Coming off a deep run to the Missouri Class 3 quarterfinals, Oak Grove coach Pat Richard has seen more improvement and drive throughout summer workouts for his players.
Still the biggest learning experience came last November, when the Panthers lost to eventual state champion Maryville. That proved to be a major a building block for the future.
“I think last year was a great learning experience for our kids,” Richard said. “They experienced the discipline, the toughness that it takes to win a state championship because we saw it. We saw it live on our field.”
Now the returning players at Oak Grove understand what’s expected of them and will rely on some big time players, starting with senior running back Aaron Graham. He finished last season with 1,516 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“He’s a great running back and we’re going to play him at free safety, so that’s going to make us a lot better on defense, too,” Richard said.
Senior quarterback Austin Blackston returns to the helm and Richard feels encouraged by the progress he’s made since last fall.
“I’m not sure we had a kid who developed more over the summer,” he said.
Rounding out the senior leadership is Dalton Brinegar. Playing both sides of the line, Brinegar provides some grit and toughness up front for the Panthers.
“It’s fun to watch him run around the practice field,” Richard said.
Another asset for having these returning players is adding some new layers and wrinkles to the offensive attack.
“We keep adding to the playbook where our offense is pretty dynamic,” Richard said.
A team that wants to play fast and physical most of the game, Richard hopes that all his players can lead Oak Grove to another postseason run.
“It’s really about getting our young kids involved and trying to improve our depth,” Richard said. “I feel like we’re pretty good with the kids that we have.”