OZARK – The trials and tribulations of youth are behind the Ozark football Tigers, or at least their coach hopes.
After a 5-6 campaign in 2013 concluded with a loss to Kickapoo in the playoffs, Ozark carried lessons from a tough year on the gridiron into the offseason.
Coach Mark Bliss’ team walked into Tiger Stadium for a preseason set of jamboree scrimmages last Friday night with confidence. The offense marched methodically on the ground against Hillcrest. It took Ozark eight plays to cap a 40-yard drive with a touchdown.
“This time last year we were playing a ton of kids with no experience at all, where this year it’s the opposite, so it’s amazing what one year can do for you,” Bliss said.
Ozark used four different ball carriers from its single-wing wildcat offense to score on the Hornets. Senior quarterback Micah Tinsman ended the drive with a two-yard touchdown, running right up the gut of the defense. Tinsman is one of several seniors Bliss expects to have good 2014 campaigns.
Seniors Stephen Stewart and Hunter Stamper and junior Jeff Peterson all ran for solid gains over the course of the jamboree. Senior Caleb Essick, who amassed more than 2,000 yards of total offense last season, didn’t play much in the scrimmages, but will be critical for Ozark this season.
Bliss was also happy with Ozark’s defensive play against Central, Hillcrest and Rogersville.
“We played a ton of kids tonight,” Bliss said after the jamboree. “Our kids swarm to the ball better in comparison to this time last year. I think our kids are a little bit more confident in the system.”
Second team all-state linebacker Riley Herrold has graduated, but Bliss is hopeful a new crop of defenders will fill his shoes.
Tinsman was a defensive force from the middle linebacker spot in the jamboree. He made a tackle for loss and recovered a fumble against Hillcrest and helped create the pressure that led to three tackles for loss against Central.
The only down spots for Tinsman in the scrimmages were a pair of interceptions, one against Hillcrest and one against Central — a try for a touchdown pass where he threw behind his intended receiver and into the waiting hands of Bulldogs defensive back Ian Holyfield.
Bliss says some of Tinsman’s interceptions can be attributed to the blockers in front of him.
“Both times he was getting hit in the mouth when he threw them, so it was a protection thing that we’ve got to shore up,” Bliss said.
Ozark lost senior outside linebacker Wyatt Porter to injury midway through the jamboree, but Bliss expects Porter to recover.
Bliss has high hopes for touted junior safety Quinton Wingert, who drew some applause for a big hit on a Central receiver.
Ozark opens its season Friday night at Bolivar. The Liberators posted a 12-1 record en route to the Class 4 state quarterfinals last season.
“They’ve got great tradition,” Bliss said of Bolivar. “We’ve definitely got our hands full and are definitely going to have to come ready to play.”
Aug. 22 — at Bolivar
Aug. 29 — St. Clair
Sept. 5 — at Republic
Sept. 12 — Carthage
Sept. 19 — at Willard
Sept. 26 — Branson
Oct. 3 — Nixa
Oct. 10 — at Webb City
Oct. 17 — Neosho