On this same weekend two years ago, Blue Valley coach Eric Driskell took a small group of his sophomore varsity football players aside in Emporia State’s Welch Stadium locker room.
The older Tigers were celebrating a 27-26 victory against Salina South in the Kansas Class 5A state championship, but Driskell was already focused on the future.
That group featured current stars like Jeff Gurley, AJ Totta, Colton McCumber and Taylor Debey DeBey.
“Coach D came up to us after the game in the locker room and was like, ‘This is pretty cool, huh? Do you guys want to do this again? Let’s get to work,’ ” Gurley said. “That’s always stuck in the front of my mind.”
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This Saturday, Gurley and his fellow seniors will find themselves in a similar situation as they will play Derby for the Class 6A title in Emporia, and they credit that 2013 conversation and the team for inspiring the run. The game will start at 1 p.m. and will be shown on Timer Warner Cable SportsChannel 2.
“I think a lot of us learned from that group of seniors because we were a part of that team, but never really had an impact on the games,” Gurley said. “We learned from their habits and how they worked. I think we picked up a lot of valuable things about how we can carry on the tradition.”
The Tiger tradition is already storied with six state titles and two under Driskell. Blue Valley also has five runner-up finishes, but is aiming for its first Class 6A championship berth since switching classifications last fall. The team is 13-2 against Class 6A teams in the last two seasons.
Blue Valley started the year with four straight victories, including one against defending Class 4A Division I champion Bishop Miege. However, the Tigers ran into some trouble midway through the season with back-to-back Eastern Kansas League losses to Blue Valley North and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Gurley said a meeting of the seniors about how they wanted to leave their legacy sparked a six-game win streak including victories against top-seeded and undefeated Lawrence in the quarterfinals.
“We talked and said that we couldn’t let this keep happening because this is our season,” Gurley said. “We’ve faced the big bad wolf, we’ve beaten Goliath and we know that we can play with anyone.”
The Tigers will have their work cut out for them with the Panthers, who are also going for their second state title in three seasons.