Jamar Mozee is a realist. Even after winning more games in his first season as football coach at Lee’s Summit North than in the program’s previous three seasons combined, he knew the Broncos were primed for a downturn.
“I think we played 13 or 14 sophomores last year,” Mozee said. So in reality, my expectations were kind of what happened. “Building a program is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Mozee knew the Broncos would have trouble matching his inaugural 5-5 record, and he was right. A younger team and a tougher schedule resulted in a 2-8 season and an 0-6 Suburban Gold Conference mark.
But those sophomores are now juniors, many of whom have had a taste of varsity experience. It’s a big and talented group, one that has Mozee realistically thinking that the Broncos will make some significant strides this season.
“This is first year that I’ve been here that I think we’re really seeing the fruit of our labor,” Mozee said. “And I think people will really see a difference in the way we play.”
Mozee will be relying heavily on a junior class that numbers around 50 and has been with him since that first season. Some have extensive varsity experience, some played sparingly, but most of them have seen enough action to make the Broncos a more experienced team.
“We’re more experienced and still young, which is good on both ends,” Mozee said. “We’re old enough to compete, but at the same time it’s fun knowing we’re going to get them this year and we’re going to get them again next year.”
North will have a junior running the offense in quarterback Saul Medina, who saw limited playing time last year backing up Caleb Aston. Medina only had 160 passing yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, but Mozee said he’s been the biggest surprise so far during practice.
“He’s done a great job,” Mozee said. “He’s done a great job of just taking care of the ball and doing the things we want him to do.”
Medina won’t have two future Division-I players to throw to like Aston did, but Mozee doesn’t think the Broncos will be hurting a wide receiver. Christian Carter, a junior, played every game last year and will be used all over the field. Senior Jordan Murray will play wideout after starting at tight end last year along with senior Elijah Farr.
Murray leads that group with 318 receiving yards and two touchdowns from last season. That’s a far cry from the 810 yards and six TDs tallied by Cameron Hairston, who is now at Connecticut, and the 703 yards and five TDs from Da’Ron Davis, who signed with Missouri.
“We’ve got guys who can catch the ball,” Mozee said. “We’ll be fine. They’re not those two guys, but we’ll still have explosive players.”
Mozee believes the Broncos will also be fine in the backfield, where juniors John Eldridge and Ontario Russell will share the ball carrying duties. Eldridge, who played sparingly last year behind the graduated Tori Hicks, will be the starter.
Opening holes for them will be a line anchored by tackles Jordan Gibson, a junior who started every game last season, and Joel Stevens, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound senior Division-I prospect.
“We’re excited about that position as a whole,” Mozee said. “We’re going to be pretty good at running back.”
Mozee is also excited about the defense, which like the offense will be young yet experienced. Linebacker Miles Craddock is a three-year starter who had a team-high 93 tackles last season and will be counted on to lead the unit. Starting next to him will be Dubem Okonkwo, a junior Mozee also expects to be an impact player.
“He’s never missed a game, never missed a play, never been hurt,” Mozee said of Craddock. “We’ll be counting on him to give us some leadership.”
The secondary will also feature two more juniors in Nyles Thomas and Jalen Hickels, who both played every game last season. But they are still underclassmen, as are most of the Broncos. That does give Mozee some concern early on as he looks ahead to another rugged schedule.
But from a realistic perspective, Mozee doesn’t doubt that this team can be special.
“I know at some point this season we’re going to be really, really good,” Mozee said. “I hope that we can be really good out of the gate. As they get more comfortable in what we’re doing they’re going to get better and better.”