Extra Points: Brian Spano 3/9
By Brian Spano Former PrepsKC Senior Writer
In 2010, I had the privilege, no, the honor, to cover the Kansas Class 5A state championship game in Emporia, Kansas, between the Blue Valley Tigers and the Bishop Carroll Golden Eagles from Wichita.
I wasn't too familiar with either team having spent much of my high school football reporting career on the Missouri side of the state line, but I had to learn fast about a Blue Valley team and more specifically about a coach named Eric Driskell who was in his first season with the Tigers.
Driskell's Tigers beat the Golden Eagles quite handily on that sun-splashed Saturday afternoon inside Welch Stadium 35-14, after an emotional semifinal win over Gardner-Edgerton the week before 45-42. But what I will remember most from that day was the way Driskell reacted after the game. It wasn't about the win. It wasn't about being state champions. It was all about his players. His kids. They earned this. They fought for this.
During my tenure at PrepsKC, I would consider myself fortunate to cover only three of their games, including this state championship game.
In 2015, Driskell led his Tigers back to their second straight Class 6A state championship game after an undefeated season, but Blue Valley fell short to Derby 17-14. This was the fifth time Blue Valley has been to a state championship game since Driskell took over in 2010. The Kansas City Chiefs selected him as the Kansas High School Coach of the Year for his efforts.
The thing about high school football, like life, is that sometimes you never expect the unexpected. And what happened on Feb. 12, when Driskell suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm while attending a board meeting of the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association, was truly a shock.
Two days later Dr. Jayson Neil of Research Medical Center announced that Driskell had suffered irreversible brain damage and was being prepared for organ donation. A day after that the decision was made to take Driskell, 43, off life support.
While talking to Driskell, after that state championship game, one quote really struck a nerve with me.
“The kids get to live with this win, and that’s their legacy being a part of Blue Valley football,” Driskell said of the Tigers win. “They’re not just a great team, they are state champions, and no one can ever take that away from them.”
I never really knew Driskell like I knew other high school football coaches only because I spoke to who just a few times, but in those few times, he showed me the respect and courtesy many other coaches who knew me did, and he always gave me great quotes. Most importantly, like any great coach would do, he put his players ahead of himself and the rest of the coaching staff.
Eric Driskell, in his short time as Blue Valley coach, will go down as one of the greats and will be truly missed.
Brian Spano is a former senior writer for PrepsKC.
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