a stretch where the Lions defeated three ranked teams in a row.

“We make plays and we play well together,” Oberzan said. “A lot of times, this group comes up big when we need it. At the end of the games, we really do lock down together and play hard together.”

The secondary, along with the rest of the LHS team, will face its toughest test yet.

Derby has won four of the last five state titles, including back-to-back undefeated runs to the title game in each of the last two years. DHS quarterback Lem Wash has completed 67-of-97 passes for 902 yards to go along with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Reid Liston has been the go-to receiver for the Panthers with 28 receptions for 385 yards and six touchdowns.

Yet the Lions appear to be ready for the challenge.

“They are going to come give us their best shot,” Oberzan said. “They are going to get the exact same from us. They are coming into here, and we are going to play our hearts out.”

Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. Friday at LHS.

The radio broadcast will be available on KLWN at 101.7 FM and 1320 AM, with Hank Booth and Matt Llewellyn on the call. Midco Sports Network will have the broadcast on TV (Channel 32 and 622) for local subscribers as well as online via the station’s Facebook page. Kevin Romary and Bryan Duncan will be on the call for Midco.

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