Here are previews of non-Suburban Conference Northland-area high school football teams.
ST. PIUS X
With nine starters returning on defense and eight on offense, St. Pius X started the first day of practice in ready-to-play mode.
“We actually were able to hit the ground running, not too much review,” Pius football coach Rick Byers said.
The eagerness to do well goes beyond just having a significant number of returners. For the first time in school history, the Warriors participated in a team camp at Benedictine College during the summer.
The Warriors are determined to improve on last season’s record. St. Pius has a proud football tradition with several deep playoff runs in previous years.
“We want to get back in the hunt,” Byers said. “We did finish 2-8 and that was a little uncommon for us. We want to get off to a good start and have a great start. They want to bring back that Pius reputation a little bit.”
Byers said they have improved at every position with the exception of one wide receiver spot, which was held by Sam Martino, who was all-state last season. Martino’s younger brother, senior Nick Martino will be one wide receiver looking to fill those shoes.
Tommy Hoambrecker is expected to start at quarterback.
“He was a little injured last year, but he was a great quarterback,” Byers said. “He is doing some good things for us.”
Other players to watch for Pius are Joe Witherow, wide receiver/defensive back, back-up quarterback; Ryan Vutich, running back and return specialist; and Isaac Allen, offensive and defensive lineman.
In addition, junior John Lillig, a middle linebacker, will be one of team captains, offensive line. Senior Bobby McCoy will be counted on to fill many roles, from cornerback to wide receiver and a little bit at fullback.
Byers is also looking for good things to come from senior tight end Matt Braman and senior offensive and defensive lineman David Kelliher.
The slate is clean and that is perfect for first-year coach Mark Faubion and his coaching staff to mold a hard-nosed, tough football team that is looking to run the ball more than in the past.
Only three returning starters on offense and three returning starters on defense greeted Faubion for the 2016 season. For the most part, it is new group of players ready to step in and improve upon last year’s 2-8 record.
“I don’t want our coaches or anybody to talk about anything in the past,” Faubion said. “We are very young, which means a lot of these guys haven’t been playing. Their legacy is what they are going to leave on the field.”
Some of the players Excelsior Springs will count on are quarterback Peyton Soria, slot receivers Dakota Rimmer and Landon Seeley and fullback/linebacker Mason Moreland.
“We started in the summertime and the first thing I wanted to establish was our mentality where we can always count on kids giving a great effort,” Faubion said. “We want to be an all-around well-disciplined team.
“The biggest thing I have noticed is they have bought into how we have changed both offensively and defensively and going full force with that.”
Faubion brings a wealth of experience to Excelsior Springs. He has been an assistant coach at William Jewell and Liberty High School and most recently a head coach at Central High School.
For a football program to achieve sustained success over a period of time, it needs a bridge from one year to the next. Smithville has that player in senior linebacker Jake Boyd.
Boyd was the underclassman on some highly successful Smithville teams in the last three years. He saw and participated in many of Warriors wins. Last year’s team went 8-3, including a first-round playoff victory for first-year coach Jason Ambroson.
The 2016 squad represents a new beginning for Smithville. The Warriors will have 11 new starters on offense and nine new starters on defense. The only other return starting for Smithville is junior linebacker Jacob Perez.
“The strength of our team and the numbers in our program are our freshman and sophomore classes,” Ambroson said. “We have to develop kids from square one, physically, mentally and changing things up from what they were used to do.”
For a good example of how to navigate a football season, the young Warriors only need to look to Boyd and the way he carries himself on and off the football field.
“He was a first-team all-state linebacker last year,” Ambroson said. “He is probably one of the best football players I have ever coached in my 25 years, both as a college coach and high school coach. He does a great job. He is great student and a great young man. He does things right. He is a fantastic linebacker. He is an inclusive guy.”
Inclusiveness and learning how to adapt to new coaches and a new system were the traits that last year’s seniors. Ambroson is counting on it to carry over to this year.
“A lot of times when you have a group that has had success, they kind of do things their own way,” Ambroson said. “Our seniors last year embraced me, the new coaches on the staff and just the whole different philosophy of what we were trying to do. Those kids took ownership in it.
“That is what the younger kids saw. The way they bought into what we were doing and it solidified in the younger kids the idea of team and cooperation and everybody on the same page.”
