Blank's Boonville debut highlights Game of the Week

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BOONVILLE - The new football season means a new coach for the Boonville Pirates. Barry Blank, a longtime coach at Jefferson City and Blair Oaks, signed on to steer the ship this summer.

Blank's Boonville Pirates look to rebound from last season's 2-8 record. The Pirates hold Class 3 State Championships, having won them in 1974 and 1998. The new coach describes himself as an average guy, but says he has a passion for working with kids. In particular, Blank said he wants to send the message of overachieving to his players.

"I feel like I'm an overachiever," Blank said. "That's something we try to instill in our kids every day. I think that's the essence of football. When we all work together, we can reach extraordinary goals here at Boonville.

"Normally, kids want to be held to high expectations. They want to rise to a very high level as students as well as athletes."

That message on overachieving has resonated with his players. 

"I think we do a really good job of that," Senior fullback Dalton Bealmer said. "Even the younger guys, the freshmen, they help other freshmen and let them know what they need to do."

Both Bealmer and fellow senior Andrew Garrison headline a group of seniors who try to lead by example as well as vocally. Huddles and on-field meetings in practice are not quiet, often with a chorus of voices - first the low tone of the seniors, then the higher pitch of the younger players.

"I think we can get a lot of wins," Garrison said. "As far as 'overachieving,' in my opinion and the rest of the team, we can always fight harder. We're not the biggest team around, but we plan to fight and show people that 110% is what we expect every time."

 Garrison, who plays both offensive guard and outside linebacker, commented on the effort he's seen from the team and how many of his teammates have taken on leadership roles.

"Last year, a lot of guys dreaded coming and it was more negative," Garrison said. "This year with Coach Blank, he's kept everybody more positive and showed a lot of hope for this team."

Blank doesn't stand in one place for too long. During team stretches and warm-ups, you can find him circling the group of players, walking through line formations, and muttering a few words of encouragement to a passing player.

"It's hard to explain," Garrison said. "It's a feeling of being with somebody who's got your back. He's got really, really great strategies - in how he plays football, how he teaches it."

Bealmer chimed in, "He brings a lot better of an energy than we had in years past."

Blank said he likes how the Pirates have progressed from June to Week 1. In particular, he mentioned how the seniors have held the rest of the team accountable in practice so far.

"We're going to have kids who play hard for four quarters," Blank said. "Our expectation is - we're blue collar workers. Our kids want to show they're a new Boonville - a new breed of Pirate."


Blank's coaching influences

One of Blank's primary influences growing up was his coach at Kirkwood High School, Dale Collier. For 14 years, Collier gained the respect of the community and his players. He's now a member of the Kirkwood School District Hall of Fame.

"Dale really believed in me and installed the love of football in me at an early age," Blank said.

Collier described a young Blank as a team player and one of his favorites. He said Blank was tall, skinny, and covered a lot of ground. Blank's ability prompted Collier to move his player from tight end to offensive tackle. Blank had the toughness to be an effective tackle, though Collier said he was the slimmest one of them on the team.

"I told Barry, 'You tell anyone that you're an offensive tackle, they'll call you crazy,'" Collier said, laughing.

Collier retired from coaching Kirkwood in 1995 before spending three years as the coach for Washington University in St. Louis. He recalls one of his final games coaching for Wash U, he saw a tall, lanky tight end make a catch for the CMU Eagles, right at the edge of the sideline where Collier was standing. It was Barry Blank.

"I'll remember that forever," Collier said, laughing.

Collier said he kept track of Blank's progress after college. The two used re-visit their old stomping grounds for the Kirkwood-Webster rivalry game, the Turkey Bowl. Collier was happy to hear he'd landed the head coach job at Boonville.

 "I can't think of anyone better to work with kids," Collier said.

He did have a nugget of advice for Blank for his debut.

"Tell him to remember what I always said on the top of the hill when we were getting ready for our games," Collier said.

 "I don't even remember what it was," Blank said, laughing. "I think it was 'Play your heart out,' but I'm not sure. Play for each other and play your heart out."

Blank cites Ted LePage, with whom he coached for almost 15 years at Jefferson City High School and Blair Oaks High School, as another influence on his coaching career. He said LePage taught him how to handle relationships, work with high schoolers, and run a football team. LePage echoed that praise right back to him. Both LePage and Collier remarked on Blank's ability to communicate with kids.

"One thing I recognized when he was coaching here, was if it wasn't good for the kids, [Blank] wasn't about it," LePage said. 

Said Collier: "I can't think of anyone better to work with kids. I know he's going to do a great job."

Under LePage, Blank was an offensive line coach at Jefferson City. When the two were at Blair Oaks, Blank was in charge of the running backs.* LePage said he misses Blank's perspective and collaboration in game decisions. He recalls a game when the two were coaching for Jefferson City, and LePage wanted to "bury" an opponent against whom they held a sizable lead. Blank intervened.

"He just turned to me and said, 'What are you doing?'" LePage said. "'We have no dog in this fight, let's let it go.' And he was right. You could throw anything off him. When I was about ready to jump off the top of the bridge, he would be like, 'Nope, the bridge isn't that high and we don't need to jump.' And that was a good thing to have.

"Whatever it was, we tended to look at it from different angles and come to the same solution." 

LePage said he anticipates a successful season for the Pirates under Blank.

"As good of a person he is, I hope Boonville does that well." 


A closer look in California

Boonville will have its hands full with the California Pintos. California has reached the state semifinals in each of the last three years. Both Boonville and California compete in the same district.

"This game is a great way to start the season and show us where we are," Blank said.

Blank said how California plays with "a certain swagger and a certain physicality" on both sides of the ball impresses him. He called the Pintos "one of the premiere athletic programs in Mid-Missouri."

Head coach Marty Albertson leads the Pintos. California owns one state football title, won in 1997. The team has won 14 district championships in program history.

The team returns three starting players on defense and two on offense. Most of California's key pieces on the field played on its junior varsity squad last year, a team that lost only one game.

"We're awful young," Albertson said when asked what to expect this season. "We're a whole new outfit, and it's going to be a whole different ball game."

Albertson said the offensive line made some mistakes during its football jamboree last week, and that it concerned him. He said he wants to hear more communication from players so they know who they're blocking. Albertson said it might be a few games before the team translates the skill from knowing plays on paper to showing it on the field.

"I don't think we're district-ready right now," Albertson said. "But that's what games are for. Hopefully we can correct some mistakes tonight, and be ready for the district playoffs again.

"I'm looking forward to a tough game against Boonville," Albertson said. "They were in the same position as us last year."