Near to the Wild Heart of Life: Duerrisms for August 16th
The rope drop of the 2017 Fall Sports Season is upon us. And we are here now to help maximize your enjoyment.
Welcome to DUERRISMS, your weekly walk-through for the local games, teams and sports that matter most to you. This humble column (dare I call it the Tri-State’s original sports “blog”) started way back in the Late 1990’s at the suggestion of our good friend Steve Horrell and has become a weird, wild, ever-evolving ride through the landscape of local sports. Times have changed. Technologies have changed. The athletic culture here has ebbed and flowed. And yet the base premise remains the same. One guy in front of his keyboard promoting the joy of sport, the pride of community, and the promise of our local young people through the games they play. This Duerrisms thing; the writing of which is a three day process for fifteen weeks every Fall that is equal parts elation and chore for its author. Not to mention an occasional, if unintentional avenue to enflame, enrage, or inspire simply by expressing one guy’s know-nothing opinion about which team is better than another. To wit, I’ve had full grown adults, with good jobs and well-raised families, legitimately irritated at me for predicting their kid’s football team would lose on Friday Night in the “throwaway” Fearless Duerrism Predictions section of this page. That my friends, is the passion that makes Tri-State Sports great (if not occasionally vexing as well) And that’s what we are endeavoring to feed, stoke, and celebrate here. Our unique sports culture. And that’s why you will continue to find me here typing away every Fall until the good people at KHQA finally wise-up and decide my e-ticket ride of a career is over. In short, we will be here for you every Thursday Morning (occasionally sooner) in this space during the season with all the news, tidbits, opinions and mental floatsam I can jam into this thing for you to consume. If you are new to the process, welcome and thank you for giving us a try. If you are one of those crazy, many year loyalists who have made us a part of your weekly “pregame” routine, I am honored and blessed to have you aboard. And for my Day One people…man are you old now!!! I kid, I kid. I am humbled by your loyal patronage and thank you for continuing to indulge this crazy endeavor, even beyond your better judgement.
Some news and notes to pass along before we get into the Meat of Week One….
THE 2017 GRIDIRON PLAYBOOK is now out and being delivered this week to local sponsors in your town. If you have yet to procure your copy, don’t fret yet. Just contact me here via Twitter or E-mail and I will do my best to coordinate with you to get you one at your local stadium on these upcoming Football Friday Nights
If you have not yet seen your favorite Football Team on the KHQA Barnstorm Tour, it’s coming. And you can view the 30 some odd features we’ve already turned in on line here at KHQA. I’ve personally been in 25 different cities in the last two weeks and put about 3000 miles on the Sports Runner. Nico isn’t far behind that Odometer mark. Even at that, though, we are fighting a losing battle with the clock so thank you for your patience. But I assure you we will see you all as soon as we can.
Starting Saturday August 19th, yours truly finally gets to put this “face made for Radio” to good use. I am honored to succeed the great Steve Looten as the host of the MCDONALD’S SATURDAY MORNING TICKET on WTAD RADIO (930 AM on your dial) at 8am. It will be a thirty minutes devoted entirely to local sports. We will wrap up the Friday Night docket, provide a little Saturday Morning Quarterbacking, hang out with your favorite coaches and players and just generally have good time kibitzing about the this and that of the sports season as “the backdrop to you breakfast.” I have a long wish list of guests I can’t wait to bring on live with me and banter with in a way that you never really get to see with television interview editing. To be honest, I am super-psyched to do it, and try to keep this wonderful show at the high bar set by Steve. Can’t thank the great Mike Moyers and all the good folks at WTAD for giving me this change. And as ever to my friend Greg Shierling for backing this exciting endeavor. If you like local sports, be sure to thank Greg not only verbally, but with your business. Head out to the 13th and Broadway McDonald’s and grab yourself a couple of McGriddle Sandwiches or Sausage Burritos with extra Hash Browns to enjoy the full experience. I remind you as always… I am far easier enjoyed (tolerated?) by those with a fully and happy tummy.
OVERTIME with CHRIS DUERR (Hey…I know that dude and he is far more intelligent than he looks) is back and fully operation now on Saturday Nights on KHQA-CBS, from now until early June. The Tri-State’s only long form TV show devoted entirely to local sports airs at 10:30pm. Extended highlights. Long form profiles of your favorite athletes. Occasional unbridled mayhem. All yours…FOR FREE every Saturday Night on your TV dial. Come join us and see what all the fun is about. We will make it worth your while to stay in on a Saturday Night, I assure you.
