One of the Ozarks’ high school football coaching veterans feels re-energized by a change of scenery.
Steve Hancock, at Branson the last 28 seasons with 197 victories and 12 playoff berths to show for it, calls his first preseason at Catholic High School “different, but kind of exciting.”
“It’s nice to go back and start from the beginning of something again,” Hancock added of his surprising move last spring from one spotlight job to another.
The fired-up feeling seems to be mutual among his players.
“Coach Hancock is old-school, but he understands exactly what we need,” said senior running back Ben Morris. “It’s quite a bit different from last year, but the adjustments are going great.”
Added senior all-state kicker Brett Garner: “The biggest difference is the mood and overall team morale. Everyone’s excited because it’s a new opportunity.”
Hancock inherits a team that went 5-6 last season and saw 19-year head coach Bobby Cornelison retire. There’s still some sorting out to do before Friday’s season opener at Strafford, especially when it comes to how much depth he has, but Hancock said the players are buying into his way of doing things.
Strong-armed senior quarterback Jack Jones is a good centerpiece, along with two-way linemen Scott Wichmer and Tierman Hamtil.
“The hard part is we’re starting from ground zero, with a new system and new terminology,” Hancock said. “There’s definitely brain overload. But they’re willing to be coached and do anything and everything we’ve asked. When that happens, you have a chance for success.
“Our biggest concern right now is depth. That’s probably the concern of most smaller schools. We only have 330 kids in the school and right now of the 53 kids we have out, 22 are freshmen. That’s the largest turnout of freshmen in school history, I’m told.”
That depth took a hit earlier in the preseason when junior tight end Jacob Mowery was lost with a torn ACL in a knee — one year after suffering the same season-ending injury in his other knee.
“You just really feel for the kid,” said Hancock.
That means one less passing target for Jones, a 6-1, 210-pound senior who threw for 1,249 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
“He’s got all the physical tools to be one of those quarterbacks that can do whatever you want him to do,” Hancock said. “He can run and pass. He’s strong and physical. He makes you flexible on offense.”
Hancock traditionally has featured a tailback carrying the ball 25-30 times a game, if needed. He said Morris could fill that role, saying the 175-pounder “runs hard, he’s smart, sees things and set things up” with his running style.
Defensively, the Fightin’ Irish are young and, aside from inexperience, Hancock worries about fatigue as so many players will also be starters on offense.
“I think our defensive line will come around as the year goes on,” he said.
A nice weapon in close games could be Garner, who handles both punting and placekicking. He made 3 of 4 field goals with a long of 43 last season and 36 of 38 extra points. Twenty-one of his kickoffs went for touchbacks.
There are enough questions to make his debut season a mystery, but Hancock is eager to get things going and see where life, post-Branson, goes.
“I miss the kids and the coaches at Branson, but it’s been a good transition here,” Hancock said.
Catholic Fightin’ Irish
Coach: Steve Hancock,
Last year: 5-6
Key players: QB Jack Jones, sr. (6-1, 210); WR-DB Jacob Neff jr. (6-1, 155); K Brett Garner sr. (5-9, 175); DB-WR Will Wester sr. (6-3, 165); FB-LB Mason Robertson jr. (6-0, 190); FB-LB Noah Boggs sr. (5-8, 185); OL-DL Scott Wichmer jr. (6-5, 235); OL-DL Tierman Hamtil so. (6-4, 305).
Aug. 22 — at Strafford
Aug. 29 — MV-BT Liberty
Sept. 5 — at Rogersville
Sept. 12 — Fair Grove
Sept. 19 — Hollister
Sept. 26 — Reeds Spring
Oct. 3 — at Buffalo
Oct. 10 — at Bolivar
Oct. 17 — Marshfield