July hadn’t officially rolled into August before Missouri high school football teams hit the field.
With the season scheduled to begin the earliest it ever has — the first games kicked off Aug. 18 — teams were afforded the opportunity begin practicing at the end of the July. It might seem odd to start so early, but the preparations began months before the school year ended and hot summer days became the norm.
The work took place in the dead of winter, inside musty weight rooms and dingy coaches’ offices. That’s where the players committed themselves to becoming bigger, faster and stronger, and the coaches dissected every second of game film to unearth what went right, what went wrong and what had to change.
Preseason practice is all about implementing those changes.
Hannibal must alter its plan of attack. After three seasons with Shamar Griffith as the workhorse in the backfield, the Pirates are without a bona fide all-state-caliber running back. So they’ll employ a bevy of backs capable of collectively churning out the numbers Griffith did in becoming the program’s all-time leading rusher.
Should the Pirates find a way to make that possible, another state quarterfinal berth isn’t out of the question. They’ve won 22 games the last two years combined and relish another chance to solve the Kearney riddle.
Meanwhile, Monroe City and Palmyra have high aspirations of their own.
Monroe City reached the Class 1 state championship game last season, and although graduation took its toll, it is blessed with a stable of speed and plenty of experience. Last year’s deep playoff run might be the start of a decade of dominance the way the 1990s were, although Monroe City would prefer to change the ending.
Palmyra seeks a better ending, as well. Following back-to-back state semifinal appearances, Palmyra failed to get past the district semifinals last fall, losing to top-seeded Macon on the road. Being aggressive on the ground can change Palmyra’s fortune as a group led by Peyton Plunkett is determined to be able to run the ball against any defense.
Mark Twain has been able to do that the last two seasons, and controlling the clock and the tempo the Tigers are willing to give up. Expect more hard-nosed football in the Eastern Missouri Conference as Mark Twain tries to figure out how to translate regular-season success into a playoff run beyond the district tournament.
Changes are coming, and they’ve been in the works for a while. Soon we will start to see if the moves are worthwhile or the coaches have to revisit their gameplan. Either way, football season is here to entertain us.
That can’t ever start too early, can it?
— By Matt Schuckman
Despite all the graduation losses the Hannibal football team has suffered the last two seasons — two NCAA Division I signees are gone along with the program’s all-time leading rusher — no one around the program is looking at this season as a rebuilding year. Give him time and Pirates coach Mark St. Clair will build a winner, the kind capable of making a run at a third straight state quarterfinal berth.
Here’s what St. Clair has to say about this year’s team:
“The biggest thing for this group is that we have some depth. We feel by mid-year we can really hit it running hard because our depth will provide a lot of competition in practice, and that competition is going to make everybody better. We’ve never been able to platoon, but if we can stay healthy and get some kids to develop by mid-year, we might be close to platooning. That would be a good option to have.
“Right now, we have to see where everybody fits in. We have a running back by committee and several people vying for positions. So we have to create competition, evaluate film and put them in positions to stress them physically and mentally to figure out who can do what. We’ll get things figured out. It may take us a few weeks, but we’ll get them figured out.
“We have a lot of kids who played some last year, even some who started a few games and some who started all the games. We have a decent mixture. What we don’t have is that Shamar Griffith, that true star. What we have is that competition at each position that is going to make everybody better if they just take hold of the competition and what it gives us
“They have to show due respect to the process. I’ve always been big on the process. It’s not what we do Week 1, 2 or 3. If we go back to last year and look at Weeks 1, 2 and 3, we weren’t very good. At the end of the year, we were really good. I’ve always been big on the process, and we just have to get better at doing the little things right.
“A lot of what we do with the option game and our schematic stuff on defense, it takes a little while to gel and to get the timing and the execution the way you want to. We’re always in a hurry to get things in, but you have to be careful about getting your technique, your steps and everything else perfect. That’s especially true on defense.
“We graduated a lot on defense, especially at linebacker. We lost all four starters at linebacker and all four are very good football players. We have some work to do there. By midseason, we think we should be very good on defense. You never know until you get out there and see what kind of personalities you have and how they’re going to handle situations and how much film they’re going to watch and the techniques they’re going to work on.
“We feel good about where we’re at right now, but there are a lot of question marks. We will address those question marks and hopefully come up with some answers that make us successful.”
Aug. 18 at Helias
Aug. 25 Quincy Notre Dame
Sept. 1 at Boonville *
Sept. 8 Mexico *
Sept. 15 at Kirksville *
Sept. 22 Fulton *
Sept. 29 at Moberly *
Oct. 6 Marshall *
Oct. 13 at Columbia Battle
* — North Central Missouri Conference games
The Palmyra football team’s season ended prematurely — by its standards — last fall with an exit in the district semifinals after advancing to at least the state quarterfinals in the three previous seasons. That’s the motivation pushing the Panthers this season as they look to recapture a district championship and return to the state playoffs.
