By TYLER HENRY
Salina Post contributor
Following a stellar 11-1 campaign, the Southeast of Saline Trojan football team will have not one, but two representatives in the 2022 Kansas Shrine Bowl.
Matthew Rodriguez and Chase Poague were two standouts on a star-studded SES team, and each built up dazzling resumes and highlight reels by the time the final whistle blew this season.
“Both of these guys absolutely love football,” SES head coach Mitch Gebhardt said. “For them to have an opportunity to go play at the Shrine Bowl with what that means to the state of Kansas, that’s pretty awesome not only for them but for our school. It’s a great reward for all the hard work that these boys have put in.”
Both Poague and Rodriguez contributed heavily on both sides of the ball, handling the load of multiple positions and roles with ease throughout the dominant season.
Matthew Rodriguez ended his season with a career-high and team-leading 90 tackles, including 24 for loss and 6 sacks.
In addition to the stops, the bruising linebacker forced a stunning seven turnovers, with five fumble recoveries, four strips, and two interceptions in coverage.
Those numbers don’t take into account Rodriguez’s contributions on offense, where the lead back racked up 666 yards averaging almost six yards per carry, and 19 touchdowns on the ground, adding a 20th through the air.
“Matthew made the guys around him more physical and he’s outstanding as defensive players go,” Gebhardt said. “He brought that same physicality to the offensive side of the ball. Any time we needed a yard or two we knew we could rely on him to lean forward and get that extra push.”
The physical nature of Rodriguez’s play was apparent from a very early age, and the three-year starter had an immediate impact after being placed at linebacker his sophomore year.
“I remember watching Matthew as an 8th grader and he caught a pass and ran over three guys on his way to the end zone,” he said. “We knew we had something special and he was always an incredibly physical football player.”
If Rodriguez was the embodiment of power and physicality, Chase Poague was the embodiment of finesse and speed.
The wideout was one of the most dangerous athletes in the state in open space, hauling in a team-leading 40 catches for 845 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Poague’s versatility gave defenses fits as the senior also rattled off 254 yards and another three scores on the ground, tacking on his 20th touchdown of the season on a dazzling punt return.
“Chase was absolutely electric,” Gebhardt said. “Any time he touched the ball in any context you know you had a good chance of scoring. He has great vision on the field and he had the kind of speed and acceleration that you just can’t replace.”
Like Rodriguez, Poague was also a huge presence on defense. As a member of a suffocating secondary, his blazing speed and fast hands helped to stifle opposing air attacks and he was able to add a pick and a scoop and score to his resume.
Chase Poague never did anything halfway, something that inspired players around him and helped the team as a whole to transition seamlessly from practice to game speed.
“I think one of the things I’ve been the proudest of with Chase has been his work ethic,” he said. “Especially as he got older he wanted to do everything as fast as he could in practice and that really developed a special connection between him and his quarterback.”
While the numbers for both Poague and Rodriguez are undoubtedly impressive, they don’t tell the whole story of the impact they had on the Trojan program.
SES has been slowly building a high school football powerhouse, and in the four years that the Shrine Bowl-bound duo spent on the field, the Trojans posted a combined record of 35-7 with a trip to the 3A state quarter and semi-finals.
“Matthew and Chase were leaders all the way through their time here,” Gebhardt said. “Despite being quieter guys they led by example and they never missed a day in the weight room, a training camp or anything that had to do with football.”
The 49th annual Shrine Bowl will take place at Carnie Smith Stadium in Pittsburg on July 23rd, with athletes traveling from all over the state to compete in one final game before college.