For those of you who are hardcore fans of Local Sports, be sure to make use of all of the KHQA Sports Team’s Social Media avenues for instant score updates, breaking news, Game of Thrones spoilers, Zach Randolph rants, Princess Bride memes and whatever other pop culture giddiness invades our consciences.
You can join the more the 15,000 folks who follow us on Twitter @ChrisDuerr and @KHQANico and we run all kinds of polls and post all of our shows and features to our Facebook landings site (www.facebook.com/KHQAChrisDuerr/) for your convenience as well as to let you vote for THE KHQA MAGNFICENT SEVEN of the Week, who are featured and celebrated in this column. Also, Social Media is the easiest way to have back and forth with us and we appreciate all your incites and read everything (eventually if not immediately)
THE KHQA STUDENT ATHLETE OF THE WEEK Program gears back up in September. Nomination Forms will be mailed to your schools soon. This is your chance to nominate a deserving Senior, 3.5 or better GPA and participation in at least one State Sanctioned sport, to be celebrated on our Wednesday Night 6pm Broadcasts starting the first week of October. We will come up with some 33 nominees during the course of the year and pick two Scholarship Winners in June at our annual banquet to represent our area as the best representation of young people who set the standard here at home. Be sure to put a bug in your favorite Principal or Athletic Director’s ear to nominate deserving young men and women who meet those qualifications. We want to be sure every kid who “does it right” gets introduced to the Tri-States. This is your chance to help us bring some always appreciated Good News to the people of our region and remind them just how bright all our futures will be in the hands of this tremendous “next generation.”
And as always, we are always looking for unique story ideas on all Sports Fronts. If you have a human interest story or something you’d like to see us cover, my door is always open. You can reach me at email@example.com or by phone here at the station (217-222-6206) and we’d be happy to oblige.
It's that time of the year and we are traveling non-stop nightly. Look forward to being in your community soon.
YOURS IN SPORTS,
CHRIS OF HOUSE DUERR
P.S. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad
KHQA PRESEASON POWER POLL
The Power Elite
1)WEST HANCOCK TITANS (0-0)
SEASON OPENER: at Putnam County (August 25)
WHY THE TITANS LOOM LARGEST: Our rankings are, as always predicated on which teams we think have the best chance to win a State Championship against the schedule they play. That’s the only fair way here we can reasonably equate teams the size of Quincy High against teams as enrollment hampered as North Shelby and Routt in one place. Think of it as the football equivalent of Economies of Scale. Thusly, not only do a team’s football assets matter here, but so too does the strength of their schedule, the difficulty of their playoff road, their odds of being the last area teams standing. All of those things matter here because the matter in the grand scale of each team’s season, independent of what anyone else on this list is doing. It’s no surprise to most of you that West Hancock and Monroe City are the two teams we considered for the Preseason Poll Penthouse, based largely on what they did last season and what they return. The order I stacked them however, might be though. Monroe City played on Thanksgiving Weekend in Springfield. West Hancock didn’t win a playoff game. Explain your logic there, Dude? Fair enough. That summation is accurate but misleading. The Titans were undefeated during the regular season and were by far the most impressive team in our area…right up until St Thomas More beat them on a Hail Mary Flea Flicker that only worked because the pass was wildly underthrown, and tipped twice by defenders. Again, as I have said over and over: that is the cruelest “out” I’ve ever seen in a Football Season for anyone. Monroe City’s story wasn’t as linear. The Panthers found themselves through trial and error with losses to Macon, Centralia, and what I would call a season changing defeat against Brookfield. It was that evolution that helped them get better and peak at the exact right time against the exact right set of circumstances. Both teams return the bulk of what they had from last season. Both teams possess a lot of similarities: rising Quarterbacks, home run threats in the backfield, All State caliber destroyers at Defensive Tackle. And don’t forget the Jim Unruh/Brock Edris connection, of course. I just happen to like West Hancock’s scenario better going in. More favorable regular season schedule (though Travis Cook has boned it up a bit from last year with the additions of Miller Career Academy and Bismark-Henning) and a higher level of hunger based on the nasty twist of fate the Titans caught. This team is nicely geared for the task at hand. I initially might not have said that, but the Barnstorm visit re-emphasized some important characteristics of this team for me, as well as allayed my concerns (big ones, actually) about the graduation losses of Will Fox, Caleb Adams and David Celania most especially. The first thing that stands out here is just the level of changed body types you saw in Camp Cook. Guys look different because they spent their off-season