Greg Smith is on the cusp of his third season at Pleasant Hill, the season when most football coaches rebuilding a program start seeing the fruits of their labor.
Smith believes the Roosters will make another step forward this year, just as they have his first two seasons since he moved over from Smithville. He just isn’t sure how big a step they will take yet.
“We know that we’re going to play better,” Smith said after the Roosters hosted a jamboree last week at Eklund Field. “I don’t get into predicting records but who knows? With our schedule the way it is, we may be a better team but not win a game.”
Pleasant Hill won only two games in Smith’s first season, and last season the Roosters improved to 4-6. And while the scheduled will once again be challenging, Pleasant Hill will tackle it with a team with more experience and familiarity with his system.
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“We had a really good summer; the kids worked hard,” Smith said. “We were able to take advantage of some camps and it really kind of galvanized the team a little bit. Right now they’re playing together very well and we hope to see that continue.”
Pleasant Hill has six starters back on offense and five on defense, and most that experience is up on the line. Trey Stone, a 6-foot 210-pound senior, is a three-year starter at tackle. Jared Clapp, a 6-5, 225-pound tackle, is also a senior, as are guards Noah Moore (5-9, 230 pounds) and Michael Okuly (5-9, 220 pounds).
“Those four guys have played tougher here for a while and it’s starting to pay dividends,” Smith said. “That right now is the group we’re going to have to lean on a little bit.”
On offense, that group will help protect quarterback Blake Atkins, a 6-0, 165-pound junior who is taking over for the graduated Dalton Bach. Atkins saw some varsity action late last season, but this will be his first year as the full-time starter.
“He’s had a really good offseason and really developed some leadership skills,” Smith said. “He’s doing a fine job for us.”
Pleasant Hill will replace Cole Lightfoot, last year’s leading rusher, with running backs Garrett Schick and Cody Faust. Schick, a junior, and Faust, a senior, both had carries in scrimmages against Ruskin, Van Horn and St. Michael the Archangel in last Friday’s jamboree.
Schick was a starting safety last season and Faust started at linebacker, and Smith needs them to be two-way players again.
“Those two split carries tonight and we kind of anticipate that moving on through the season,” Smith said. “They’re both vital players on the defensive side of the ball and we have to keep them fresh.”
Pleasant Hill has a proven wide receiver in Cole Ederer, a 6-3, 180 senior who Smith said will be Atkins’ main target this season. Tanner Todd, a senior, had some playing time at wideout last year and Wyatt Bramwell, a junior, returns after missing last season with an injury. Brayden Smith and David Shanks, both seniors, will see time at tight end.
Smith, like most other coaches, has concerns about his team’s depth and what could happen with some injuries. The schedule, again, is a concern, with the likes of Class 4 schools Moberly and Smithville and Class 5 Sedalia Smith-Cotton. And that’s on top of the always rugged Missouri River Valley Conference West slate, which includes Class 4 state champion and longtime rival Harrisonville.
It all begins tonight at Smithville, where Smith coached for 12 seasons before taking over the Roosters. Daunting as the schedule may be, Smith said he and his team are ready to get the season going.
“The team is hungry,” Smith said. “They’re anxious to get going and eager to improve.”