June 23, 2024

Buster Camp Day 11: Defense living up to the hype (Audio)

Garden City, Kan (westernkansasnews.com)-The 2013 Buster defense set the bar pretty high for this year’s unit. Freshman defensive end R.J. Hairston welcomes the challenge. 

“We’re going to be better,” he said following practice on Wednesday. “We’re all on the same page so we’re going to be good; no doubt.”

Statistically, that would be impressive. The Busters ranked in the top 50 in total defense last year. And consider that they kept the team in most games despite the inconsistent play on the other side of the ball. 

Hairston fits the mold of your prototypical defensive end. He’s nimble at 6’2 and powerful at 240 pounds. He’s fast-showing the ability to block and receive as a tight end in high school. So all this bodes well for Matt Miller’s team moving forward. 

“R.J. has been doing some great things for us,” Miller said. “He’s been great all camp.”

Pairing him with the likes of Nathan Fairbanks, amongst others, could be pretty scary considering what Garden City employs at the linebacker and secondary spots. 

Down the stretch they come

It’s easy to say one guy is better or more consistent than the other. After all-physical ability, normally trumps any other athletic attribute. In regard to the quarterback race at Garden City, there’s one guy (Danarious Graham) who has all the physical tools and can make even the most difficult throws seem routine. Then there’s the other guy (Bryce Gemmel), who is as smart as a whip; is a multi-sport athlete (signed to play baseball for Chris Finnegan) and just gets it. The question: which one do you want under center? 

Graham, has quietly become the favorite-making throws that even his receivers can’t believe. Does that result in wins? In a non-convoluted answer-yes! Miller wants a guy who has the gunslinger arm and the cheetah-type instincts. Graham was blessed with both. Though he’s not the tallest guy out there (6’1), nor the guy who could stand in the pocket and take a pounding (he’s only 170 pounds), he seemingly puts the Busters in the best situation to win. Being able to make the throws is one thing; being able to instinctively make the right play is another; that’s what separates Graham and Gemmel.

Gemmel is still feeling his way through the college game. And maybe in a year, he can carry the torch. But Graham gives the Busters something they haven’t had since Nick Marshall left. That being said-let’s see the two freshman battle it out against live competition. We’ll get our chance during Friday’s scrimmage.

As for the numbers-Graham was 3-for-3 in 7-on-7 on Wednesday.

“Both guys struggled with accuracy,” Miller said. “They need to work on that.”

Graham missed high on several throws, but on some of his longer ones, where he put the ball over the safety’s outstretched arms and just missed his receiver, were pretty impressive.

Gemmel on the other hand had a miserable day. He finished 3-of-10 and threw three picks; one by Jakarrie Washington; one by Jalen Clark and one by Andrew Brown. The freshman also missed on some intermediate routes-something that he’s excelled at during camp. 

Has Graham done enough to earn the starting job yet? No, and I say that hesitantly only because of what happened with Akeem Jones last year. But unlike last season, Miller has a full stable of reliable quarterbacks that could step in if need be. The challenge is deciphering which ones stay on the roster and which ones redshirt. From all accounts (this is strictly a guess) it will be Graham as the number one; Gemmel two and Tyler Lasalle as the emergency third string. Hopefully we find out Friday night. 

Special teams the name of the game

When Tyler Peterson graduated, the Busters lost arguably, one of the best kickers in school history. This year, they’ve turned to two local kids: Jorge Mendez from Ulysses and Garden-City product Ismael Hernandez. 

While Mendez has struggled with injury issues, Hernandez has excelled. So the two-man race could already be down to one if Hernandez keeps doing what he’s doing. 

Secondary looms large

Consider this opening night lineup: University of Wisconsin-transfer Jakarrie Washington at one corner opposite Donald Warren, the Florida native…All-world Sam Green at one safety alongside Mr. Meade Trevin Wiens. That’s pretty scary considering last year’s starting four (DBs: Wonderful Terry and Tim Hill…safeties: Sam Green and Makail Grace). It’s almost like asking which dream-team do you prefer. Okay, maybe I’m getting dramatic, but what Miller trots out there week one versus Highland, at this point, seems pretty formidable.

Do it for the cause

Matt Miller and his coaching staff took one for the better of mankind. Following practice Wednesday, safety Sam Green dumped ice water on his beloved coach. It was all part of the ice-bucket challenge for research into Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (A.L.S or Lou Gehrigh’s Disease). It took a minute for Miller to shock his heart back into rhythm, but he ended practice by challenging the rest of the athletic department to follow suit. His players loved the moment.

Defensive end R.J. Hairston after practice


Head Coach Matt Miller Presser