Ebner directs successful season for resurgent Zebras

Jan. 15—For some coaches, greatness can be monotonous. For others, it can be too overwhelming or too tall of an order. Every coach has his or her time when they know someone else can offer something better — even the greats like Nick Saban and Bill Belichick are aware of this. However, the Grandview Zebras head football coach Ryan Ebner has not shown a drop in his level of passion and diligence even several years after winning back-to-back state championships in 2018 and 2019.

"I've never coached anywhere else, but it's just a great place overall," Ebner said. "I've had some coaches who came in before me and definitely have laid down a foundation and a culture. I was lucky enough to become the baseball coach in my third year here. For me to say I did anything would be disrespectful to those that came before and those who are still here now. We haven't had a lot of turnover because we have a lot of guys who believe in what we're doing. In order to have that belief, you have to have buy-in from your administration and community, and we have those things. I see it as a team effort with what we've built here."

Instead, Ebner has shown a desire to continue building upon the strong winning culture he has helped build after leading a young Grandview squad to its first district championship since 2020 while posting a double-digit win total for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. As a result, Ebner was named the 2023 All-Johnson County Football Coach of the Year.

"We started the year off with young kids, and the kids we had returning were playing different positions," Ebner said. "It just came down to the natural maturation of them figuring it out. You have to see it to be able to do it, and you know that's going to take a little bit of time, so you have to pinpoint those times where they show themselves so they understand and know what it takes. You have to keep showing the looks you want them to pick up on in practice, and once they finally get it, then you can start talking about it with them — you can build upon it. Once it finally happens, you're able to put an idea or a vision with what they saw. From what I saw, nobody really got flustered throughout the year. Instead, they were ready to just learn it and figure things out. I thought they continued to get better throughout the year, and I was proud of the rest of the coaches working with the kids so much to get them to where they did. The kids did a great job of adjusting to what we wanted them to do while playing their hearts out, which led to a very successful season."

The team's first two games of the season came against powerful foes in Glen Rose and Malakoff. After taking down the Tigers 35-7 in the season opener, the Zebras stumbled at home by 30 to the eventual state champion Malakoff Tigers. Despite the uneven start, Ebner used the games as an opportunity to build upon future success inside this season.

"We were just able to play two really good teams, and on top of that, they're both well coached and there is a lot of familiarity," Ebner said. "Because of that, you have to change and continue to grow, or they will hit what they think are weak spots, whether it is a player or a scheme. We play really good teams like that because you're able to see where they are going at us on offense and defense, which helps us make adjustments. When you get that early on, you can use it as a foundation for the rest of the season. It's one of those games where anxiety and frustration goes into it, but we know where getting their best shots and that games like these will really help us along the way."

In order to capture the district championship, Ebner knew his Zebras would have to overpower two mighty district foes in West and Whitney. Despite dropping their last two meetings against the West Trojans over the last two seasons, Ebner knew he wouldn't have to spend any energy trying to get his players fired up for their two biggest games of the regular season.

"We've played them a long time, too, so the easier part of the week is that you don't have to sell your team on anything — they know what lies ahead of them," Ebner said. "The captains are fired up and add more motivation throughout the week. As coaches, you always talk about playing every team the same way, but we're not naive to the impact of those district games. I feel like the games early on helped us prepare for those district games, and I feel like our senior class had a little revenge motive on them after having lost to them (West) the last couple of times. It all pulled the younger guys along and greatly affected the outcome of those games — especially against West. It was very back-and-forth, and I thought we put a lot of energy and effort into that first half, so I was worried about our conditioning in the second half. They came out there and played with everything they had — it was really important to the older guys that we were getting everything we could out of everybody on the team."

A combination of Ebner and his staff's leadership coupled with a strong senior class on the fronts of leadership and production propelled Grandview into a deep playoff run that eventually came to an end against the same Malakoff team in the regional semifinals that they faced in Week Two. Despite some variation in schemes and a sharp attention to detail, Ebner's foundation for leading the program is derived from basic principles of what can be controlled.

"We've always lived by the same principles of attitude and effort," Ebner said. "We have a slogan for each year and we have a lot of leadership responsibilities to our captains, who each lead their own group of players. As long as there are guys in the locker room who are also credible leaders, you have a chance to do great things. You don't hear everything that goes on in the locker room, but you've got to have those guys that always have a pulse of what's going on within the team. Our captains did an unbelievable job of taking what we preached and making sure those things took place in the locker room."

The seniors have not only helped maintain Ebner's expectations at the forefront, but they have also added joy and longevity to his coaching career, which is something the long-time Grandview coach is grateful for heading into 2024.

"I feel like they've done things mature above their age their whole careers," Ebner said. "I feel like there's things we've asked them to do that they've never wavered on. Kids don't necessarily agree but do what is asked, which sets a great example for the younger guys. They did everything the coaches asked, they worked their butts off in practice, they did the little things right — getting to the weight room on time, keeping the locker room clean — things like that. In the hardest moments, those older guys never wavered and stayed the course, which set the tone for our football team. It not only helps your offseason, but also your anxiety as a coach going into the offseason. The incoming group has a great foundation to work with."