Grangers enjoy turnaround season
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
When the LaGrange Grangers went 8-3 in 2009, it put the finishing touches on a spectacularly successful decade.
The Grangers won 114 games from 2000 to 2009, and they captured three state championships.
As the calendar flipped to 2010, the Grangers were hoping
the good times would continue, but it turned out to be a challenging decade for the proud program.
From 2010 to 2019 the Grangers won 34 games, including one playoff game, and they never finished a season with a winning record during that 10-year stretch.
A new decade is now upon us, and the Grangers are hoping to get back to their winning ways, and things are going well so far.
With a road win over Spencer on Thursday, LaGrange would improve to 6-2 and guarantee itself a winning record for the first time since 2009.
A victory over Spencer would also put LaGrange in the state playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Matt Napier, who was the offensive coordinator at Callaway High for 15 seasons before taking over the LaGrange program this year, is happy to see players who have gone through some challenging times enjoying success.
The Grangers won a combined six games from 2015 to 2019, and they would match that win total with a victory on Thursday.
“When you get to know people, and you’re around people like we are and it’s non-stop, you develop a bond. You develop a brotherhood,” Napier said. “They’ve been so eager to win. Yeah we’ve had some bumps in the road, but they all realize that hey, we can really enjoy this last year, and do things that haven’t been done in a while.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. We’ve done some things outside their box, and now we’re getting into that routine where they understand that expectation, and they’re buying into how we’re doing things because of it.”
The seniors on the team are playing under their third coach in four years, but Napier said they’ve been all-in and fully invested since his arrival.
“They could have been bitter, or upset,” Napier said. “They’ve had three different coaches through their career. They’ve been through a lot of things. To see them succeed, it’s great as a coach. I’m truly happy that it’s all worked out as it has, and we still have some things out there, and we’re looking forward to more success, and more good things for this group. They deserve it for sure.”
LaGrange opened the season with a close loss to Upson-Lee, and it won four straight games before falling to unbeaten Carver.
After a week off, LaGrange bounced back for a 47-7 win over Jordan to improve to 4-1 in Region 2-AAAA.
While a win over Spencer would lock up a state berth, LaGrange would host a playoff game if it finishes first or second in the region.
LaGrange closes the regular season against two of the region’s top teams, Troup and Hardaway.
First things first.
It’s been a difficult season for Spencer (1-7), which beat Jordan last week for its only win.
Nonetheless, Napier stressed that the focus of the players and coaches is on performing as well as possible against Spencer at Memorial Stadium.
“We’ve been harping on that all week,” Napier said. “We’ve got to take care of us, and take care of one game at a time. You get to looking ahead, and you can easily mess up and slip up. Anytime you go to Columbus and play, it’s a tough atmosphere and a tough game. You don’t want to take any of that for granted. We’ve been preaching that to the kids, one game at a time, one practice at a time. Just making sure we can do everything we can to make sure we’re ready to play.”
A key to LaGrange’s turnaround has been the performance of an offense that is scoring nearly 28 points per game.
Sophomore quarterback Jaylan Brown has been terrific in his first season as a starter, throwing for more than 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns, and he’s spread the wealth, with A.J. Traylor, Magic Johnson, Tae Snead, Kobe Jones, Parker Shattuck and Tristan Smith getting their hands on the ball.
LaGrange has also excelled in the running game, with senior running back Kale Gibbs leading the way with 1,013 yards on 100 attempts with 12 touchdowns.
It helps that LaGrange’s offensive line, which was a question mark coming into the season, has performed at a high level.
The starters are Qua Thornton, Ka’various Perry, Jackson Dennis, KT Owens and Brandon Wortham, the only senior in that group.
Elijah Quimbayo, Christian Rothermel, Jayden White and Thad Dixon also play a lot, and tight end Parker Shattuck and fullback Towson Partin are also key blockers.
“We’re excited about that group,” Napier said. “Coach (David) Pleasants has done a tremendous job. Those guys have grown tremendously. They’ve gotten so much better. They’ve done a wonderful job.”
WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium (Columbus)
RECORDS: LaGrange (5-2 overall, 4-1 in Region 2-AAAA); Spencer (1-7 overall, 1-5 in Region 2-AAAA)