FNF : \"First-year\" senior Eagles look to leave legacy at So. Boone

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ASHLAND - Four Southern Boone football players want to prove it's never too late to put on the pads. Three Eagles return this season to play the game they love after taking a year hiatus from the team; another joins the team without any experience at the high school level.

Fletcher Mccune, Brandon Bowden, Trevor Garriott and Blake Bentlage find themselves starting and leading a new-look Southern Boone team. Eagles coach Trent Tracy calls them "first-year" players, even though they've had experience at the high school level or lower. Until this summer, he only knew these players from file video.

"They've brought a workman-like attitude to the football field," Tracy said. "Even though they were behind as far as the X's and O's, they've picked it up. Now that they know what they're doing, they play at a higher level than we ever imagined."

Not only do all the "first-year" seniors play pivotal roles on the team, Tracy said their influence extends into the classrooms and hallways of Southern Boone. Tracy said that influence might help build the football program that is still young.

"A lot of kids right now who aren't playing," Tracy said, "They see Blake Bentlage is playing and Fletcher Mccune is playing. 'Maybe I'm going to play next year.'"

Southern Boone hosts South Callaway at 7:00 pm for Friday Night Fever's game of the week.

Bentlage's fun-sized debut

Blake Bentlage's senior season is his first and last with the Eagles. He plays cornerback and assumes kicking duties for the team, though if you ask him, he much prefers defense.

"You get to tackle people," Bentlage said coolly.

Bentlage stopped playing football in sixth grade for a similar reason. He said his thin, wiry frame didn't serve well for playing football.

"Everyone else got bigger, and I stayed small," Bentlage said. "I was kind of scared, afraid I was gonna get hurt."

Tracy said size isn't an issue on the field when Bentlage is covering the opposing team's receivers.

"He weighs probably about 145 pounds soaking wet, but he plays like he weighs 195 pounds," Tracy said. "Pure heart, lots of desire and passion when he's on the field.

"He has no fear. He flew around, he makes hits and he makes plays. He brings a level of excitement and I think our players feed off it."

Tracy said he met with Bentlage over the summer and got on his case about joining the team. The coach said he's amazed at how Bentlage has realized his potential on the field so quickly.

"It's awesome to see him out there," Tracy said. "I knew he had it in him."

This season, Bentlage has thrown caution to wind and decided to give football one last try. His friends, including Mccune, Bowden, and Garriott, convinced him to join. Bentlage said he's trying to make a statement to himself and to his friends and family by putting on the Eagles uniform.

"It doesn't matter your size," Bentlage said. "If you have enough heart, you can do it."

Mccune hits linemen hard, books harder

Tracy said the leadership on the team increased significantly when Fletcher Mccune re-joined the team. He said the senior linebacker carries himself responsibly and does things the right way.

"I saw video of him from the previous years," Tracy said. "We really missed him last year."

Mccune took his junior season off to focus on grades. He said he wants to be a chemical engineer. He plans on applying to Texas A&M and Missouri S&T in Rolla.

"I just wanted to keep straight A's, go for that 4.0," Mccune said.

Mccune said he's never had any academic issues, but wanted to commit as much time to a rigorous junior year as possible. Junior year is critical for students applying to colleges, and Mccune said giving up the gridiron was not an easy sacrifice.

"I missed every minute of it," Mccune said. "I wish I played last year, but I'm kind of glad I didn't. I kept my grades up. Yeah, I missed every minute of it."

Mccune said he wants to be a positive role model for the younger players on the team in his last season. He said he wants the tradition to carry down to the junior varsity team. Mccune mentioned the family element the team brings him, and he said it's "indescribable" to be back playing with his best friends.

"We just want to have each other's backs," Mccune said. "On the field, in school, at home. Be together, be as one. I wanted to be a part of that."

Garriott flashes athleticism on defense

Tracy said he did some scouting in the spring to bring back another impact player. Trevor Garriott patrols center field for the Southern Boone baseball team. He's also found success on the Missouri Mustangs select baseball team.

"Just watching him play baseball, I knew he'd be a great defensive back for us," Tracy said. "The way he gets reads on baseballs can really transpire over onto the football field very easily."

The Eagles' senior safety will retire from football after the season with the hopes of being an outfielder in college. Garriott said several schools in the heart of America are recruiting him. As the desire to play baseball increased every day last season, Garriott said, the passion for football slowly decreased. It took convincing from his friends to get him back in pads.

"They told me I'd be a big help to this team, help with this turnaround of the program," Garriott said. "They missed playing with me, and I missed playing with them. It's just a great atmosphere when I'm with them.

"I missed these guys. A lot of them were upset I missed last year. Coach Tracy's bringing a new legacy into the program. We're trying to turn this around for future teams as well as this year. It's gonna be great."

Garriott puts his expectations into words clearly. He said he wants the team to win districts and to become a top team in its conference.

"We'd like to go 9-0 through the season, that's what we're hoping to do," Garriott said. "We have the potential to do it."

Garriott said he wants to influence this team, but teams that will suit up in Eagles uniforms in the future. 

"And the little kids, too, growing up, to come out and watch a winning season and be ready to play in high school," Garriott said.

Bowden playing for today and tomorrow

Senior safety Brandon Bowden is the only one of the four "first-year" seniors who wants to play football for a living. Oddly enough, Bowden was the closest of the four to give up the game permanently. He said he can't pinpoint exactly what led him to take his junior season off. 

"Passion just wasn't there," Bowden said. "But I got back into it senior year, and I love every minute of it."

Tracy said it was Bowden's visible hunger and progress in practice that made him a staple on both offense and defense.

"He takes everything serious," Tracy said. "He doesn't goof around. He's out here to prove himself. As a guy who missed last year, that's what you want. You want guys that are hungry to get on the field."

Bowden said he wants to be a long-snapper in college. He said the greater success the team has this season, the better chance he has of breaking through at the college level.

"Pigskin has us at 5-4, so we're going to try and prove them wrong," Bowden said.

Taking flight in 2015

Eagles coach Trent Tracy is in his second year leading the Southern Boone Eagles. Prior to taking the coaching job in Ashland, he served as a special teams coach at Moberly. Tracy said he's encouraged after his team's 50-0 win in Week 1 over St. Pius X (Festus, MO).

"We want to continue to establish a tradition," Tracy said. "And tradition takes time. The first thing that's starts with is these kids understanding they can play at that caliber of football with the other teams in our conference. As the season went on last year, they began to believe in themselves.

"We also can apply that in practice, not just games. But in the weight room, too, and in the classroom. Once we start doing those things, and learn how to win - even in tough times - we'll continue to see that tradition grow. "

Tracy said he wants the team to confront this season a week-to-week basis, and not get too caught up in playoffs or district matchups. He said the Eagles' schedule has no easy games for the rest of the season, and he's made clear the goals he wants his team to accomplish each week.

"It really comes down to who has the most heart," Tracy said. "Who can do the little things and come out victorious."

Bulldogs look to start season 2-0

The South Callaway Bulldogs look to continue their hot start to the season at they take on Southern Boone in Ashland. The Bulldogs had a commanding 45-7 victory over Putnam County (Unionville, MO) in Week 1.

The Bulldogs drew praise from several Southern Boone coaches, who said the team runs option plays very well. Both teams will pay district opponents in Week 3.