Kevin Page had one more task for his team after the semi-official first Friday night of St. Michael the Archangel football. After the team huddled around its head coach following the last of three scrimmages in a jamboree at Pleasant Hill, Page told his players to run to the bleachers where the Guardians’ fans were gathered and thank them for showing up.
“Tonight, we’re starting a new tradition,” Page said.
Page has been doing a lot of tradition starting since becoming the first football coach at the brand-new Catholic high school in north Lee’s Summit. Most of the players came over from the now-shuttered Bishop O’Hara High, but he is still building a program from scratch, and creating numerous new traditions along the way.
“We’ve tried our best to focus on the X’s and O’s of it, the new tradition of that,” Page said, “so we can put on the best possible show for our fans.”
Page has 31 players so far on his first St. Michael’s team, considerably fewer than he’s used to having after nine seasons as the head coach at Raytown. It’s something he tries to keep in mind during practice: with fewer bodies, he has to figure out how to prepare for games without getting all his kids beaten up.
But Page expects those numbers to pick up, and he’s seeing it already.
“With this being the first year, we’re literally having families still coming in and enrolling,” Page said. “It’s really just been an interesting experience. I’ll look and I’ll see a kid and I’ll say, ‘Who are you?’ and they’re like, “Oh, we just enrolled yesterday.
“Now that we’re in the building, and as soon as families and kids start to see how great the school is, I think our numbers are going to go nothing but up.”
But for now, Page is working with what he’s got, which is a fairly inexperienced squad. Sure, there are plenty of O’Hara transfers, but the Celtics’ final team was a senior-laden bunch.
“Every skill position, with the exception of one, maybe two kids, is all brand-new,” Page said. “That with a new system makes us have to accelerate our learning.”
St. Michael’s most experienced players are up on the line, and the Guardians will be relying on Brandon Lane and Jadin Jones to lead the way. Lane, a sophomore, also started at tight end last season. Jones, a senior, started at nose tackle and also played on the offensive line.
“We’re asking those guys to dig in and move some people,” Page said. “When your numbers are low, it’s a matter of conditioning. We’ve got to make sure that those guys are in good enough shape where they could last the whole game and still push people, because they’ve got to.”
Behind that line, Page will play two quarterbacks: junior Alec Alaiwat and senior Tyrez Scott. Alaiwat took most of the snaps in Friday’s jamboree, but Page said both Alaiwat and Scott bring important skills to the table.
Caleb Baker, a junior wide receiver, played on a traveling seven-on-seven team this summer and started at safety last season at O’Hara. Andrew Drake, a kicker last year for O’Hara, will both kick and play wide receiver.
St. Michael did have some big moments in its scrimmages against Van Horn, Pleasant Hill and Ruskin. Baker made a leaping touchdown catch on a throw from Alaiwait against Van Horn, and Scott found Drake in the corner of the end zone for another score. But there were times when the Guardians struggled to move the ball or get needed stops on defense.
Page said he didn’t expect the Guardians to struggle in their first action against another team. But he never expects them to struggle.
“We feel if we do what we’re capable of we can move the ball on anybody,” Page said. “I’m never going to create a low level of expectations. There were times when we looked all right, and there were a lot of times when we didn’t. That’s where we’re going to have to put in some time in the film room and tighten those loose ends.”
Of the many traditions St. Michael’s is starting this year, one will have to wait. Because this is the second year of a two-year districting cycle in football, the Missouri State High School Activities Association did not put St. Michael’s in a district this season. That means the Guardians will have to wait another year before getting a shot at postseason play. All of the school’s other sports are in districts and will get to play in the postseason if they qualify.
“It’s obviously disappointing for the kids, mainly for the seniors,” Page said. “Someone said they took the biggest leap because they could have easily gone to their home district schools or somewhere else. To me, that’s the biggest disappointment, that they don’t have an opportunity to play as many games as possible.”
But Page said that won’t change the ultimate goal for St. Michael’s first season, which begins for real Friday night against University Academy at Lee’s Summit North, where the Guardians will play their home games this season.
“We want to win every football game,” Page said. “Whether we have 12 kids out for football, or we have 112 kids out, we need to expect to win every single game. And that’s what I believe and that’s what we’re going to do. I’m just stubborn.”