Clopton at N. Callaway FNF Week 7
|8 / 22||Mexico||Away||Loss||12 - 35|
|8 / 29||Tipton||Away||Win||27 - 6|
|9 / 5||Bowling Green||Away||Loss||0 - 31|
|9 / 12||Montgomery County||Home||Win||27 - 23|
|9 / 19||Mark Twain||Home||Win||41 - 18|
|9 / 26||South Callaway||Away||Loss||6 - 66|
|10 / 3||Clopton Elsberry||Home||Win||36 - 8|
|10 / 10||Wright City||Away||Loss||18 - 22|
|10 / 17||Van-Far||Home||Win||40 - 30|
|10 / 24||Montgomery County||Home||Win||48 - 24|
|10 / 31||Palmyra||Home||Loss||0 - 36|
North Callaway High School is coming off an average 4-6 season, though they did rally after losing four of their first five games. For the first time in 26 years there will be a new face in the head coach's office at North Callaway with the retirement of long-time Thunderbird coach Mike Emmons. New Head Coach Kevin O'Neal is hoping to turn things around and lead North Callaway deep into the state playoffs. Players seem to respond well to him and his enthusiasm for the sport.
"North Callaway had an up and down season in 2013," Coach O'Neal said. "North Callaway started the season losing four of their first five, but then won three in a row in the middle of the season, and then finished the season with two losses. It was inconsistent play, to say the least.
North Callaway returns five starters on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Cole Branson (6-1, 185) is back for his senior season after a solid 2013 in which he passed for nearly 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns. He hopes to improve upon those numbers this season and has been working hard this off-season. Coach O'Neal is hoping for Branson, and all his seniors, to be leaders on and off the field.
Cole Branson's favorite target figures to be fellow senior Steven Coleman (6-3, 155), a wide receiver. Coleman caught three touchdowns last season and had more than 338 receiving yards. He is quite speedy and could develop into one of the better receivers in the conference. Look for another senior, Michael Early (6-2, 185) and sophomore Wyatt Branson (5-11, 190) to see plenty of time at wide receiver, too. They hope to be part of a more threatening passing attack at North Callaway. Wyatt Branson has shown good promise and Coach O'Neal has to be thrilled he will be around the program for three more seasons. Sophomore A.J. Stubblefield (5-8, 145) and junior Manzell Payne (5-10, 165) are also pushing for some playing time at wide out.
J.T. Higgins (6-1, 175), a sophomore, will lead North Callaway's running attack. It will be his first time gaining significant playing time at the varsity level and Coach O'Neal says he is looking to have an impact on the offense. The ability to start at running back is an outstanding opportunity for a sophomore and Higgins hopes to take it and run with it, no pun intended.
The offensive line will be anchored by senior Michael Pezold (6-1, 195), North Callaway's only returning starter at the position. Coach O'Neal surely needs him be a leader on the line. Junior Lance Starkey (6-2, 195) is also expected to start on the line. "Lance needs to step up and help on the offensive line," Coach O'Neal said.
North Callaway's offense will feature multiple formations after averaging 21.8 points per contest in 2013.
"We have experience at the skill position with Cole Branson leading the way at quarterback," Coach O'Neal said. "The offense will go as Cole goes. We are leaning on his leadership skills to guide this team. Hopefully the offensive line will develop quickly and become a solid foundation for our offense."
Like most high school teams, North Callaway will have plenty of two way players. Steven Coleman, Wyatt Branson and junior Tyler Mattes (5-10, 162) will start at defensive back, and Lance Starkey and Manzell Payne are pushing for playing time there, just like at wide receiver on offense.
Michael Pezold will lead the linebacking crew, but look for J.T. Higgins to get some playing time there when he's not carrying the rock on offense. Up front, the defensive line will be anchored by junior defensive tackle George Jones (5- 11, 244), who's been working hard in the weight room and is ready to stuff opponents' running attack.
"We are going to be inexperienced on defense," Coach O'Neal said. "Our kids are excited about the opportunities they have. We need to be much more aggressive this year defensively and put pressure on opposing offenses.
While Coach O'Neal wants to bring the school and its fans a few more wins, he also wants to teach his players a few life lessons along the way.
"We want to develop character and leadership in our players while helping them become the best football players they can be," he said. "To build on tradition and impart a sense of pride in our program. Together these will lead to a successful year."
"I hope to carry on the tradition and success that Coach Emmons brought to North Callaway football," Coach O'Neal continued. "I look forward to working with and leading our team. I have an excellent coaching staff and great young men to work with. We look forward to an exciting year."
Pigskin Pick: 4-5