Welcome to the big leagues, Kickapoo Chiefs.
Kickapoo High School’s football team enters the 2014 season as the newest member of Missouri Class 6, a classification reserved for the largest 32 high schools in the state by student population.
Coach Joel Wells, entering his fourth season at Kickapoo and his 24th season in football, has some experience with Class 6 from his days coaching Liberty High School.
“It’s a big jump. I’ve coached up in that Class 6 league, and it’s the best football in our state,” Wells said. “There is no question about it, so we’re going to have to up the ante a little bit to compete at that level.”
Senior quarterback Brad Jarman also saw Class 6 football up close when his father, Chiefs offensive coordinator Lance Jarman, served as an assistant coach for Wells at Liberty.
“I kind of know what it’s like to play in Class 6,” Jarman said. “It’s way different and we’re ready for the challenge; we know that it’s not going to be easy but we’re ready to take on the big boys.”
Jarman will start at quarterback for Kickapoo against Parkview on Friday night at JFK Stadium. However, Wells plans to use sophomore quarterback Chris Lawson in varsity action this season, saying he isn’t afraid to use a two-quarterback offensive system.
“I’ve done it many times, and we went 11-1 playing two quarterbacks,” Wells said. “We’re going to try to put (Jarman and Lawson) in the best position they can to be successful and if one of them is significantly outplaying the other one, obviously we’ll go that direction.”
Wells expressed confidence that both quarterbacks are capable of leading an offense rooted in the veer, which will keep defenses guessing with different looks and personnel in the lineup. Jarman said he doesn’t mind sharing time with Lawson.
“My role is to be on offense, defense, whatever they need me to do,” Jarman said. “It’s whatever helps the team and gets the team to where we need to be.”
Wells says Lawson has practiced his way into earning a shot at varsity action.
“We want to get Chris significant reps also, and I think he’s going to be a really good one before his career is over,” Wells said.
Junior center Jess Emereson and sophomore guard Ken Coopwood will lead the Chiefs’ offensive line in blocking for senior running back Tony Grant, who carried the ball 92 times for 634 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.
Many of Kickapoo’s starters, Wells says, will be unknown unless you’ve been following the junior varsity squad for the past two years.
“We don’t have a lot of varsity experience on our football team right now, so that’s why we’re looking forward to Friday to get a little under our belt,” Wells said.
The junior class includes returning starters Emerson, Malachi Stout and defensive back Mason Pack.
“We’ve got a talented junior class and we have a talented sophomore class,” Wells said. “Those two groups are really good groups back-to-back and they just need some game time, some playing time, and I think we’ll be a team that improves all year.”
Cross-town contest will be hot
Kickapoo’s football season begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. at JFK Stadium, where the Parkview Vikings will host the Chiefs in an Ozark Conference clash.
Parkview enters the contest with returning starters on the offensive line and at the skill positions, and will look to attack the Chiefs’ defense with a mix of wide receiver Connor Ratcliff and junior running back Anthony Riley getting touches.
“It’s going to start with Conner Ratcliff, trying to get him corralled a little bit, and obviously I know they have a junior running back that’s really good with a good line, so we’ve got our work cut out for us defensively, no question,” Wells said.
Both Jarman and Wells agreed Kickapoo’s offense would need to be efficient and avoid penalties against Parkview. Wells wasn’t happy with the penalties his team incurred in its preseason jamboree, especially on first down.
“We’ll be good at making first-and-10, but we won’t be good at making first-and-15 or 20,” Wells said.
With temperatures expected to reach at least 97 degrees Friday, Wells plans to substitute liberally in effort to beat Parkview with depth.
“You can’t prepare for 100, I don’t care what you do,” Wells said. “We’re going to have to play a bunch of guys Friday just because of the heat. It’s going to be a war of attrition I think.”
After Parkview, Kickapoo’s schedule progresses with Rolla, Joplin and Camdenton before a highly anticipated game against rival Glendale.
Jarman picked Glendale as one of his most anticipated games on the schedule, especially since the hiring of coach Mike Mauk.
“They have a new coach over there in coach Mauk, and we haven’t seen any of Glendale like we have in the past couple of years,” Jarman said. “They normally team-camped with us and have done 7-on-7 — they haven’t done any of that with us, so we don’t know what they’re going to have, but we’re excited to play in that game.”
Coach: Joel Wells, 4th season at Kickapoo, 24th in football (155-88, 24-9 at Kickapoo)
Last year: 11-1
Key players: WR/DB Mason Pack (jr., 6-0, 170); QB/CB Brad Jarman (sr., 6-1, 160); QB Chris Lawson, (so., 6-0, 190); RB Tony Grant (sr., 5-10, 205); RB/CB Malachi Stout (jr., 5-6, 170); K Alec Gathright (sr., 6-2, 165); C Jess Emerson (sr., 5-11, 205); OG Ken Coopwood (so.,5-10, 270)
Aug. 22: at Parkview, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 29: Rolla, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5: at Joplin, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12: Camdenton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 18: at Glendale, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26: Hillcrest 7 p.m.
Oct. 3: at West Plains, 7 p.m.
Oct. 9: Lebanon, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17: Waynesville, 7 p.m.