• Michigan

Mr. Football passing connection of Trainor to Yaseen sparks early scoring, as Walled Lake Western rolls past Flushing

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, November 2, 2019, 9:45 am

WALLED LAKE — The way Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen plays — pulling away from defenders with ease, once the ball is in his hands — it’s tempting to only look forward, to the goal line ahead.

Every once in a while, though, you throw a peek over your shoulder to see what’s behind you.

If things had turned out differently in the last weeks of summer, and the MHSAA hadn’t overturned its earlier ruling that the Walled Lake Western senior wideout had expended his allotted eligibility, he’d have been on the sidelines for games like Friday’s playoff opener.

He’d certainly have been looking ahead to his early enrollment at Northwestern, and stories about the Warriors might more likely be postmortems on a season, rather than the continuations of a pair of Mr. Football candidacies. [You can vote HERE.]

“I’m not really worried about what happened, I’m just trying to focus on up-and coming things, and trying to lead my team — but definitely. I was this close to not even playing. It stays in the back of my head, but I’m blessed. It’s all a blessing,” said Yaseen, after catching seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-7 win over Flushing, admitting he can see the finish line of high school ahead at the semester break — after the critical task of this last playoff run. 

“I’m definitely gonna miss this, but I’m ready for college. We’ve gotta take one game at a time, build on this win, and make a run for states.”

Champs of the Lakes Valley Conference, the Warriors (9-1) advance to the district finals next week, where they’ll host Flint Metro champion Fenton (9-1), a 31-28 winner over LVC runner-up South Lyon in Friday’s pre-district play. [CLICK HERE for the full playoff bracket.]

And it’s a suddenly wide-open Division 2 bracket, given an upset or two, and a widely-covered forfeit by the two-time defending champs, making that run for states not even a remotely outlandish thought. 

Especially not when you have a deep threat like Yaseen, and a quarterback like junior Zach Trainor getting him the ball.

“Oh, my gosh. Abdur, he’s a freak. In my opinion, he’s probably the No. 1 receiver in the nation. He’s just unreal. What he does, week-in, and week-out — I don’t know, it’s just a blessing to have him,” said Trainor, a junior in his first year starting for the Warriors. “I mean, the thing about it — I get him the ball, and I’ve got front-row seats to the show. It’s amazing just to see him juke people, work with it. It’s just awesome. Really awesome.”

Trainor was 20-for-32 passing for 241 yards and three touchdowns Friday, spreading the ball around to multiple targets.

“My guys always find a way to get open. My job’s easy: I’ve just gotta find them, and just connect,” Trainor said. “I just gotta give it all to my offensive line — Kyle (Campbell), Carson (Garmo), Val (Savaya), Harley (Wilt), and Zach Gammo.”

For the most part, but for a few blitzes by Flushing (5-5) that got home, that group kept Trainor clean, key for the junior after he missed time this year with a concussion.

“Zach’s back healthy, and playing good football. We had one or two drives where we made some mistakes, but other than that, he was on point today, made some good checks. We give him a lot of freedom for a junior quarterback. We’re happy everybody’s as healthy as we’ve been in a couple weeks here,” Western coach Alex Grignon said. “They got some blitzes through that we kind of lost with our guards and things, but the line’s done a great job. We’ve been hard on them the last couple of weeks, as far as keeping him clean — and (backup QB Jonathan) Abele, whoever’s in there, keeping them clean in that pocket. It’s also on them to get rid of the ball on time. When the O-line’s expecting you to be in one spot, and you get outside the pocket, it’s tough for them to protect, but he did a great job of standing tall, and throwing balls downfield for us.”

The Warriors blew out to a 28-0 halftime lead, getting a pair of rushing scores from Carson Barringer (3 and 2 yards), a 12-yard fade pass from Trainor to the 6-foot-5 Sam Ahern, and a 23-yard catch and run by Yaseen, but Western couldn’t add to it, despite several deep balls by Trainor.

The Trainor-to-Yaseen passing combo hooked up again in the fourth quarter on a 17-yard touchdown connection, making it 35-0, before Flushing answered three plays later with its first score, when Joe Jaruzel out-jumped a defensive back for a pass from Nick Powers, and ran it the rest of the way for a 56-yard score. 

“We got a little sloppy after halftime. They made some good adjustments, slowed us down a little bit. But we just weren’t executing as crisply as we were early. We’ve gotta play a full game if we want to make a playoff run. Got a lot to improve on still,” Grignon said. “Stops on defense set the tone, gave our offense plenty of chances. I would really have liked to keep the scoreboard clean, but they’ve got some good players, too. We’re going to take it one day at a time, like we have been, hit the film hard, and get ready to go next week. … We had a miscommunication on that coverage, which shouldn’t have happened, because we were playing the same way the whole night. We had a good game-plan against an option team, and it just comes down to how disciplined can you be, and everyone plays assignment football. We’ve got a lot of smart football players on the defense. Makes things easy for us.”

There are some very smart players on offense, too, which makes it easy for Grignon to hand a great deal of responsibility to his junior signal-caller, and let him run the show like an extra coach on the field.

“I think it’s invaluable. We have a very high team GPA. A lot of our kids are very smart. I’m hard on our coaches. The more information we give them, as far as prep goes, they’re going to eat it up. They’re asking for it. It’s not like we’re wasting our time, or they’re not looking at it. They look at it, they digest it, they ask questions,” Grignon said. “Zach, shoot, he usually calls the back side of pass plays for us — we just tell him ‘Alert what you want or what you see,’ and give him the freedom to check. We might yell at him, if it doesn’t work out, but we don’t want to take that confidence or that ability from him. He’s very capable — as far as a football mind goes, he’s as good as anybody you’re going to find. He eats up film. He knows what he’s looking for. He knows what coverage they’re playing, and how they’re changing, and it’s just a matter of keeping him upright, and letting him throw the ball around.”

It’s something that’s not lost on his key target.

“He’s a real smart kid, definitely. He knows football real well, real high IQ. We’re definitely blessed to have him,” said Yaseen, who goes way back with Trainor. “We’ve been throwing together since I was in seventh, eighth grade, so we definitely have a lot of chemistry. It was back in seventh grade. We played Detroit PAL on the same team, so we played Little League together for a minute. I always kept in touch, and here he is now.”

That chemistry shows up in their connection on the field.

So, too, does Yaseen’s drive to keep pushing forward, like he’s got something to prove, like he’s a man on a mission.

“Oh, yeah. Well, that, and also I think he loves where he’s going, and he’s happy he’s going to Northwestern, but he’s got that chip on his shoulder that a lot of local schools didn’t offer him, and he’s out to prove a point that he’s the best player in the state. That’s just the type of kid he is,” Grignon said. “He, in my opinion, is the best player in the state. He does everything for us, he plays offense, defense, special teams. It’s great for the morale of the kids. Any time you take a shot, it’s like playing the lotto with odds in your favor. If he’s one-on-one, we’re going to take some shots, and most times, he catches them. A few of them got away from us tonight, but that threat’s always there. The opponent has to be aware of the deep pass possibility, and it’s been pretty nice to see him running around all year for us.”