in mourning throwing around heavy weight. That to me reads as a tangible manifestation of the hunger we can’t ordinarily deduce from the outside. The MVP of this Team might be Jon Minnis, the trainer who helped many of these guys channel their frustrations into more functional football power in the gym. It may sound moronic but the base premise of this season might simply be welcome to West Hancock: where dudes got big. I also like that this team, despite the graduation loss of their outlier in the intelligence department Adams, plays a ton of “football smart” guys. Give me a team with Kolton Johnson as its Line and Linebacker conscience any day of the week. It is not yet as demonstrable as Kolton’s resume yet, but I get a very similar vibe from Chase Hartweg too. These are guys who get it in terms of focus, intensity and yet composure. And look, if we are being honest here, my one concern with the Titans is they have a couple of really good players who tend to play “on tilt” emotionally. That’s part of what makes them talented but those guys also do have much of a personal governer on their fury and one wrongly timed Personal Four in the wrong game is risk. Thusly, I like having that layer of stability in play here. I am also a huge believer in the ascendancy of Riley Langford. For my money, he’s already the best cover man in Tri State Football and he might well be on his way to becoming the top Offensive Big Play threat around too. I go back and watch his QND tape from last season and it’s stunning to me how good his vision was carving up these intricate running lanes against the Raiders. He’s terrific. Moreover, I think I can actually talk myself into Bryce Wilson successfully filling some of the biggest shoes in Tri-State Football at Fullback. Will Fox is an all-time favorite at one of my favorite positions on the field and Bryce is a different kind of weapon in construction, but his amped up strength along with that low profile/furious run style of his is a weirdly fun fit in the Wing-T in a whole different way. To me, Bryce is what happens if West Hancock makes trade with Brown County for Darian Drake. And that’s a really fun notion to kick around in my head. I am also a buyer on Quarterback Bryce Buckert, based purely on the unspoken confidence Jim Unruh investing in the kid in the passing game. Old school Jim was never this free and easy with play action calls. And that has made everything else more dangerous on Offense. Travis Cook also touched on the ability and confidence he has a life-long 5-2 devotee to play different fronts and schemes because his Line is so loaded up with true playmakers in Andy Bird, Andrew Harris, and a guy in Tyler Korn who I think has just started to scratch the surface of what he can be as a pocket collapser. So that’s my story, and I am sticking to it. Again, I’ve been wrong before and QND and Macomb are better than they were a year ago, so there is some threat level. That said, I have great conviction in this pick. Easily said on August 13th. Let’s see how it stands up.
2)MONROE CITY PANTHERS (0-0)
SEASON OPENER: at Clark County (August 18)
THE RENEWED CASE FOR DAVID KIRBY’S CREW: In full disclosure, there is actually one more, very self-serving thought that went into my process of installing West Hancock over Monroe City in this power poll. And while I could easily not mention it or gloss over the notion, I would feel intellectually dishonest in doing so. Point blank: I you do what I do for a living the very last thing you want to do from a credibility standpoint is have the number one team on your Power Poll get upset in Week One. And anyone who doesn’t think there is threat level to Panthers in Kahoka on Friday either didn’t see how good the Indians looked against both Palmyra and Hannibal at the Jamboree on Friday (yes, these exhibitions generally tell us nothing and mean zilch as a dress rehearsal) and doesn’t understand what a hyped up hornet’s nest Monroe is walking into this week given the brand new stadium, the return of 17 Indian Starters, and the lingering motivation that exists with the CC kids after dropping a 52-0 decision to the Black and Yellow last year. Do I think Monroe City is losing on Friday? No. But could I see it happen after Clark County’s defense put both Hannibal and Palmyra’s Offensive Line in reverse for much of the Jamboree? You betcha. There is no bigger trap game potential in Week One than that which David Kirby’s crew faces. A lesser team would be in serious danger. Monroe City obviously is a different cut of ball club, but the threat is nothing if not real. Fortunately for Fans in Title Town, they do have the best possible asset for the task at hand: a veteran and fabulous Offensive Line. Josh Underhill may be off to Columbia to revolutionize agronomy and agriculture (and as smart as that guy is, would anyone be surprised?) but his ethic and his toughness is amplified through his remaining charges on a play to play basis. Even without their two-time All Stater, I would be stunned if this isn’t the Best Offensive Line in Tri-State Football this season. The Michael Ryan/Sax/Brad Cheek/Alex Wilson nucleus is so well interwoven and complimentary of each other’s skills, it’s hard to imagine a better situation to welcome in a new starter. (In my mind during my barnstorm visit, I tried to envision just how