To call Raymore-Peculiar’s 2017 football season a disappointment would be an understatement. And brutally honest.
Ray-Pec went into that season one of the favorites in an always-tough Suburban Gold Conference. But after some discipline issues and poor play early on, the Panthers finished the season 2-8 and without a single win in the conference.
“To be honest, it was disappointing,” Ray-Pec coach Tom Kruse said. “That was a hard season. It was hard for all of us; we all went through it. You have some valleys that you’ve got to go through sometimes and we haven’t been used to that around here.”
It was Ray-Pec’s first losing season since 2013 and easily one of the worst in Kruse’s 18 seasons leading the Panthers. It’s a season Kruse is ready to put behind him, as are the rest of the Panthers.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
And he feels this year’s team has the personnel, and the attitude, to do it.
“Our focus has been really, really good,” Kruse said. “I think our kids know that’s not the expectation around here. They’re hungry to prove to people that’s not how it’s going to be.”
Ray-Pec’s 2017 season started promising when the Panthers opened with a win over Cass County rival Belton. But the troubles soon started. A 65-27 loss at Lee’s Summit North in the second game. Then a 41-7 drubbing at home against Lee’s Summit West.
Player suspensions thinned the squad early. A gritty double-overtime loss to Lee’s Summit West in the first district game in the season finale eased some of the pain, but the damage was done.
Kruse begins this year with 107 out for football, one of the biggest squads he’s ever had at Ray-Pec. Most of those players were around last season, which Kruse looks at as a plus.
“A lot of these kids played a lot last year,” Kruse said. “I think everyone pretty well knows where we’re at, where we want to get to and what kind of program we have. I think they want to put those kinds of things behind us and move forward and try to get us back to where we should be.”
Getting back there would mean finding a new quarterback to replace Noah Durham, who threw for 2,012 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. It will also mean finding ball carriers to spell running back Chris McKinzy Jr. as he continues to recuperate from a knee injury suffered last spring during track season.
But Ray-Pec does return its receiving corps pretty much intact. That includes Luke Grimm, the leader last season with 58 catches for 914 yards and seven touchdowns, and Je’von Williams, who made 35 catches for 350 yards and five TDs.
The kicking game should be solid with second-team all-conference punter Brenton Eggers and placekicker Gabe Sappington, and Kruse believes he has a promising group of linebackers and defensive linemen.
And after last season, the only direction Ray-Pec has to go is up.
“We’re excited about this,” Kruse said. “We have a chance to make some noise I think, even with our league.”