Preps notebook: LHS coach Steve Rampy has high expectations for QB position, and senior Jackson Dooley has delivered
photo by: Chance Parker
Two days before its opening-round matchup with Wichita North, Lawrence High quarterback Jackson Dooley had probably the best practice of his career.
LHS head coach Steve Rampy actually told Dooley that, calling him to deliver the message about 30 minutes after Wednesday’s practice had ended. It was a good sign for the Lions, who enter the playoffs as the No. 1 team in the Class 6A West after going 7-0 in the regular season.
But there was also one caveat to the phone conversation.
“He told me it was probably the best he’s seen me throw in three years,” Dooley said of his phone call with Rampy. “And then how bad I was at the end of practice.”
Yet that sequence, especially the final tidbit, provided a nice glimpse into the relationship between Rampy and his talented senior signal caller.
Rampy admits that he is harder on his quarterback than any other position on a football team. That is because Rampy was a quarterback in his playing career. Zach Rampy, the eldest son of Steve Rampy, was a Simone Award-winning quarterback at Blue Valley in 2006.
That personal connection to the position has led Rampy to expect more from every one of his quarterbacks during his illustrious coaching career, which has included winning state titles in 1991, 1998, 2003 and 2006 at Blue Valley.
“They know how I really feel about (the position),” Rampy said. “If I didn’t have high expectations for them or didn’t care about them, I couldn’t coach them with a volatile enthusiasm. That’s what I tell them I coach them with — volatile enthusiasm.”
Dooley has certainly experienced that firsthand as the team’s starting quarterback over the last 18 games, in which the Lions have gone 15-3 over that span. Dooley actually earned his first career start in the opening round of the postseason exactly two years ago in what ended up being an eventual 41-7 loss at Derby.
After that start against Derby, Dooley put in the work in the offseason. He beat out Tre’ Jackson to become the starting quarterback in 2019. Jackson, who started at QB for most of the 2018 season in Rampy’s first year at the helm, moved to the receiver position last year.
Dooley then led an impressive turnaround for the Lions, who went 8-2 (7-1 Sunflower League) before falling to Topeka High in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.
“His story is one that I’ll use as long as I coach,” Rampy said. “To come back last year and play like he did and play like he does now, it is a great testament to his toughness, intelligence, fortitude and how much he cares about this program.”
photo by: Carter Gaskins
While there probably wasn’t as much face-to-face contact this past offseason due to the pandemic, Rampy still made sure that Dooley was improving ahead of his senior season. Rampy would send Dooley plays that he noticed on tape where the quarterback could have done a better job.
“He would send me emails of things he saw,” Dooley said. “(He was) yelling at me through email, which was crazy to see.”
Dooley has been able to handle that constructive criticism — or ‘volatile enthusiasm,’ as his coach so eloquently puts it — throughout his playing career due to his own upbringing. Dooley’s dad, Sean Dooley, is the head coach of Baker men’s basketball and has been just as hard on Jackson Dooley.
“I get it here, and I go home and I get it,” Dooley said. “It’s always been like that.”
Yet Dooley welcomes that feedback because he wants to reach his full potential. It is the reason why Dooley decided to put on 20 pounds in the offseason, bringing his official weight to 195 pounds as a senior.
That added weight has allowed Dooley to take more hits this fall. He is stronger, which allows him to throw a better deep ball than he did last year.
“I wasn’t physically big enough to play last year,” Dooley said. “I kind of skated by.”
Most of all, Dooley is as comfortable as he has ever been within this RPO-based system that the Lions have used since Rampy took over before the 2018 season.
In fact, Dooley’s biggest strength as a player is his ability to make the correct reads in this offense. He’s able to go through his progressions, and find the open receiver to get playmakers like John Green, Ben King, Devin Neal and Tre’ Jackson the ball in space.
“His greatest gift is what is between his ears,” Rampy said. “When he doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, he knows instantly.”
The Lions are loaded with seniors across the board and enter the postseason as the No. 1 ranked team in Class 6A because of it. Still, in order to win the program’s first state title since 1995, Lawrence will need a strong performance in the postseason from its quarterback.
“We have to have him play well in November,” Rampy said. “It is time to play well, and he will. I have complete confidence in him.”
