ROGERSVILLE – The memory isn’t going away anytime soon. And how could it? A state championship team played on this field in 2011. And yet …
“Towards the end of last season, we really didn’t have very many spectators or students come to our games. That’s something that really motivates you,” Rogersville senior lineman Chad Prine said. “One thing that’s in all our minds is to turn the program around and believe — get everybody to believe in us and believe in each other.”
Or, as senior Collin Lawson explained it, the Wildcats need to be a “brotherhood.”
That word isn’t tossed around lightly. As the curtain rises on Rogersville football, participation numbers are down — to 44 players, from sophomores to seniors — and have led to a challenging reality.
That is, many Wildcats will play ironman football: Go play offense and, by the way, hustle out to play defense.
“I’m really pleased with the guys we do have out,” coach Doug Smith said. “We can put a good unit out there with the numbers. But, like any coach, you want more out.”
Since winning the Class 3 state championship and finishing 14-1, the Wildcats are a combined 8-13 the past two seasons. The 13 losses are one shy of what Smith endured in his first five seasons.
Rogersville’s Mighty Mites program has been a feeder system for the middle school and high school teams in recent years, but Smith figures the low turnout this year is the natural cycle of a small town. Plus, players have other sports options these days.
For instance, last year’s starting quarterback, Jacob Schlesener, has his attention on baseball.
A left-handed pitcher, he has verbally committed to play for the University of Arkansas and recently played in the California-based Area Code Games, which attracts scouts from all 30 Major League Baseball teams.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, they have two things going for them: team chemistry, and the offseason addition of a new offensive coordinator in Chris Allison. He was Ozark High School’s coach for 10 years, resigning after the 2010 season.
Many of the 44 players advanced together from youth football, Prine said.
“We’ve kind of got a brotherhood together,” Lawson said.
“I think we all have a common understanding that, as a team, you’re family. And when you’re family, you’ve got each other’s backs,” Prine said. “When it comes down to the fourth quarter and you’re down, you’ve got to know you’re relying on the guy next to you.”
The offense will be influenced by Chris Allison, whose Ozark teams won four Central Ozark Conference championships, five district championships and reached a state semifinal in 2007.
“Having another head coach on your staff that you can bounce ideas off is a real plus,” Smith said. “I’m constantly trying to add something new to give us an advantage. So anything that can give a chance to win, I’m all for.”
Prine is among three returning starters on the offensive line.
The other two are tackle Weston Humble and center Gunnar Allison, the son of the former Ozark coach.
Four quarterbacks are in the mix, including Michael Mast and Spencer Water, as Rogersville turns to an option offense with double tight-end sets.
“They’re picking it up. Linemen don’t have to hold blocks quite as long as when you’re in the I,” Smith said.
Said Lawson, “Most of our offensive starters also start on defense. We’ve been working really hard this summer (on conditioning).”
Ben Vinyard, a basketball player, joined the team last year and is one of the tight ends. He, too, wants the program to enjoy better days, or glory days.
“I noticed we could be a winning team,” Vinyard said. “If I could help that, I wanted to be a part of it.”
Coach: Doug Smith, seventh season (58-27)
Last year: 3-7, 3-3 Central Ozark Conference
Key players: QB/FS Michael Mast (so., 5-11, 155); QB Spencer Wester (so., 6-4, 195); T Weston Humble (jr., 6-0, 210); G/DE Gunnar Allison (jr., 6-1, 235), OL/DL Chad Prine (sr., 6-2, 270); OL/DL Garrett Riegle (jr., 5-11, 155), OL Terry Green (sr., 6-0, 210); WR/CB Donovan Chandler (sr., 6-0, 160); WR Dylan Cook ((sr., 6-0, 175); RB/LB Collin Lawson (sr., 6-2, 225); RB/LB Luke Francaviglia (sr., 6-0, 180); RB/LB Jacob Short (jr., 5-9, 170); RB/LB Jaytin Gutierrez (so., 5-9, 165); RB/LB Gabe Cowan (sr., 5-7, 145); DE Reece Estes (so., 6-1, 190); WR/LB Brett Denney (jr., 6-0, 205); TE/OLB Ben Vinyard (sr., 6-3, 185); CB Jordan Fitzpatrick (so., 5-11, 175); WR/DB Bailey Rettman (jr., 5-10, 160); RB-DB Dillon Race (jr., 5-9, 165)
Aug. 22: at Mtn. Grove
Aug. 29: vs. Neosho
Sept. 5: vs. Catholic
Sept. 12: at Marshfield
Sept. 19: vs. Reeds Spring
Sept. 26: at Central
Oct. 3: vs. Bolivar
Oct. 10: at Hollister
Oct. 17: at Buffalo