Smashmouth style suits Olathe football team
Olathe High School’s football team is not used to this kind of success.
With the Pirates’ 14-6 victory over Faith Christian last Saturday, Olathe advanced into Saturday’s 2A state champion with the opportunity to win the first state football championship in school history.
“This is the greatest feeling in the world,” Pirates running back David Rhodes said. “We have been working so hard for it and we finally get the chance.”
What has made this Pirates team so special is they refuse to be intimidated. On its way to the state title game, Olathe beat Buena Vista and two private high schools (Kent Denver, Faith Christian).
“We have taken the next step and we are in the finals,” Olathe coach Ryan Corn said. “It has been our goal to win the golden ball since day one. I have found that if you don’t set your goals high, how will you reach them? Our goal is always to win a state championship.”
Most teams are a reflection of their coach’s personality. For Olathe, that reflection is toughness. Corn also knows a thing or two about winning — he was a state champion wrestler at 171 pounds in 1997 while attending Florence High School. Corn was an All-Conference punter at Western State in 2001 and after a year as an assistant at Gunnison and Olathe, Corn was selected the Pirates’ head coach in 2004.
After some growing pains the first couple of seasons, Corn has turned the Pirates into serious contenders going a 29-5 the past three years.
“It was getting pride in the program,” Corn said. “We wanted our kids working toward goals and believing in themselves and what they are doing.”
The Pirates are about tough smashmouth football, which is something Corn he has seen work first-hand. When Corn was a senior at Florence, the team changed from a wide-open offense to a straight ahead running style and made it all the way to the state championship before losing to Palisade.
“I have always been a believer in power football,” Corn said. “In high school football, it is not very often where you get a (Glenwood Springs quarterback Dakota) Stonehouse that can wheel it and deal. So that is why I figure I can take a kid with decent athleticism and football ability and turn him into a great football player playing power football.”
Power football is what Olathe has been distributing this year, wearing teams down. The Pirates have outscored their opponents 511-137, including allowing only 22 points in three playoff games.
“More than anything, we want to play smashmouth on both sides,” Corn said. “We are going to hit you first and let you know what the game is going to be like.”
Part of smashmouth football is a strong running game.
Senior halfback David Rhodes is the workhorse for Olathe. With his 213-pound frame, the compact back is difficult to bring down, and he has yet to rush for less than 100 yards in a game this season.
“My line does an awesome job for me,” Rhodes said. “They are always setting up holes for me.”
Rhodes is the Pirates’ main back, but he is not the only running threat. Senior fullback Marvin Rivera provides a nice second option. Quarterback Garhett Jurgens and running back Dylan Markley also run the ball from time to time.
The Pirates can expect a blow-for-blow type of game against Erie on Saturday. The Tigers also like to run the ball, employing a double-wing style offense featuring three running backs and two tight ends.
“They are very big and very fast,” Corn said Sunday night while watching the film on Erie. “We have a couple of things we will want to do against the offense. We have to make sure our linebackers fly around because the concept of the double wing is to get more blockers to one side than you have defenders.”
The Tigers could be without their top rusher, Alex Ortega, who ran for over 2,000 yards this season. Ortega is fighting a knee injury and Erie coach Larry Gartrell said he will be a game-time decision. Even without Ortega, the Tigers have other options. Running back Steffan Higgins had a big game in the semifinals against Platte Canyon.
“This has been a good group of kids,” Gartrell said. “We have been working hard since last season and it has paid off.”
Kickoff is at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Legacy Stadium at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora.