Preps notebook: LHS O-line gaining confidence after strong showing against Aquinas

photo by: Carter Gaskins

Lawrence High senior RB Devin Neal (4) runs through the gap for a touchdown against Saint Thomas Aquinas Friday night at St. Thomas Aquinas on Oct. 9, 2020. The Lions improved to 5-0 with a 39-27 win over the Saints.

Lawrence High’s offensive line should have no shortage of confidence ahead of the final two games of the regular season before a likely deep postseason run.

Last time out, the five players in the trenches for the LHS offense rose to the challenge in its toughest test yet. Lawrence’s o-line ultimately came away with much-deserved bragging rights following a 39-27 road win over St. Thomas Aquinas.

“That’s honestly the best defensive line we have played so far and maybe the best defensive line we will play all year,” right guard Lane Luna said. “Knowing that we can block someone like that, it gives us confidence for the rest of the year.”

Perhaps most importantly, Lawrence’s offensive line came through when it mattered the most.

After Aquinas cut Lawrence’s lead to just 6 points with 7:26 left in the game, LHS turned to its reliable ground game. The Lions marched down the field with a 12-play, 68-yard scoring drive that removed any doubt about the outcome.

Devin Neal, who is verbally committed to the University of Kansas, carried the ball nine times on that drive. From left to right, Noah Smith, Acen Villegas, Porter Dannevik, Lane Luna and Drew Meyer opened up plenty of running lanes for Neal on that last possession by pushing the Saints around in the trenches.

It was enough to hand Aquinas its first home loss since Sept. 15, 2017.

“We didn’t dominate, per se, like we usually do,” Dannevik said. “We held our own and got the movement that we needed for Devin to do what he does. That helped us a lot.”

It was just the latest example of how much Lawrence’s offensive line has grown as a unit.

Two years ago, the position group had to overcome injuries and have players shift along the offensive line during an 1-8 season. Meyer, in particular, transitioned to right tackle after originally playing tight end.

Last season, the Lions then added a pair of talented first-year varsity contributors to the mix. Smith, who is now a 6-foot-4, 298-pound junior, slid in at left tackle. Villegas, who is now a 6-foot-1, 275-pound junior, slotted in at left guard during an 8-2 campaign in 2019.

Those two players now have a year under their belt, while Meyer, Dannevik and Luna all are in their third and final year.

“They know our offense really well,” offensive line coach Ben Ehret said. “We’ve seen almost every type of defense that we could have seen.”

That level of experience is such a huge advantage, particularly at a position where continuity is so key.

“We haven’t changed our offense up a whole lot,” Meyer said. “Guys have just gotten varsity experience and we have developed physically as athletes.”

Adding strength was a big part of the offseason plan for the Lions’ o-line. Meyer added plenty of muscle himself, transforming into his current 6-foot, 241-pound stature at right tackle.

It has all led to a perfect balance of strength and speed along the entire offensive line.

Because of their different styles at each position, the five players actually compliment each other well. They can bully opposing defenses in the power run game, while having the speed to block the edge on plays to the outside.

“(We) are just a big group of movers,” Smith said. “We are bulldozers and you don’t want to mess with us.”

The offensive line also knows how to have fun when necessary, which is important at a position that doesn’t get as much attention.

During a play in 2019, Meyer skipped down the football field on a long touchdown run by Neal. It got a nice reaction from the rest of the position group, so the entire offensive line decided to follow suit on Neal’s next big run.

“That was pretty fun,” Villegas said. “The big thing (that drives us) is the state championship. That’s our goal. But we like to have fun in practice and games.”

As long as the wins keep coming, the fun probably won’t stop for the Lions and their talented offensive line. But Lawrence’s perfect record will certainly be put to the test with another big game this week.

LHS (5-0, No. 1 in Class 6A) will play host to Olathe North (5-0, No. 3 in Class 6A) at 7 p.m. Friday. The Eagles, who lost to the Lions last year, eventually finished as a runner-up in the Class 6A state title game in 2019.

LHS football receives two honors

Lawrence High was properly honored after its big win over Aquinas last week.

LHS head coach Steve Rampy was one of two coaches to be named Kansas City Chiefs Coach of the Week, which was announced via the Chiefs’ website on Thursday. As a result, LHS will receive a $500 player health and safety grant from the Hunt Family Foundation.

Rampy was presented a congratulatory football that was autographed by Kansas City head coach Andy Reid and a certificate recognizing his selection. Rampy is now qualified for the Eric Driskell Coach of the Year Award, which will be voted on later this fall.

In addition, 810 Varsity selected senior running back Devin Neal as its male athlete of the week. Every week, 810 Varsity picks one male and one female standout as a part of its partnership with Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center. Neal finished with 150 rushing yards and three scores in last week’s win over the Saints to earn his latest accolade.

LHS senior basketball standout makes verbal commitment

Ahead of his final season, Lawrence High’s sensational senior Zeke Mayo announced where he will be playing collegiate basketball.

Mayo revealed last week that he was planning to take his talents to South Dakota State after high school. Mayo’s verbal commitment featured a two-part video that was posted on his personal Twitter account, where he said he was “110% committed” to the Jackrabbits.

Mayo was named the Journal-World’s boys basketball player of the year last season. As a junior, Mayo averaged 16.0 points per game to go along with 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest. LHS won a share of the Sunflower League title for the second-straight season and advanced to the state tournament for the sixth year in a row.

FSHS volleyball picks up two wins

Free State’s volleyball team came away with a pair of victories in three matches during a two-day stretch.

The Firebirds earned a 3-1 win (25-23, 25-16, 25-13, 25-20) over Olathe West in a dual at home on Tuesday. It was an impressive response by FSHS after dropping the first set, as the team won three sets in a row.

Free State then suffered a two-set sweep (25-22, 25-17) to Blue Valley West in a road triangular on Wednesday at Basehor-Linwood. FSHS bounced back to record a two-set sweep (25-15, 25-18) over Basehor-Linwood in the second match.

The Firebirds now have an overall record of 16-12 on the year, which includes an 11-3 clip in Sunflower League action.


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