Here’s what Palmyra coach Kevin Miles had to say about this season’s team:
“You always want to win a conference title, of course, but I think a district title is more important because if you win that, your season gets to continue. You can lose the conference, but you can still get out of districts and be successful. I think that’s always one of our goals — to get a district championship.
“The good thing about playing Macon Week 1 is you know you’re going to get a quality opponent Week 1. It forces you to have to work harder to make sure you’re ready to go. With them ending our season last year, that adds a little more fuel to the fire for us to try and get ready.
“With Jacob Kroeger, he’s a different quarterback than we’ve had in the last few years. With Ben (Cheffey) and Brock (Malone), they were both good quarterbacks, and had their goods and bads, their strengths and weak points. Jacob is a different animal all together. He brings us a new excitement to the offense and a new style with what he wants to do. With him and Peyton Plunkett back there along with Braxton Long and Tucker Aeschliman, those four I think will bring some excitement to what we want to do offensively.
“Jacob brings a mentality. He’s a pitcher in baseball, so he’s used to having pressure on him. I think he’s what you call a gamer. He very seldom throws a good ball in practice, but in a game or game situation, he gets the ball where it needs to go. He’s not your stereotypical quarterback that just sits back in the pocket. He plays quarterback and gets things done. His leadership and his tenacity are going to be his strong suit.
“We’ve never been monsters up front, but I think we’ll be very multiple with what we do on offense. Our offense will average between 195 and 230 pounds. They’ll be a mean and tenacious group that will get after it. We want to utilize their speed to get out in space and be more successful.
“I just think for us it’s how we teach and coach defense. It’s a downhill mentality that we preach to our kids on a daily basis if they want to have success on defense.
“I think up front we’ll have Braden Erwin, Parker Lefoe, Jackson Powell, Michael Frankenbach and Brady Barnett as our linemen. They all got experience last year, but they’ll start for us this year. Tucker Aeschliman is another that will come in and play our running back and receiver along with Braxton Long. We have the Neal twins, Braxden and Brayden, that are pretty solid. I think we have a really good junior group and sprinkle in some sophomores.
“I think the strength will be the leadership in our senior group. It’s a small group; there’s only six or seven of them, but they’re a hard-working group, and they’re determined.”
Aug. 18 at Macon *
Aug. 25 Bowling Green
Sept. 1 at Highland *
Sept. 8 South Shelby *
Sept. 15 at Clark County *
Sept. 22 at Louisiana *
Sept. 29 Centralia *
Oct. 6 Brookfield *
Oct. 13 at Monroe City *
* — Clarence Cannon Conference games
The Mark Twain football team reached a district title game for the second straight season last year, but once again fell short. The Tigers are looking to make a third consecutive run to play for a title, but this year it will be done with a lot of new faces in key spots.
Here’s what Mark Twain coach Karl Asbury has to say about this season’s team:
“We do bring back an all-conference offensive lineman in Aidan Epperson. Our quarterback will be Lincoln Talbott. He’s been waiting in the wings the last few years. We have a couple people taking over the running back spot in Jace Barton and Logan Perrigo. It’s their time to shine, and they have to learn on the run. Offensively, we’ve run a lot of the same stuff, but now it’s more detail.
“Lincoln can throw a little better than the other two quarterbacks before him, and he also has a little different of a running style. He can run the ball a little bit and could be more of a dual threat for us. We’ll need to throw the ball a little more because we can’t rely 100 percent on runs and 0 percent passes. We need to open defenses up.
“The challenge is the learning part first. The sophomores we have had success on the eighth-grade team. The talent is there. It’s just the learning curve because you aren’t going against kids your own grade. Those are the things they’ll have to learn. The learning curve will have to be grasped faster. But if they don’t try to do things too fast, they’ll be all right.
“I don’t know if we have set a goal so far. It’s to play as best as they can. If they want to be successful, it’ll depend on how fast they grasp that learning curve. There isn’t going to be a lot of turbo clocks like we’ve had in years past. But there will be a lot of competitive games. That will be the thing — can they compete whether they are up one score or down one score?
“There will be a lot tighter ball games. That could definitely help us when the playoffs come. If they follow the script the coaches have put in front of them, that could be there. The talent is there. They just have to believe in themselves to get that accomplished.”
Aug. 18 at Milan
Aug. 25 Hallsville
Sept. 1 North Callaway *
Sept. 8 at Wright City *
Sept. 15 Bowling Green *
Sept. 22 at South Callaway *
Sept. 29 at Montgomery County *
Oct. 6 Van-Far *
Oct. 13 at Clopton-Elsberry *
* — Eastern Missouri Conference games