Lawrence will host Wichita North (0-6) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Firebirds should be prepared for postseason
Nobody will question if Free State’s football team is ready for the challenge of facing one of the top teams in Class 6A to begin the postseason. As the No. 15 seed in the Class 6A West, FSHS (0-5) will travel to second-seeded Junction City (6-1, No. 4 in Class 6A) for the opening round.
“We feel as if we are one of the more prepared teams out there,” senior right guard Alec Wilson said. “Our schedule was just insane, playing the best teams in the state. We feel like we are pretty prepared.”
Free State is coming off a 49-20 loss to Lawrence in the regular-season finale, which was the team’s first game back from a quarantine. Prior to that brief hiatus, though, FSHS suffered a 52-0 loss to Mill Valley (No. 2 in Class 5A) on the road on Oct. 2.
The Firebirds, who haven’t scored more than 10 points in a game since the season opener, also were handed a 35-9 defeat to Olathe North (No. 2 in Class 6A) in September. But Free State has shown a lot of growth over the course of the season, which has included two different quarantines.
“Our guys are playing hard because of the competition that we are seeing,” FSHS head coach Kevin Stewart said. “The effort and toughness has really improved. If you go back and watch the game against Lawrence High, our guys really did play hard and they competed.”
A lot of that is a credit to Free State’s senior class for their leadership during what has been a tumultuous season.
Seniors Ben Stallard (DB), Gage Callaghan (LB) and Jacobee Williams (LB), who were all captains in the city showdown, have been especially instrumental to the team this year. Seniors Joey Wood (K), Jordan Wells (DB) Luke Wheeler-Halsted (OL), and Wilson have all helped navigate the Firebirds through the 2020 season as well.
“We just want to help build this culture for Free State for the next few years to come,” Wilson said.
At the same time, these seniors want to keep playing for as long as possible even if it will take an upset to do so.
Junction City has a powerful passing attack, led by quarterback Andrew Khoury. The senior signal caller has thrown for 1,912 yards to go along with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions through seven games.
“Everyone is 0-0 and we are starting fresh,” Stewart said. “We haven’t had the wins, but a win here is a big thing. I think you have to be excited, there is nothing to lose on our end.”
Both teams taking precautions entering postseason
It will certainly be a postseason unlike any other for the local high school football teams.
Earlier this week, two different high school football teams in Missouri were forced to shut down for the remainder of the season due to a positive COVID-19 test. Both Lee’s Summit North and Rockhurst had to abruptly end their respective campaigns ahead of the playoffs.
Free State and Lawrence High are well aware that could happen to either team, too. FSHS, in particular, missed out on three games in the regular season because of two separate quarantines. Lawrence also lost its marquee matchup with Mill Valley in October after a similar incident.
The two teams understand the importance of making smart decisions, as one positive test could shut the whole thing down. Per Stewart, the Firebirds chose to only have the varsity contributors and some members of the scout team at practice this week.
The Lions are still practicing with a full team, but have put an emphasis on making sure players understand what is at stake. The LHS players continue to wash their hands and practice social distancing, which has been the case all year.
“We wrestled with cutting our squad down, it wore on me bad,” Rampy said. “You can’t talk about it being a family environment and do that. This is a really important stretch of time for us to build this program where we want to go.”
Area teams slated to face off in regional championship
One area soccer team is guaranteed to win a regional title. Baldwin will host Eudora at 4 p.m. Friday in the regional championship.
The Bulldogs, who are the No. 1 seed in this region, earned a 2-0 win over Cair Paravel on Wednesday to advance to the regional championship. Jesse Hopper and Caleb Carr both scored for Baldwin. Grady McCune was credited with an assist, while Drake Martin posted a shutout in the win.
Baldwin improved to 10-5-1 on the year, meaning the team has now won double-digit games for the third year in a row. This season is especially impressive considering the fact that the Bulldogs had to replace seven seniors from last year’s squad.
Eudora, meanwhile, claimed a 2-1 win over Bishop Seabury in the regional semifinal matchup at EHS on Wednesday. Senior Jace McCormick scored a goal in the first half on an assist from senior Keaton Herron. Senior Colby Lawhorn added a second-half score for good measure.
The Cardinals, who were the No. 3 seed in this region after winning a regional title a season ago, are now 7-7-1 on the year. No. 2 seed Bishop Seabury will end its 2020 campaign with a 7-6 overall record.