While the Strafford Indians are the favorite to win their third consecutive Mid-Lakes Conference championship, several teams will do their best to stand in the way, including the Indians’ chief rival, Fair Grove.
A new coach and a new style of play have the Fair Grove Eagles believing the upcoming season can bring a turnaround from last year’s 2-8 record.
“We’re working as a team a lot better than we did last year,” junior linebacker/wide receiver Joe Caudle said. “We’re high-paced and energized for this year.”
Former coach Jason O’Neal left his coaching position over the summer to become the new assistant superintendent at Rogersville. His replacement, Bill Voorhis, spent three years in the lead position at Marionville before serving as the special teams coordinator at Glendale last fall.
Voorhis has implemented a spread offense in Fair Grove. That’s new to the program.
“We’ve got more guys with speed than we know what to do with right now,” Voorhis said. “I like the fact that the guys have bought in. They’re having fun at practice. They’re enjoying it, so I’m enjoying it.”
With only five seniors on the roster, Fair Grove will be young at virtually every position, including quarterback, where sophomore Brayden Lumley will start.
Seniors Wyle Potter and Austin Squires are both joining the offensive line after playing skill positions last year. Senior Dylan Lucas and sophomore Austin Fodge will handle the running back duties, while senior Rashawn Moore and juniors Steven Slater and Caudle will start at receiver.
“We’ve been working on getting tougher and hitting harder,” said Potter, labeled by Voorhis as the team’s hardest worker. “No more sissy-footin’ around.”
Ash Grove: Last year was a spectacular one for the Pirates, who won 10 games and fell in the district title game to eventual state champion Lamar. The Pirates averaged nearly 40 points per game and set school records for total yards (4,705) and points scored (467).
With star running back Logan Allred now at Evangel, senior Spencer Rasmussen will take over and run behind an offensive line that returns four starters.
Ash Grove’s defense will be led by Rasmussen, the reigning Mid-Lakes Defensive Player of the Year, and defensive end Elijah Brown and linebacker Caleb Anderson, both first team all-conference selections last year.
“Right now, our front seven defensively is our strength,” said Doug Martin, entering his 12th year at the school. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of experience and good depth on defense.”
Stockton: With 15 returning starters from last year’s four-win team, the Tigers are a safe bet to be a darkhorse in the Mid-Lakes this season.
Senior tailback Nathan Kerr, who ran his way to nine touchdowns and 779 yards last fall, and second-year quarterback Garret Burns lead an offense that will be strengthened by the presence of four returning starters up front: Myles Rutledge, Reece Rutledge, Grant Kenny, and Hank Ryan.
“We’ve got a lot of people back who have a lot of experience,” third-year coach Shad Edwards said. “We’re way ahead of where we were last year. Things are really coming together.”
Skyline: Injuries have clouded early season practices for Skyline, which is trying to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish in the Mid-Lakes Conference.
“We’ve had the injury bug a little bit, and it has affected our offensive and defensive lines,” said coach Brandon Shelby, who is entering his seventh leading the team. “It may take us a few games to get back to full strength. One kid has mono … we’ve had a couple shoulder and knee injuries. Up front, we’re pretty banged up right now.”
With troubles on the line, the Tigers will lean on the play of their skill-position players. On offense, quarterback Dylan Mountain returns for his junior year after passing for 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns and running for 850 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. Receiver Drew Flagg hauled in 12 touchdowns last season.
Marionville: The Comets may have lost 15 starters from last year’s district championship team, but don’t count them out just yet.
All-state quarterback/linebacker Jacob LaSalle returns for his junior season after accounting for more than 3,000 total yards and 45 touchdowns as a sophomore. He’ll be joined by a pair of all-conference selections from last year in running back/linebacker Lathan Kerans and senior receiver/cornerback Chase Stanton.
“Our defense will be a lot faster than last year,” said second-year coach Jamie LaSalle. “That looks to be our strength right now.”
Pleasant Hope: Recent history may not show it, but the Pleasant Hope Pirates are making strides.
“We don’t have the numbers that everybody else has, but the kids that we do have are working hard and getting after it,” said coach Troy Rayburn, whose team finished 1-9 last year.
“We’re pretty excited for the start of this football season.”
On offense, senior receiver Justin Rotramel returns after catching 20 passes for 225 yards and two scores last season. Defensively, the Pirates will be led by junior linebacker Camron Hanson, who was second on the team with 55 tackles in 2013.
