By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas
GRAINFIELD – In Week 4, a two-play sequence showed Wheatland-Grinnell senior defensive end Tyrell Chapin’s ability to wreak havoc and play with great energy.
Wheatland-Grinnell led Gove County rival Quinter in a big Eight-Man, Division II district Homecoming game Sept. 24. Midway through the first half, W-G took a 20-12 advantage. Quinter took over on its own 10-yard line.
Bulldog standout senior quarterback Jaden Boone played with a cast on his left forearm. On the drive’s first play, Boone had trouble handling the snap with the bulky cast, an occurrence throughout the contest. Chapin, lined up out wide, ran in for the sack and five-yard loss.
On the next play, Boone couldn’t corral the ball again. Chapin, located on the left, sprinted in and nearly tackled Boone in the end zone for a safety. However, Boone, with Chapin holding onto his leg, was able to complete a pass outside to senior Bradley Riedel, who ran across the field.
Chapin remained in the end zone, flat on his back, tangled with Boone. He sat up as Riedel curled down the right side of the field. Then, Chapin quickly bounced up and started to run. In an impressive display of hustle, Chapin chased down Riedel for a 12-yard gain.
“Tyrell, he is way undersized for a defensive end, but huge heart, and man, he just plays fast,” coach Jesse Vincent told SIK after the game. “He is probably the fastest kid on our team. Last time we ran sprints, he was, so I love having just his aggressive ‘motor is always running’ mindset.”
W-G eventually pulled off a 58-26 victory and took control of District 8. Wheatland-Grinnell is headlined by its three skill players: senior quarterback Trey Vincent and his brother, junior wide receiver Jett Vincent, and senior running back Isaac Mendez.
“Without Mendez and his ability to run the ball, and line play that is getting better – we have still got some work to do – but without those things, it’s just two kids on a team,” coach Vincent said. “So it takes a team to win a game like this.”
Chapin has become one of the classification’s top defensive players – and among Kansas’ best in forcing fumbles. (Play available here via Open Spaces Sports: https://www.meridix.com/event/199317 (at the 1:14 mark).
“I do my job coming out full speed on defense, so I can keep my teammates in shape for offense,” Chapin said.
Chapin, named Homecoming King at halftime against Quinter, finished with eight tackles, four quarterback hurries, 2.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles. Last week, W-G improved to 4-1 with its fourth straight victory in a 65-12 win versus Wallace County.
“Just a chance to get to play with my team out here, the Homecoming King was great, great opportunity to experience, but just being out there with a band of brothers is everything,” Chapin said.
Wheatland-Grinnell lost at Axtell, currently ranked No. 1 in Division II, in the season opener. Since then, the Thunderhawks have re-established as a strong West contender with No. 3 Victoria (4-1), along with Bucklin and Caldwell, a combined 10-0. Chapin’s play and Mendez’s surprise kicking are two underrated reasons for W-G’s improvement.
“Just had to learn, took the loss as a learning opportunity,” Chapin said. “You have got to take the losses with the wins and come out. It’s all what happens after the losses is what you do, not what happens during the losses.”
Two years ago, Chapin helped Wheatland-Grinnell to an 8-2 mark, a seven-win improvement from 2018. Last year, the Thunderhawks delivered an 8-3 record, the best season in school history. Coach Vincent wanted to establish more of a football culture and have bigger crowds for a school predominantly known for girls’ sports success and boys’ basketball. W-G’s gym has frequently hosted sub-states in recent years.
One of the things Vincent mentioned was new bleachers.
Credit to the communities of Grainfield and Grinnell, who built new bleachers for the football complex for 2021. W-G’s game program also gave credit to the Heier family, Ostmeyer farms and Bixenman farms. They helped with a new football sound system, a sky lift for home football games and the purchase of new league banners for the gym.
The Quinter/Grainfield game had an excellent atmosphere and both sides were packed. Trevor Zarybnicky graduated in May after he earned SIK classification defensive player of the year. Zarybnicky, who currently plays football at Dodge City Community College, was back for the Homecoming game and remarked to SIK how much better the atmosphere was compared when he entered high school.
“Exciting for the boys to be able to pull this off on Homecoming,” coach Vincent said.
This season, Chapin has 19 tackles, eight quarterback hurries, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He paces W-G in quarterback hurries and sacks.
In his career, Chapin, who tries to play aggressive, has 175 tackles, 24.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. After he served as a key running back as a sophomore, Chapin has primarily played defense the last two falls.
Zarybnicky graduated last year after 403 tackles and 16 forced fumbles, a statistic that most teams don’t track. No Kansas player has more than 16 career forced fumbles in the last five years, per SIK research. No Division I college player has more than 16 in the last decade, per College Football Reference.
“Be mean with your hands,” Chapin said.
In Vincent’s turnaround, W-G is well-known for turnover creation. This season, the Thunderhawks have forced 15 turnovers and are plus-12 in turnover margin. That’s without Zarybnicky and Jett Vincent, who has just one INT after 22 in the last two seasons. Junior Treven Humphries has picked off two passes, and junior Adam Phillips has forced four fumbles.
In Week 2, W-G forced three turnovers in a 58-34 win against Kinsley. Versus Quinter, the Thunderhawks collected seven turnovers, including a 54-yard scoop-and-score touchdown from Mendez. Kinsley and Quinter are both 4-0 when not facing Wheatland-Grinnell.
Quinter’s Jeff Savage is in his 42nd year of coaching and told SIK this will be his last year. He lives in Quinter during the week, and then drives on the weekend to his home in the Emporia area.
“They are very athletic,” Savage said of W-G. “Early on, in the first half, we beat ourselves. Everything they got was what we gave them, a scoop-and-score. They got in a certain set, and we didn’t line up correctly.”
Along with Chapin, Mendez’s kicking has helped change field position for the Thunderhawks. Early in the season, W-G was having kicker tryouts. Coach Vincent said Mendez “shanked” a couple. Junior Gorczyca, a freshman, was kicking, and then became dinged up. Mendez had to kick in Week 3 against Stockton. Mendez started to kick again, and coach Vincent was impressed.
W-G watched Stockton standout specialist Rylan Basart, and realized that kicking was possible in eight-man football.
“We gave it a shot and just having fun with it mostly,” Vincent said.
Mendez kicked an extra point against Stockton and a pair versus Quinter. Mendez has delivered six touchbacks the last two weeks, including four against Wheatland-Grinnell. Mendez has a touchback rate of 33 percent, in the top-10 of Kansas eight-man kickers, per MaxPreps.
“When he can put the ball out of the back of the end zone, it makes our job way easier,” Chapin said.