North Kansas City football coach Leon Douglas went to CJ Price with a challenge before the 2018 season.
Price was a solid high school running back in his first three years with the program. But in order for the Hornets to achieve everything Douglas believed they could achieve, he needed more from the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Price.
“What we asked him to do went beyond playing running back. That’s something that’s very easy to highlight, simply because of the large amounts of yards and touchdowns,” Douglas said.
Price played running back like a madman, finishing the year with 3,022 yards and 38 touchdowns on 314 carries. He also had 12 receptions for 171 yards and three more touchdowns, earning Suburban Conference White Offensive MVP honors.
Price also did so much more.
“He returned punts and kickoffs. He played defense, and a lot of his efforts helped us win ballgames,” Douglas said. “The type of year he had individually is reflected in the type of year we had as group.”
As a group, the Hornets finished 9-2, were conference co-champions and missed an undefeated regular season by one point.
Price racked up 43 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble as a linebacker/safety while fulfilling the sort of leadership role that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Price saw how his predecessors led the way at Northown and didn’t assume that role lightly.
“I saw multiple people in front of me become leaders that they are,” he said. “I started dabbling a little bit as a junior, but I wasn’t ready junior year.
“(The leadership) started last winter. We were doing a lot of weight lifting, and we were starting to put pieces together. It’s just a great moment to have and I’m proud to say I could be a great leader to these kids.”
Price asked for the responsibility and delivered time and again. The best example was in the Hornets’ first-round playoff game against Park Hill South.
Douglas was trying to limit Price’s defensive exposure.
“He was kind of banged up there, and at that point, all that didn’t matter,” Douglas said.
Price forced a fumble and followed it up with a touchdown run as the Hornets rallied for a victory.
“Being able to become that leader made me grow as a man,” he said. “If you look at it, my freshman, sophomore and junior years, we won four or five games and people were dreading going to practice and summer workouts. People had energy and were excited, and we knew what we could do. Coming to practice was always enthusiastic and fun to be there. When you start getting those wins behind you, that’s what made people strive. Everybody wanted to be great.”
Price will continue his pursuit of greatness at Kansas State. New KSU head coach Chris Klieman recruited Price when he was at North Dakota State and was quick to reach out after accepting his new position in Manhattan.
Before college, however, Price has some unfinished business this spring. He’s running sprints for the Hornets’ track team and they just missed qualifying for state last year.
The challenge for the Northtown football program, meanwhile, is proving that 2018 season wasn’t a fluke.
Price is confident there’s plenty of talent behind him. Douglas is confident that Price’s legacy will remain as an example of what can be accomplished.
“It becomes a point of reference and you can show the younger athletes coming up, ‘If you commit and buy into what the coaches are doing and you run with it and enthusiastically spread that message, things can change,’” Douglas said. “You’re in control of your destiny.”