much fun 18 year old Chris Duerr would have had playing Guard with these guys. And then just as quickly, the daydream ended and I realized I was in fact ancient and possessed of the right knee of a 90 year old. But fun while it lasted, sure) And yes, more obviously to the casual fan, the Panthers are still out and out loaded in the skills spots. Cole Pennewell is starting to morph into Matt Paris 2.0 before our eyes on both sides of the ball and Zac Osborn’s burst is electric. And the game has slowed down significantly for Blake Hays, who is a better weapon in year two. Defensively, the Panthers boast the deepest and best secondary in Tri-State Football and a Defensive Line that could be the standard bearer as well (but won’t be considered as such because it is relentlessly efficient, rather than flashy.) I think Monroe is a better defense this year than it was a year ago if only because Brock Edris has playmakers at every level who are better than they were a year ago: Jonathon Saxbury at Nose (16 TFL last year) Pennewell the All Stater at Linebacker, and that Shively/Hays/Osborn/Mehrer thing that works so darned well at the back. There’s a ton here to lead one to believe a return engagement is possible on the State Stage. I’d caution you to three factors, however, that concern me. One: the Clarence Cannon Conference slate is loaded with physical teams this season and Monroe City is in Russian Roulette territory if the wrong injury occurs (Let’s be honest, the Panthers were incredibly lucky in the health department last season.) Two: the Panthers District isn’t as strong overall but poses a stronger overall threat to them with Rob Wilt raising an army of Speed and Power to the West. Take me at my work, kids: South is legit. And most obviously, Monroe City isn’t sneaking up on anyone this season. The bull’s eye here is immense and that creates a different polarity. All of that said, this is still an easy team to believe in with its collection of speed, toughness in the trenches, and outstanding young coaching. But these first three weeks are quite the test (Clark, Macon, South) and you can already pencil in the Week Three showdown with the Cardinals as your KHQA Game of the Week. If Monroe is 3-0 at that juncture, we may have to talk more seriously about swapping one for two on this list.
3)BEARDSTOWN TIGERS (0-0)
SEASON OPENER: vs Pleasant Hill/Western (August 25)
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR HAS MADE: Last preseason we were wondering aloud if the newly hired Robbi Howard could stir up any kind of signs of life in a program that hadn’t won a game in two years. Now, the Beardstown Tigers are the talk of the WIVC North and the consensus WIVC North Favorite when you start talking to rival coaches. A lot of that might reflexively look like “The Tigers have the best athlete in the League in Pascal Guilavogui” so of course they are the favorite. And the Tri-State best 20 returning starters only serves to augment that. Look, take nothing away from Pascal, who is a paradigm shifting talent and a super kid to boot. And yes, experience does factor in here. To me, however, I am a fan of these guys because of their construction more than anything else. Beardstown is playing with an Offensive Line that will be bigger across the board that ones either Hannibal or Quincy High field this season and they are doing it in a 1A/2A Conference and against 3A Playoff competition. Bottom line, the Tigers can go foot to foot up front and play very simple, very effective football. It’s hard enough trying to circumnavigate Cal O’Hara (one big human) or pushing Yarid Ruiz off his center of gravity. Having to do that and track down the WIVC’s answer to Jirehl Brock at the same time? Good luck with that Class 1A traditional 5-2 defensive scheme. And that task is amplified by Beardstown’s other weapons. Chad Grimm, who looks to me like the 2.0 version of former Macomb Wrestling/Football star Curt Myers, is moving to fullback and most small school Linebackers would have an easier time wrestling down a run-away Longhorn than they would this freakishly strong kid. The Beardstown backfield is also populated by a pair of standout Linebackers who just happened to rush for more than 680 yards each on the other side of the ball in Drake Wrobleski and Brady O’Hara. They’ve also got a four year starter back at Quarterback in Ike Riddle and a legit deep threat in DJ McWilliams. And no team in our area has a more singularly dangerous Special Teams weapon than Guilavogui, the only kid in our area who can boot a 45 yard Field Goal and break a return touchdown in the same game. The Questions here are all largely defensive. There’s good pieces at every level: elite Linebackers, Guilavogui at Safety and a very underrated D-Line (don’t sleep on Sebastian Lopez, who has nifty mobility at 230lbs) and yet the Tigers gave up the second highest yardage total in the WIVC last Fall. That has to change. We will get an instant barometer on the Tigers progress in that department as a really intriguing Pleasant Hill/Western squad hits town on opening night, before road trips to Carrollton and Brown County. Dates with Unity and Central await just after that. That sounds like a murderous gauntlet but if the defense rises, I would not be stunned at all to see these guys 5-0 on the way to a top seed in the 3A Dance.
