1. FORT OSAGE
The Indians fell one win short of bringing home the school's first Missouri Class 5 state championship last season, and they are armed with the personnel to give it another go. All five offensive linemen return, as does running back Ezra Vaoifi, which should allow sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson to settle into the position. The defense posted seven shutouts a year ago, and coach Ryan Schartz says he doesn't expect a drop off from that group this fall.
The Falcons have won 23 games over the last two seasons, and there's little reason to predict they might slow down. Yes, quarterback Trent Hosick has graduated and is now with the Missouri football program, but two-thirds of Staley's starters have returned. On the scene again are all four defensive linemen, led by Bailey Sutko. The new quarterback is former receiver Jordan Robben with brothers Kahluna and Faizol Bouchard serving as the backfield playmakers.
The conference takes a significant drop in powerhouses after the top two, but Raytown's improvement over the last two seasons deserves notice. The Bluejays have won five games in back-to-back seasons after having not reached that mark for the previous 23 years. Junior Joe Straws is set to lead the offense at quarterback again with fellow juniors Markel Robinson and Josh Drake handling the bulk of the carries in the pro-style offense.
4. NORTH KANSAS CITY
Another team on the rise, North Kansas City won four of its first five games last season, and that was achieved after totaling only two victories in 2011. Coach Leon Douglas says the Hornets' confidence is at an all-time high, despite having lost talented runner Marcus Jones. The defensive line appears poised to be the strength of the team with Jordan Williams and Mohamed Jamal occupying two of the four positions.
5. WILLIAM CHRISMAN
When the Bears halted their 17-game losing streak in midseason last year, they managed to ignite a burst of three victories in four games. Now, coach John Crutcher believes that surge has set the tone for the 2013 campaign. If Chrisman is to take another step forward, look for a physical offensive line to lead the way. Seniors Alex Ball and Brett Wolf will be counted on to make plays for the offense and also be leaders on defense.
First-year coach Todd Vaughn is putting in a spread offense, which appears to be a good fit for a talented group of wide receivers that includes junior Daren Johnson and senior Nathan Dotson. Johnson, however, is has been locked in a battle with senior Tucker Perkins for the quarterback job. Vaughn expects the learning curve to be steep in the early going, particularly for an undersized defense.
7. OAK PARK
Although the Northmen ended a 22-game losing streak last season, second-year coach Chris Holt said the program still has a long way to go to reach consistency. Only four starters return on both offense and defense. Linebacker Drew Abbott is the top name to watch on defense, and senior quarterback Malquan Scott leads the wing-T offense.
| Sam McDowell, firstname.lastname@example.org