Two are repeat picks on media’s 2017 gridiron honors squads; two are first-team choices, two second-team
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
Four Chillicothe High School football Hornets are included on the 2017 All-State teams announced today by the Missouri Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
Tabbed for the Class 3 first team again was senior offensive lineman Walker Graves, with senior defensive back Brett Shaffer selected for the MSSA’s top unit. It is Shaffer’s first All-State selection by the media organization, which has selected All-State teams for more than 40 years.
CHS senior running back Josh Kille and senior punter Jack Willard were included on the Class 3 second team, Willard having been the first-team punter a year ago and Kille, like Shaffer, being a first-timer on the association’s honors team.
All four of those players, along with teammate Trace Staton, were chosen to the 3-tiered Missouri Football Coaches Association’s All-State team earlier this month.
In addition to the CHS quartet of MSSA honorees, 10 players from three of the seven 11-man football teams in the C-T coverage area also have been chosen All-State (see story below).
Graves’ unsurprising selection as a first-team offensive lineman – he likely could have been on as a defensive lineman with just as much justification after a superb campaign on both sides – essentially caps arguably the finest career of a CHS offensive lineman in the program’s illustrious history.
When previously cited on the MFCA 2017 squad, it made the mobile and increasingly-strong 300-plus-pounder only the second Hornets blocker ever accorded that status three times, joining Cliff Smith (1991-93), who then played for the University of Missouri Tigers.
“One of the better offensive linemen we’ve had,” coach Phil Willard understated after the organization in which he is a member had its say.
Only the fifth Chillicothe player to be All-State three times, Graves’ career achievements, while highly-commendable, don’t necessarily rate as surprising.
He is the program’s first offensive lineman to start from the beginning of his freshman year since the 1950s. The son of 2-times All-State (1984-85) kicker Jason Graves started every game there all four years as a Hornet under the tutelage of 1985 Hornets All-State lineman Jeff Staton.
“An excellent athlete,” describes coach Willard. “Has great feet and balance. He has great hands. He’s an excellent run blocker and pass blocker.”
While flanked by a number of outstanding fellow linemen over the course of his four years, Graves is the constant in a Chillicothe running game which, over those four seasons, cranked out over 11,700 yards at an average of 5.7 yards per crack.
Each of those four seasons saw at least one Hornets ballcarrier rush for at least 1,130 yards with this year’s squad producing a pair of 1,000-yards-plus rushers (Kille and Shaffer) for the first time since 1997.
While Graves was uncommonly nimble-footed and athletic for a prep interior lineman who routinely play near or above 300 pounds, he didn’t rely solely on that athleticism and bulk to do his job.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger,” coach Willard praises. “He just broke our (team) bench-press record (recently) and is probably going to break the squat record” before graduating.
Shaffer’s first MSSA All-State kudo comes after, as free safety, he led the Hornets with five interceptions and was tied for third in total tackles (52, including 33 unassisted, by C-T tracking from game video, using NCAA standards). Using different criteria, the versatile back was credited by the coaching staff with being in on 103.
“With his speed and jumping ability and his intelligence – he knew the scouting report well, he knew where to be,” coach Willard, a former college defensive back himself, assesses. “We could also put him over (in man-to-man coverage) on a good receiver. Just excellent skills.”
As for Shaffer’s run defending, the coach states, “He’s just like a linebacker back there playing free safety. Good tackler.”
Kille, despite a knee injury just before the season that helped force a change in style, shattered three CHS single-season scoring-related records while racking up 1,599 rushing yards at 6.7 yards per carry.
After over 1,100 rushing yards as a junior – likely missing All-State recognition then only because a leg injury cost him 21⁄2 games and probably 400 yards, Kille – in “Minibus” fashion – bulled his way through defenders this fall, rather than dashing past them.
“He made a lot of yards after (first) contact, carrying anywhere from one to four or five guys for extra yardage,” coach Willard salutes, also noting Kille’s excellent pass and run blocking performances.
Finishing a single yard shy of 1,600 this year, the still-deceptively-speedy Kille averaged 6.7 yards per carry and obliterated previous, long-standing Hornets records for points scored in a season (230), total touchdowns in a season (37), and rushing TDs (37).
He also was reliable as a drive extender.
“He also gave you that extra effort at the end of runs, if you needed to get a first down,” coach Willard lauded. “He knew where (the yardsticks) were.
J. Willard, justifiably an MFCA All-Stater this year both for placekicking and punting, had the numbers and impact to be honored either way by the MSSA. He probably was named as punter in part because of his 2016 inclusion there, even though his greater impact this fall was with his placekicking – particularly with his 44 kickoffs that became touchbacks.
“His punting was also really important,” his coach/father hastened to day. “Kept us in good field position and kept people from having big returns.”
Able to utilize either the standard or rugby-style kicking technique, he posted a 38.6 gross yards average, even while often kicking for direction rather than raw distance..
“In the Maryville (playoff) game, we did ask him to kick it deep and, into a slight breeze, he averaged 48.5 yards on four punts,” his father and coach noted.