4)CENTRALIA PANTHERS (0-0)
SEASON OPENER: at HIGHLAND (August 18)
THE CUPBOARD IS NOT BARE FOR THE NEW GUY: Jim Newsted, long time Panther Offensive Line Boss, takes over the tiller in Panther Country from the legendary Erle Bennett and does so with a roster that shows little signs of attrition. The Panthers return seven Offensive Starters, including the entirety of an Offensive Backfield which I though was one of the most impressive I saw on my Barnstorm Travels. Tyler Dorman got only 42 carries last Fall in shared duty at Fullback and is now in line for a huge usage spike. He reeled off a 40 yard touchdown on the first offensive touch of Friday Night’s Jamboree and his speed/power combo here is going to prove a beastly task for Cannon Defenders to contend. I am enamored of Centralia’s Wing Backs, both the ridiculous sudden Trey Owens and the Swiss Army Knife that is Kaiden Davenport. And with a year of starting reps under his belt, prepare to see a far more efficient (read fewer forced mistakes of enthusiasm) version of Clayton Simkins at Quarterback. That is dynamite weaponry front by another good looking Offensive Line (gasp…what a surprise in Centralia) that boasts rising talents in Zane Torreyson, Brett Huffington and Tight End Brad Kaiser. My broader concerns here are defensive. Centralia is still gifted at Linebacker with the returns of Owens, Kaiser, and Dorman. And I think the conversion of Davenport to Safety is just smart stuff from Newsted in cleaning up an area of concern. I have zero idea what fruit the Defensive Line and Cornerback spots will produce and that’s why Centralia resides fourth here, rather than first. It’s a really good football team with a great shot at winning the Cannon. But as ever, the difficult playoff path Centralia faces is a bit of a tempering agent in projecting these guys to this list.
5)SOUTH SHELBY CARDINALS (0-0)
SEASON OPENER: vs Brookfield (August 18)
WHY IS DUERR SO INSANELY HIGH ON THE CARDINALS: Glad you asked. Obviously, Saturday’s Jamboree performance in Paris as like most dress rehearsals: hit and miss. That said, the soaring high marks that Rob Wilt’s team produced reinforced every positive vibe I’ve had about this crew since..well, that watershed win over Palmyra last year. This is one weapon laden crew. The tipping point argument was always going to be “does South have a Quarterback capable of broadening the play-calling canvas” and I am incredibly sold on Dylan Threlkeld. Look, this isn’t a young man who is always going to be elegant with his execution. Converting to Quarterback is hard. But this is one really smart, super-adaptable dude who makes smart decisions and plays fearlessly. And he’s done so know at just about every known position on the field for the Cardinals so I’d say it’s safe to assume he’ll do the same at Quarterback. Moreover, he’s got outstanding pass catching weapons. Ransom Chapin wowed me in the barnstorm visit. He looked even more impressive at the Jamboree. And Threlkeld threw him some very credible passes. South also took to stretching Brock Wood, the fastest kid in the region, into the passing game and good look covering him as well as emerging 6’3 Sophomore Guy Tilbrook. And look, I am halfway down this passage and I haven’t even mentioned returning 1124 yard rusher Cody McKenzie to this point, who had a run Saturday while I was facing the other direction (accursed Jamborees) where he absolutely eviscerated about six would-be Knox County tacklers. And look, I don’t mean this as a backhanded compliment, but Rob Wilt has this non-descript looking crew of Offensive Linemen who are really terrific technicians; yet no one is going to talk about them because they don’t pass the eye test. Like Centralia, I have some defensive concerns because this team seems to lack that true “rainmaker’ yet on that side of the ball. And I hate that the District Path pits South against Monroe City so darned early in the Playoff Process (But what a District Finale this would make) because those are two outstanding football teams with the stuff to go deep into November. Put me in the camp that thinks South is one of the few Class 1 teams that actually matches up well with Monroe City and would not be stunned if the Cards find a win to be the Panthers this Fall. This is a dangerous, dangerous club. And that’s why I am buying so hard on the Cards.
