What Steve Said: Steve Bubalo 8/24

Steve Bubalo

By Steve Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: August 24, 2017 - 5:52 AM

Everybody has heard that old football saying about the big boys up front - “the game was won in the trenches”. It’s funny if you think about it. Sometimes the players that don’t even touch the ball can make the biggest impact.

For Oak Grove, the development and growth of its offensive line might end up being the key to its season. The Panthers are young, and, more importantly, inexperienced up front. Four of their five offensive linemen are first-time starters at the varsity level.

I got to watch them in person last Friday night and they showed some very positive flashes. There were also moments when the offensive stalled a bit and they had trouble moving the ball on the ground.

Overall, though, Oak Grove head coach Pat Richard seemed please, as he should be. The offense rolled to 31 points in a win over Richmond and the offense - while it didn’t complete any of its handful of passes - ran for more than 400 yards.

And it’s the players running for those yards that provide the stability that a young offensive line needs.

The standout is senior Kenton Wilhoit, who stands 6-feet-2, 219 pounds. He’s a load to bring down for defenses, and I was impressed with his speed and agility for his size. After missing a handful of games last season, he is 100 percent and will be one of the better small-class running backs in the city this season. He tallied 243 yards and two scores to start his season.

Two other threats in the running game are fellow seniors Tyler Hunter, a running back, and quarterback Jaxon Althaus. While they aren’t the bruising runner that Wilhoit is, they are the type to scoot around the corner and take it the house.

Richard credited Althaus with helping to open up the running game during last Friday’s win thanks to some big runs on the outside.

With that experienced trio leading the way, the Panthers offense will be a handful for defenses this season.

“The defense can’t key on one guy. We have a lot of guys that can make plays,” Wilhoit said after the win.

I think this is what makes the Panthers so interesting this season. The offensive line will have its bumps in the road throughout the season, but with a skilled group of ball-carriers behind them, if they can develop into a reliable bunch, this will be a dangerous Oak Grove team.

The schedule doesn’t do the Panthers any favors. They will travel to third-ranked Blair Oaks this Friday, a team that has lost only nine games combined in the last five seasons. It should be quite a test for this young group. And maybe that's not the worst thing.

The end of the schedule doesn’t look easy, either, as the last three games on the schedule are against high-quality Class 4 teams Excelsior Springs, Harrisonville and Grain Valley.

This young group will be tested early and often, and I could tell Richard was excited about his group. He talked about how it was a “constant process” with the younger players, but that he’s having “the most fun” coaching he’s had in a while.

Just don’t forget about those seniors.

“Those seniors are the rock,” he said.

I look forward to seeing just how strong they are.