The off-season looked a little different for area football teams; masks and social distancing – changes that many have had to make in this time – are just a couple of the things the teams had to adhere to while they prepared for the upcoming season. Overall, coaches said they’re just thankful they get to play.
Branson High School
Coming off last year’s 2-9 season, head coach Anthony Hays is looking forward to the upcoming season. This is Hays’ fourth year as Branson’s head coach, which means this group of seniors have been on his team for all of their time at Branson.
“These seniors are the first that I’ve got to watch all the way through high school,” Hays said. “That’s special. For me to get to know them and watch them grow up, and now watch them play their senior year, I’m looking forward to it.”
The Pirates didn’t graduate too many seniors last season, so they’re bringing a lot of guys back.
“I think we were very young last year,” Hays said. “We played a lot of sophomores and juniors. Now those guys are older and more experienced, and it’s showing in practice.”
Junior Colton Cooper and senior Cristian Berumen are just two of the players Hays said he’s counting on for this season. The inside linebackers both started last season and were leading tacklers. Senior Brady Blackwell is another, he was an all-conference receiver and the Pirates’ leading receiver. Senior Tyke Wells plays the offensive line, and Hays said he’s got several college offers.
“Because we’re so experienced, I think there’s a lot of kids that are going to have a really great season for us,” Hays said.
The Pirates open their season at home Friday against Nixa. Most of all, Hays said he feels grateful that they’re even getting to play.
“It’s going to be fun to be underneath the Friday night lights,” Hays said. “I think there will be a little more appreciation for that by everybody.”
Hays said the Pirates are amped up for their game against Nixa. Not only is it the first game of the season, but it’s against a school the Pirates consider to be a rival.
“Our kids always enjoy playing the local schools that they’ve kind of grown up playing against,” Hays said. “So the rivalry aspect is kind of fun too.”
Hollister High School
The Tigers ended their season 4-7 last year, head coach Rich Adkins is looking forward to this year’s team and the experience they bring.
“The best thing about this year’s team that gets me going is we’ve returned a lot of guys,” Adkins said. “We only had five seniors last year, and a lot of our seniors this year have been playing Friday night varsity football since they were sophomores.”
With a lot of athletes returning from last year, Adkins is counting on quite a few to help the Tigers make this year memorable and do some big things for the team. On the offensive side, Adkins mentioned three key players. One of the first is senior Konner Hatfield. Hatfield plays wide receiver and safety for the Tigers, and Adkins said he’s a big play-maker on the offensive side. Senior Kelby Gard is a running back for the Tigers. Adkins noted Gard had a lot of carries for them last season, and he’s going to be counting on him to do that again this season. Senior Layton Morgan is returning at quarterback. It’ll be his third season starting in that position.
On the defensive side, Adkins mentioned junior Aj Narvaez, who he said is one of the best defensive linemen in the conference.
The Tigers open their season at home on Friday against Monett. Monett beat the Tigers in the last game of last year’s season in the district playoffs. Adkins said Monett has a really talented group of kids.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Adkins said. “We’re happy we get them at home instead of having to travel there, but that’s the kind of the challenge we’re looking for.”
Reeds Spring High School
The Wolves ended their last season 5-5, but they enter this season with a new head coach, Andy McFarland. McFarland said it’s exciting for him to be in a place where everyone is excited for football season, despite everything that has gone on for the last few months.
As do the other schools, the Wolves have a good amount of returning talent.
Senior Colton Cramblett was a first team all conference running back and linebacker, McFarland said they’ve got him back at tailback and he’s been looking really good for the Wolves. McFarland said he’s made some changes to how things have been done in the past.
Senior Matt Allison is making a move from a flexbone halfback to a spread quarterback. McFarland said it was a tough change at first, but Allison has really improved.
“We’ve got a bunch of receivers that I’m excited about,” McFarland said.
McFarland said junior Evan Gross is a really explosive athlete. Sophomore Landon Fleetwood, junior Kolten Gutting, and junior Cailub Solis have all been working outside along with a transfer student, Abel Bonga.
“They’ve all been splitting time at the outside receiver positions,” McFarland said. “There’s a lot of competition there for playing time, which is a good thing for us.”
All in all, McFarland feels he’s got a really good group this year.
The Wolves open up their season at home on Friday against East Newton. McFarland said the game is going to be a challenge for them, but he’s excited they get to open out the season at home.
“I’m sure that we will have our hands full on the 28th,” McFarland said.
Check Wednesday’s Branson Tri-Lakes News for a preview of Forsyth High School football.