6) BROWN COUNTY HORNETS (0-0)
SEASON OPENER: vs West Central (August 25)
WHY THERE IS LIFE AFTER CARTER LEWIS: It’s still the Wing-T, but this might the closest thing we ever get to a “Tom Little Spread Offense” this Fall with Joe Hendricker and Tanner Sussenbach forming the best Illinois pass/catch combination East of the QND Firm of Hyer/Wellman. Hendricker has the easiest delivery of any kid I have seen this Summer and more importantly, the full confidence of his coach. And Tanner Sussenbach is an absolute freak athlete with too much size for Defensive Backs (and given his incredible weight room gains this off-season, most Linebackers too) and too fast for everyone else. The Brown County staff is using the S-Word to describe the kid (Sheppard-esque as in Alex Sheppard of BC/Monmouth College Fame) and I am buying the hype. He’s a kid you have to get the football to as much as possible because he’s going to be almost unguardable one-on-one in 1A Football. So there is a legit counterpunch in the Wing-T Arsenal. Not that Tom Little exactly needed more weapons as the returns of Devin Tynan and Darian Drake in the backfield (and perhaps the rise of Bryce Bergeman, who I am told has looked really good in workouts) give the BC run game no lack of bullets. If I could go to my local Tri-State Area Sports Book and vote the prop bet “who leads the Tri-States in Yards per Carry this Season” Tynan might be the money play. He’s such a electric playmaker. And that word is the big buzz in Mount Sterling this Fall. Tom Little talks openly about his own need to be more aggressive in getting the ball to the playmakers in space and letting that tilt the field for his team. Based on all I have seen and heard (and based on the fact that the Hornet Defense is a bit of an unknown commodity) I truly think this could the highest scoring BC team we’ve covered in years. As far as that aforementioned Defense goes, the Linebacker Sports are rocked with the human heat seeking Missile Darian Drake on one side and Sussenbach (which I learned in Camp Little can now be used as a Verb and Adverb…who knew) rampaging to destruction on the other. But the Line and Secondary have questions to answer with seven new starters in play. And the WIVC North schedule is an Eli Roth movie. I don’t know that anyone is getting to the top here unscathed. But I do think the Hornets are one of the handful of teams who could be lording atop the mountain when the carnage is done. And you have my guarantee that this will be the most entertainingly watchable BC team in years.
