Kickapoo, Parkview, Hillcrest and Glendale will have to contend with some experienced Ozark Conference foes on the gridiron this season.
Camdenton and West Plains shared the Ozark Conference championship last fall with regular season records of 7-2. West Plains returns several key starters from last year, while the Camdenton Lakers must answer a question: rebuild or reload?
West Plains returns senior quarterback Sam Hall, who passed for 1,877 yards and 16 touchdowns last fall. The Zizzers bring back last year’s No. 2 rusher in John Williams, who gained 659 yards and scored seven touchdowns on 101 carries.
Williams also returns as a starter in the defensive secondary behind leading linebackers Jake Quarti and Chance Davis.
In Camdenton, only four starters return. All-conference offensive lineman Parker Pitts is a team captain authorized to call audibles at the line of scrimmage that trump the calls from the huddle or by the quarterback. Coach Jeff Shore says he trusts Pitts to change the play if he spots trouble in the defense.
Bailey Parish, Louis Leonarduzzi, Cody Roberts, Wyatt Danuser and 6-foot-7, 333-pound Kody Helms are likely to join Pitts as starters for the Camdenton hogs.
“Helms is a mountain of a man,” Shore said.
With Josh Martin and his 2,500 rushing yards lost to graduation, Shore would like to use a more balanced approach to offense in 2015 with new junior quarterback Dyllan Decker.
“Dyllan Decker will be our starter in game one. He’s a 6-2 junior, a really athletic kid,” Shore said.
Decker played wide receiver last fall, but has been a quarterback at lower levels of football.
Joplin aims to contend again under a new coach. Curtis Jasper comes to the Eagles from Class 1 Westran, where Jasper led the Hunstville-based teams to two state finals appearances, five Lewis and Clark Conference championships and four district championships.
Jasper favors a spread offense that utilizes zone blocking, which favors agile linemen, deception and double-team blocking more than raw muscle and power.
Like Joplin, Waynesville has a new coach in Brad Drehle, who moves from Blair Oaks.
All-Ozarks defensive tackle Sam Roberts anchors a Tigers line that lost the remainder of last year’s starters to graduation. Roberts had 78 tackles last year and figures to play both ways for Waynesville and has taken significant reps on the offensive line in practice.
Seth Hedrick moves from wide receiver to quarterback for his senior year at Waynesville. Hedrick led the team with 27 receptions for 441 yards and three touchdowns during longtime coach Rick Vernon’s retirement season.
Lebanon and Rolla hope to rebound from lackluster 2014 seasons.
Lebanon (3-6 in the Ozark Conference in 2014) returns quarterback Luke Winfrey, cornerback/wide receiver Conner Hicks and fullback/linebacker Brandon Horsley among its experienced veterans.
“We are very excited to hit the reset button,” Yellowjackets coach Will Christian said. “Last season was difficult for all, however much can be learned from adversity. I think our program grew through the process and has learned much to move forward and improve.”
Rolla ran a two-quarterback system in a 2014 campaign that saw the Bulldogs finish 2-7 in the conference. Senior Kyle Morris will handle full-time duty under center. Zack Brown moves to wide receiver full-time despite passing for 929 yards and seven touchdowns a season ago.
Rolla’s toughest obstacle will likely be adjusting to playing without graduated running back Andy Satulla, who set school records with 2,392 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns last fall.
Ozark Conference Week 1 schedule
Parkview at Kickapoo
Joplin at Glendale
Hillcrest at Camdenton
Rolla at Lebanon
Waynesville at West Plains
2014 Ozark Conference football standings
West Plains 8-3 (7-2)
Camdenton 8-3 (7-2)
Kickapoo 7-4 (6-3)
Joplin 6-4 (6-3)
Parkview 7-5 (5-4)
Waynesville 5-5 (5-4)
Lebanon 3-7 (3-6)
Glendale 2-8 (2-7)
Hillcrest 2-8 (2-7)
Rolla 3-8 (2-7)