When Arlee Conners carried the ball for the Lindbergh Flyers back in 1990, the 6-foot, 210-pound tailback was a load.
“I was probably bigger than most of my linemen,” said Conners, who went on to have a successful college career at Purdue University. “I had good size and speed, so we ran a lot of sweeps to the wide side of the field.”
Now in his seventh season as the Oakville head coach, Conners doesn’t have the luxury of handing off to a big, bruising, replica of him in his younger days. What he does have is a senior who is smaller in stature, but every bit as tough.
That player is Moe LaGrand, a 5-8, 170-pounder, who is so much smaller that defenders sometimes have a hard time picking him up.
“A lot of teams used to have big backs,” Conners said. “But nowadays most have smaller, faster guys like Moe. He does a great job of finding those cracks and picking up yardage.”
LaGrand, who has rushed for 100 yards or more in four games this season, has now carried the ball 124 times for 824 yards and six touchdowns. He had 207 yards on 21 carries and two scores on the road Friday night during Oakville’s 38-6 romp over archrival Mehlville.
And that’s only half of LaGrand’s contribtions. As a starting safety, LaGrand has made 22 tackles, assisted on 15 others and has one fumble recovery.
While LaGrand probably will end up making a bigger impact at cornerback at the next level, he would rather carry the rock.
“It’s tough to find a school who wants a running back at my size,” LaGrand said. “But I love to run the ball. It’s natural and instinctive to me.”
LaGrand, who led the Tigers in rushing yards (816) and was tied for second in TDs (eight) last season, said he has improved with the help of new running backs coach Scott Gerling. He also return kicks, and gave his team a lift on Friday night by returning the opening kickoff 39 yards to set up the Tigers’ first score.
“It’s exciting,” LaGrand said. “I like setting the tempo for the rest of the game.”
Conners said LaGrand, a 4.0 student who loves mathematics and wants to become a mechanical or a civil engineer, sets a great example.
“He is a leader,” Conners said. “All the kids in school look up to him. You definitely have to appreciate how durable he’s been. He doesn’t have the greatest size, but pound for pound he’s pretty good at what he does.”
LaGrand said he’s been in contact with coaches at Drake University. Conners said Northwest Missouri State also has shown a lot of interest.
“If Moe keeps doing what he’s doing, there should be some Division I schools looking at him,” Conners said.”
LaGrand set a goal of rushing for 1,000 yards this season. He figures to get a healthy chunk this Friday night when the Tigers play host to Suburban West Conference foe Northwest (0-7). The following week, the Tigers close the regular season at home against St. Louis U. High (3-3).
Oakville (3-4) then heads into playoff action in Class 6 District 1, which includes all of its Suburban West Conference foes except for Fox (Class 5). The heavy hitters are Lafayette (7-0), the No. 5 team in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings, and bubble teams Parkway South (7-0) and Eureka (5-2). Rounding out the district are Marquette (3-4), a 10-9 winner over Oakville in Week 2, Lindbergh (2-5) and Northwest.
LaGrand, a south city resident, said early in the season that the Tigers were looking for a long playoff run. That hasn’t happened since 2009 – LaGrand’s freshman season - when Oakville fell to host Hazelwood Central in the state semifinals.
But the Tigers didn’t look much like a postseason team this year in a pair of blowout losses – one to Lafayette (45-0) and another to Eureka (64-25) at the Edward Jones Dome.
“We’re not satisfied at all,” LaGrand said. “Things didn’t go like we wanted them to. … We came out in the second half and were not focused at all. We weren’t doing our jobs.”
If anyone can get the Tigers motivated enough to turn things around in the playoffs, it’s LaGrand.
“I first saw him when he was in eighth grade,” Conners said. “I knew even though he was small in stature, he was a competitive kid who would do great things.”