NIXA – Their opening test will be pressure-packed, but the Nixa Eagles are excited for a football game with Helias Catholic High School to be televised on ESPNU.
Nixa, ranked No. 4 in the Missouri Class 5 preseason writers’ poll, will be on the road at Jefferson City for a game originally set to be televised at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The game time has been moved from Saturday to Sunday, and the game’s status as an ESPNU nationally-televised game is uncertain.
Nixa Public Schools Director of Communications Zac Rantz announced Wednesday that the game time would move from 3:30 p.m. Sunday to 7 p.m. Saturday “due to a heat advisory in Jefferson City, Mo. and safety concerns for athletes.”
Helias tight end Hale Hentges is the No. 2-rated tight end in the country according to ESPN, and earlier this year committed to Alabama, where he will play H-back. Hentges caught 61 passes for 940 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior last season.
Nixa coach Richard Rehagen found out in late June that his team would have the chance to play in a nationally-televised game.
“I know our kids are excited about it and a lot of people in our school are excited about it,” Rehagen said.
Senior quarterback Dawson Mills stands poised to lead Nixa’s offense into what should be a November playoff atmosphere in the heat of August. Mills says the game at Helias is a big topic of discussion in the high school halls.
“It’s exciting,” Mills said. “It’s nothing that I’ve experienced. It’s something that a lot of people haven’t experienced.”
Nixa will be without its most touted football recruit against Helias. Rehagen confirmed Tuesday that Alec Murphy, a senior running back who has committed to Mississippi State, will sit out the opening game due to suspension for a non-football issue.
Murphy, 18, last month paid a $100 fine in Nixa Municipal Court after being accused of shoplifting a pair of shoes from a local Walmart, according to a police incident report.
Senior middle linebacker Jacob Watkins will lead a Nixa defense that he says will need to forget about the fans and dial in on the Crusaders, who are ranked No. 2 in the Class 4 preseason poll.
“I think my team is really going to have to get their head on straight and not focus on the crowd,” Watkins said.
Mills says the Nixa coaching staff held several discussions about the atmosphere players will walk into on Saturday.
“They know we have to be ready for that because you don’t want to get embarrassed on national television,” Mills said.
Rehagen says Nixa graduated a talented group of seniors, but new personnel won’t necessarily mean new schemes on offense.
“We want to be a running team and then throw it when we want to,” Rehagen said.
Murphy will return to the backfield with his mindset on winning every game on the schedule. He also has the personal goal of eclipsing 4,000 career rushing yards. He rushed for 1,793 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior, but Murphy says the Nixa offense is balanced.
“We are known for running the ball but, at the same time, we do have some deadly receivers out there who can catch — this year especially,” Murphy said.
Murphy says players who expect their first dose of varsity playing time in 2014 will be ready to answer the call.
“Going into the season we knew that we had a pretty new offense and a fairly new defense,” Murphy said. “We’re just trying to know our assignments and get everything running like a well-oiled machine, so that when it becomes game time out in front of everybody we’re Nixa Eagles.”
Fans can expect new standouts to emerge on the offensive line, where several players fought for playing time during last Friday’s jamboree at Glendale High School. Caleb Kerr, Nicholas Brand, Austin Heatherly, Tyler Jackson, Mason Harvill, Collin Snyder and several other hopefuls could factor in on a line to be determined before Sunday’s opener.
“Philosophy-wise, really we want as many one-way guys as we can, but it doesn’t always happen that way,” Rehagen said.
Central Ozark Conference grind
Ask the Eagles who they want to play against the most, and two cities come up every time: Webb City and Ozark.
“Ozark, Webb City — everybody in our conference,” Rehagen said. “You know you’re going to get tested there, it’s a good conference.”
Nixa’s coaches will keep an eye on Parkview, Glendale and Central, three teams that aren’t in the COC but are in the Eagles’ district and are possible playoff opponents.
But before Nixa can try to avenge 2013 losses to Webb City and Ozark, it meets two unfamiliar opponents in Helias Catholic and Francis Howell.
Rehagen waited for film from Helias’ jamboree before thoroughly planning a scheme for Sunday’s game.
“I don’t know exactly what they’re doing and things like that, but know that they have a good football team and we’re going to have to play good football,” Rehagen said.
Coach: Richard Rehagen, seventh season
Last year: 9-2
Key players: K/P/OLB Logan Tyler (jr., 6-0, 190); QB Dawson Mills (sr., 6-2, 190); SS Bryce Rohr (sr., 5-11 180); FS Jourden Riley (sr., 5-9, 160); RB Alec Murphy (sr., 6-1, 222); ILB Jacob Watkins (sr., 6-2, 230); OL/DL Nicholas Brand (sr., 6-0, 215); OL/DL Austin Heatherly (jr., 5-10, 215); OL/DL Mason Harvill (jr., 5-11, 240); OL/DL Collin Snider (jr., 6-0, 190); OL/DL Caleb Kerr (sr., 6-1, 235).
Aug. 23: at Helias (Jefferson City), 7 p.m.
Aug. 29: Francis Howell, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5: Branson, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12: Willard, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19: at Webb City, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26: Neosho, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3: at Ozark, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10: Carthage, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17: at Republic, 7 p.m.