Aug. 22: Pleasant Hope at Sherwood; El Dorado Springs at Stockton; Miller at Marionville; Catholic at Strafford; Cabool at Ash Grove; Buffalo at Fair Grove
Aug. 29: Buffalo at Pleasant Hope; Stockton at Ash Grove; Marionville at Willow Springs; Strafford at Thayer; Skyline at Fair Grove
Sept. 5: Pleasant Hope at Fair Grove; Stockton at Skyline; Strafford at Marionville; El Dorado Springs at Ash Grove
Sept. 12: Pleasant Hope at Skyline; Stockton at Strafford; Marionville at Ash Grove; Fair Grove at Catholic
Sept. 19: Strafford at Pleasant Hope; Fair Grove at Stockton; Wyandotte (Okla.) at Marionville; Ash Grove at St. James
Sept. 26: Marionville at Pleasant Hope; Jasper at Stockton; Strafford at Fair Grove; Ash Grove at Skyline
Oct. 3: Ash Grove at Pleasant Hope; Stockton at Butler; Fair Grove at Marionville; Skyline at Strafford
Oct. 10: Pleasant Hope at Stockton; Skyline at Marionville; Strafford at El Dorado Springs; Fair Grove at Ash Grove
Oct. 17: Osceola at Pleasant Hope; Marionville at Stockton; Strafford at Ash Grove; Fair Grove at Hollister
Ash Grove Pirates
Coach: Doug Martin, 12th season
Last year: 10-2, lost in district championship
Key returners: RB/LB Spencer Rasmussen (sr., 6-1, 220), OT/DE Elijah Brown (6-4, 230), WR/LB Caleb Anderson (sr., 5-11, 185), OT/DE Dakota Watson (sr., 6-4, 210), OG/LB Jack Branham (sr., 5-10, 235), OC/NG JJ Wise (sr., 6-0, 200), QB/DB Jackson Bagley (jr., 5-10, 160), WR/DB Parker Soper (so., 5-8, 145), RB/DB Riley Benton (so., 5-10, 155), TE/LB Josh Pipken (so., 5-11, 200), WR/DB Ely Byerly (so., 5-10, 160), RB/DB Blake Hurst (jr., 5-9, 140), WR/DB Cooper Goodsell (jr., 5-11, 150)
Fair Grove Eagles
Coach: Bill Voorhis, first season
Last year: 2-8, lost in districts
Key returners: OL/DL Grant Madziarz (jr., 6-3, 220), OL/LB Austin Squires (sr. 6-0), OL/LB Nate Mallard (jr., 6-3, 253), OL/DL Chad Garoutte (jr., 6-4, 230), TE/DL Zech Miles (sr., 6-2, 265), DL Wyle Potter (sr., 5-9, 190), RB/DB Dylan Lucas (sr., 5-9, 155), WR/LB Joe Caudle (jr., 6-1, 175), RB/LB Rashawn Moore (sr., 5-9, 180), QB/DB Brayden Lumley (so., 5-11, 185), RB/LB Austin Fodge (so., 5-11, 175), WR/DB Steven Slater (jr., 5-10, 165)
Coach: Jamie LaSalle, second season
Last year: 10-3, lost in the state playoffs
Key returners: QB/LB Jacob LaSalle (jr., 6-0, 200), RB/LB Lathan Kerans (jr., 6-1, 205), OL/DL Waylon Davis (jr., 6-1, 210), WR/CB Chase Stanton (sr., 5-7, 145), C/DE Sam Dunnaway (sr., 5-10, 185), OL/DL Daniel Morris (sr., 6-3, 285), OL/DL Tristan Elliott (sr., 6-3, 245), RB/S Sean Bochman (jr., 5-9, 170), RB/LB Alex Weathermon (sr., 5-7, 155), RB/S Tanner Wright (sr., 5-10, 170), OL/LB Bryce Smith (jr., 5-10, 185), C/DL Ryan Smith (jr., 5-9, 165), OL/DL Matthew Weathermon (so., 5-9, 155), TE/DE Rane Bateman (jr., 6-4, 170), QB/CB Cole Brown (so., 5-3, 105), OL/DL Joseph Douez (jr., 5-10, 170), OL/DL Tyler Roper (so., 6-0, 245)
Pleasant Hope Pirates
Coach: Troy Rayburn, second season
Last year: 1-9, lost in districts
Key returners: QB Wade Brazeal (sr., 5-8, 160), OL Jace Shirk (jr., 5-11, 180), WR Justin Rotramel (sr., 5-10, 165), LB Camron Hanson (jr., 5-11, 170), DB Walker Fisher (jr., 5-11, 170)
Coach: Brandon Shelby, seventh season
Last year: 7-4, lost in district semis
Key returners: OL/LB Kade Kelley (sr., 6-0, 235), WR/LB Drew Flagg (sr., 5-10, 200), OL/DL Frank Benanti (sr., 5-10, 200), OL/DL Caleb Hughes (sr., 6-1, 295), QB/DB Dylan Mountain (jr., 6-1, 190), RB/OLB Chipper Berry (jr., 5-9, 170), WR/OLB Tyler Swearingin (jr., 5-10, 185), WR Madison Davis (jr., 6-3, 175), WR/DB Speed Ford (jr., 5-9, 165), OL/DL Eli Rogers (sr., 5-7, 210), OL/OLB Freddy Reiss (jr., 6-0, 175), OL/LB Dalton Harer (jr., 6-0, 180), WR/DB Josh Dansby (jr., 6-2, 170), OL/LB Tanner Kennedy (sr., 5-9, 170), WR/DB Caleb McGrady (jr., 5-8, 155), WR/OLB Kyler Conly (jr., 5-11, 165)
Coach: Shad Edwards, third season
Last year: 4-6, lost in districts
Key returners: RB/LB Nathan Kerr (sr., 5-8, 180), OL/DL Myles Rutledge (sr., 5-11, 260), TE/LB Jake Brown (sr., 6-0, 200), RC/OLB Garrett Collins (sr., 6-0, 180), DL Ryan Angle Graves (sr., 6-0, 185), OL/DL Reece Rutledge (sr., 6-2, 210), RC/DB Alex Rhodes (jr., 5-11, 145), RB/DB Cameron Ramsey (jr., 6-0, 170), QB/DB Garret Burns (jr., 6-1, 180), OL/DL Grant Kenney (jr., 6-5, 250), OL/DL Hank Ryan (jr., 6-0, 230), RB/LB Isaac Clayton (jr., 6-1, 175), RC/DB Zakk Burns (jr., 6-1, 170), TE/LB Kyle Freeze (jr., 6-1, 185), RB/LB Curtis DeBoeuf (jr., 6-0, 210), OL/DL Daymond Beckett (so., 6-0, 220), RB/DB Mason Brown (so., 5-9, 155), RC/DB Braxton Pitcher (jr., 5-10, 160)