A week into the first week of practice, Lawson coach Todd Dunn talked to his players about the importance of putting in hard work during the offseason.
He was proud of the fact that the Cardinals were coming off one of their better summers as far as participation in the weight room and the positive attitude the players brought with them.
It is that type of work that not only helps the Lawson players get bigger, stronger and faster to prevent injuries, it is an investment on the season.
“If you don’t invest anything, the wins don’t taste quite as good and the losses don’t even hurt,” Dunn said. “If you invest a bunch of time, a bunch of sweat then you are a lot less likely to quit when things are tough. If you work your tail off, it is hard to quit when you put all that effort in.”
Lawson has 15 seniors returning who are determined to improve on last year’s 6-4 record.
Lawson returns eight starters on offense and eight starters on defense. Many of the starters played both ways.
The Cardinals figure to be strong at quarterback behind Cody Glenn. Last year he set the school’s single-season passing record for yardage and touchdowns.
“Your quarterback has to be one of your leaders,” Dunn said. “He is one of those guys we are counting on leading us. We feel he is going to be better this year even though he had a stellar season last year.”
Two-way starters that Lawson will be counting on are Lane Maddux, Corbin Meinke, Tyler Dunn, Adrean Eskew, Colton Williams and Max Ross.
Only twice last season Orrick finished within 14 points of its opponent. The Bearcats want to improve in that area.
“We haven’t won a game in two years,” coach David Rash said. “Our biggest goal right now is to stay competitive throughout the whole game, which is something we have struggled in the past. We want to be in the game in the fourth quarter. That is our goal each week.”
A couple of elements are working in the Bearcats’ favor to be more competitive. For one, this is the third year for Rash at Orrick. The other thing is the Bearcats worked hard this summer to improve.
“And it is kind of showing on the field now,” Rash said.
Orrick will have 10 returning starters, including junior quarterback Grant Stubbeman. Another starter back is senior fullback/linebacker Alex Stockton.
Two other starters to watch are offensive and defensive lineman Collin Inks and tailback Seth Mcafee.
“They know what to expect out of us,” Rash said. “They know the things we want them to do on a daily basis whether it is the weight room or practice. So it is nice to see them buy into the program. Hopefully, that will pay off as the season goes on.”
For three seasons, Nick Miller has watched from the sidelines as a quarterback-in-waiting for West Platte. Miller finally gets his turn in his senior season and he has a couple of advantages working in his favor.
A year ago, he watched Brett Shepardson lead the Blue Jays to three playoff victories before West Platte fell to Penney 33-27 in the Missouri Class 1 quarterfinals.
The second thing that should help Miller is an experienced group of linemen. One of the key offensive and defensive lineman is Cameron Johnson.
“We have a good group of upperclassmen on the offensive and defensive line,” West Platte coach Nate Danneman said. “Anytime you have that coming back, it is going to help your program.
“Nick Miller has some big shoes to fill replacing Brett Shepardson. Nick has been in the system for three years. He knows it. He is like another coach on the field.”
Miller will also get help from senior wide receiver Alec Carson, who also plays defensive back.
“We have some good young talent at wide receiver and running back spot,” Danneman said. “They are young so it is going to take some time to fit the mold that we need.”
As good as the line was for Richmond a year ago, it should be even better this year with the return of senior Jaeger Plymell.
In 2015, Plymell entered the season coming off a sophomore year in which he was a unanimous all-conference selection. Unfortunately, he broke his leg in the first game last season.
“Having him back will be a big plus for us,” said Richmond coach Rob Bowers.
Joining Plymell on the line will be Diaz Elliott and Cooper Summers. An experienced line should help the Spartans duplicate or exceed last year’s accomplishments of winning two playoff games and finishing 7-5 overall.
“Unless you win a state championship, you are ending the season with a loss,” Bowers said. “That is always a pain that is not good.
Guiding the Spartans behind center will be quarterback Dominic Williams, who saw playing time last year. One of the players he will hand the football off to is running back Trevon Alexander.
The Spartans have eight returners on both sides of the ball.
“Anytime you have some experience back, they know what to expect, what you want and how you want it,” Bowers said. “They know the schemes.
“A lot of them were all-conference players. We expect them to know the tempo and the pace and effort level we expect in practice and not only demonstrate it, but demand it from the younger kids.”