Friday Night Hero: West Rowan’s Emmanuel Gbunblee
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA ó Talent has helped West Rowan win 27 consecutive football games, but commitment has been the difference-maker.
Ask Hall of Fame coach Pete Stout to evaluate the Falcons, and he narrows their success to two words.
“Weight room,” he said. “Strong kids on both lines.”
While the general assumption is the Falcons are simply blessed with speed and size, the reality is weight benches have turned boys into men and film study has made reasonably smart guys football Einsteins.
West junior Emmanuel Gbunblee has an unusual heritage (his family came from Liberia), but otherwise he’s a typical Falcon. He’s 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, stronger than you’d think, and developing into a disruptive force with the aid of extensive film study and every Falcon’s best buddy ó the weight room.
In West’s first two playoff games, Gbunblee has been the most dynamic defensive player on the field.
Defensive coordinator David Hunt says Gbunblee is “peaking a the right time.”
Head coach Scott Young seconds that motion.
“There were times we were just as well off without him as with him, but he’s so valuable now,” Young said. “That’s all on him. He’s improved his effort, his technique and his tenacity. The last month ó lights out.”
West senior defensive lineman Chris Smith is headed to Arkansas and has taken Gbunblee under his wing.
“He had a couple of rough games, but he studies film more now,” Smith said. “He’s a student of the game now, and it really showed in the R-S Central game.”
When Smith and Gbunblee watched R-S Central’s offense they saw a team dressed like the Indy Colts and ramming the ball down South Rowan’s throats in a first-round win against West’s county rival.
“Those R-S Central guys looked like monsters,” Gbunblee said. “Almost 400 yards rushing against South.”
West always identifies the opposition’s pet plays and labels those “must-stops.” With R-S Central’s Hilltoppers, the must-stops were the waggle pass, the veer option and the buck sweep.
“The object is to take away what the opponent does best,” Hunt explained. “You try to take them out of their playbook ó or at least make them go deeper into the playbook. Make them do what they don’t really want to do.”West came out ready for R-S Central’s three best plays, but things got complicated when nose guard Eli Goodson, who always commands two blockers, went down with an ankle injury.
“Eli is a beast,” Gbunblee said. “It was Chris that called everyone together and told us we had to play even stronger without Eli. That’s what we did.”
The key defensive stop for the Falcons was turned in by Gbunblee with West leading 14-0 in the second quarter. R-S Central had third-and-goal at the 8 with a chance to make it a game, and QB Jake Kinlaw ran the option to his right.
Gbunblee met a blocker, fought him off and shadowed Kinlaw. West corner Domonique Noble had the pitch man covered. Kinlaw had to make a decision.
Falcons are repeatedly drilled to “slow play” in this kind of situation because the longer the quarterback treads water, the more time is on the side of the defense.
“You slow play ó buy some time óbecause help is always coming,” Hunt said.
The cavalry for West is often the “Eagle” linebacker, who usually can’t be blocked in West’s scheme. West’s “Eagle” is usually Josh Poe, 230 pounds of muscle, moving fast, and he’s going to cause a major collision.
Kinlaw ran out of time. Gbunblee pounced on him. West stayed in control.
For the night, Gbunblee had three tackles for loss, plus an 11-yard sack.
“When you know a loss will be the last game, you go very hard,” Gbunblee said.