Offensive player to watch
One of the most explosive players in the conference may also be one of the smallest. Raytown running back Josh Drake is only 5-6, but he’s elusive with breakaway speed. He ran for 1,667 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
Defensive player to watch
Fort Osage’s linebackers will receive plenty of attention this year — and deservedly so — but junior defensive lineman Sima Thomas shouldn’t be overlooked. A first-team all-conference selection last year, Thomas is a physical player who knows how to use his size (5-11, 295) to his advantage.
Staley and Fort Osage have developed a budding rivalry as they battle for the top spot in the conference. The champion will be decided from that matchup once again, but Liberty North has the firepower to throw a wrench into those plans.
1. FORT OSAGE
The Indians have won 33 games over the last three seasons, and there’s little reason to believe they will take a step back this season. Fort Osage returns all but one of its offensive skill-position starters, and it has five starters back from a defense that didn’t allow any opponent to top 14 points last season.
A bounce-back season is on the docket for the Falcons after they finished 6-5 in 2013. Well, so long as the offensive line develops as planned. Staley senior Kahluna Bouchard ran for 1,558 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Senior linebacker Parker Mertz will be a four-year starter.
3. LIBERTY NORTH
A year after reaching the Missouri Class 4 semifinals, Liberty North has been bumped up to Class 5. It’s a tough transition, but the Eagles could make it look easy. They return 11 starters from that team, including three-year starting quarterback Brian Sharp.
4. NORTH KANSAS CITY
The Hornets have shown signs of improvement, with four victories in conference play each of the last two seasons. Coach Leon Douglas says the team is in line to reach its next goal — finishing better than .500.
It’s been 22 years since the Raytown football program finished with a winning record. This may be the season that changes. Raytown returns 10 starters on offense and five more on defense.
6. OAK PARK
The Oak Park defense is looking for a resurgence after allowing at least 42 points in all but one game last season. First-year coach Kevin Keeton has emphasized a more disciplined brand of assignment football.
7. WILLIAM CHRISMAN
The program will turn to first-year coach Scorpio Horn, who says he would like to implement a better balance of running and passing plays. Quarterback Gannon Ogle and his brother, tight end Grady Ogle, will lead the passing game.