7) PALMYRA PANTHERS (0-0)
SEASON OPENER: at Macon (August 18)
WHY THE PANTHERS ARE THE IPO TECH STOCK THAT COULD SET YOUR PORTFOLIO UP FOR LIFE…OR NOT: So let me preface this by saying I am dazzled by the prospect of Palmyra, knowing full well the Panthers are a total risk/reward proposition that either makes me look really smart or really dumb. The hard facts here would seem a disqualifier: just five returning starters total in the shark tank of Missouri Football Conferences. It’s just that the indicators here are so tempting. Beguiling, unorthodox Quarterback buy in Jacob Kroeger who is athletic and creative at a level you have to see in person to properly appreciate. He’s one of those kids who is actually better when the play breaks down and chaos ensues. And if I were a defensive coordinator, I’d likely lose my mind in trying to scheme how to keep that kid contained. And he’s armed with no less than Peyton Plunkett, the Drogon of Tri-State Two-way players as his one-back and host of talent young skill position types you haven’t yet heard much about (all seemingly named Braxton but each with their own alternative spelling) who can make things happen in space. Add an uber-mobile Offensive Line, fronted by stellar Junior Guards in Brady Barnett and Jackson Powell and the return of a superstar kicker in Noah Mencer and you have the makings of what could be the Tri-State’s best E-ticket Offense. Defensively? One starter back but again, that dude is Peyton Plunkett and he’s a prototype stopper at Inside Linebacker. But here’s the thing, those new starters are, to a man, mobile and aggressive as all get out. Kevin Miles talks all the time about flying around on Defense and making things happen. In construction, this group is really well built for that task. The session I took in of Palmyra on the Barnstorm Tour, Brady Barnett was out there tackling everything that crossed his radar. And you can see with this group that fire is contagious and that these guys like to play with a little edge. Jackson Powell is feisty and can flat out hit. Former KHQA POY Matt Frankenbach has a cousin on the team, Michael, who looks like a pretty quick D-Line type disruptor in his own right. The problem here is that you are banking on all the pieces falling into place at once, and doing so immediately; no easy task for you New Team Center when Jeffrey Smoot is your introduction to Varsity Football. By the same token, I thought Palmyra displayed nice tempo and feel on both sides of the ball every time we saw them this Summer. Again, this is a team you can talk yourself into very quickly as you watch them conduct business; dismissing the obvious question marks. And I’ve reached that point. We’ll know Friday to what end at Hugh Dunn Field.
THE NEXT LEVEL
8) QUINCY HIGH (0-0)
I say this every year in regard to the Blue Devils: strength of postseason competition works against them here more than it does any other team on this list. The gauntlet this team would have to run just to get to an Elite Eight is daunting to say the least. That said, I was far more impressed with Rick Little’s overall assets than I thought I would be. This team has the most obvious strengths of any on this list. Best Running Back drawing breath in our area in Jirehl Brock. Stellar Wide Receiver threat in Aaron Shoot. Bellwether kicker in Avery Wilson. And a potential superstar Linebacker in Brock Baird. After spending parts of two days watching this crew practice, I am convinced this rebuilt Offensive Line could be really good with an anchor at Center in Dax Floweree and gigantic Tackles in Owen Shelton and QND Transfer Joey Chapel. Even more pleasantly surprised that the all important Fullback spot appears to be in capable hands with hard-scrabble Jake Kelley giving Jirehl cover. There’s a phalanx of good backs and both Logan Ross and Donovan Prost, I am told, have had nice moments at Quarterback. These guys are capable of scoring a ton of points. Ultimately, this season will boil down to how well this group does in preventing their opponents from doing same. There’s your tipping point and I don’t rightly yet know how that turns out. But this will be a more fun venture than I thought for reasons that expand past the givens. That’s a nice sign for this team.
9) CENTRAL (0-0)
Brad Dixon still has a host of really solid Linebackers and a seeming army of Running Backs at his disposal; not to mention an Offensive Line that is surpassed in size in the WIVC perhaps only by Beardstown. The bones of this enterprise are solid. The Hallmark of the better Panther teams, however, have been the development of ‘tent pole” contributors on both sides of the ball and that’s the line of demarcation between 2017 being either solid or special for CPC. The Panthers have some candidates to make that leap. Cole Williams, most obviously, on both sides of the ball. I tend to think Noah Strohkirch and Eric Jones both have the stuff to become that “Cleaner” at Linebacker whose play makes everyone around them better. Heck, Strohkirch plays with a hummingbird’s heartbeat and remains one of the great pound for pound competitors in Tri-State Football. And I really like what Reed Olson brings to the mix here, even if it isn’t the splash stuff that registers with casual fans. This is a high floor team, for certain. Just not sure what the ceiling is and how the Panthers match up with some of the elite individual talents in this league. But we do know this group won’t lack for collective fight.
10)CENTRAL LEE (0-0)
Nick Ehret assumes command of a Hawks squad coming off back to back playoff appearances for the first time in program history, and may have hit the lottery is so doing. This crew is steeped in returning Defensive Talent, with stellar cornerstone pieces back in Tyler Hopp, Adam Rooney and Jared Brisby and figures to be as subtle on that side of the ball as a pack of Direwolves running loose in the Riverlands. This could be as stingy a group as exists in Tri-State Football. The Offense is a more interesting proposition. I have not yet had a chance to see how the Austin Gaylord Quarterback transformation has gone as my first trip to Donnellson came during a defensive session that got Thunderstormed out. (That said, Austin is pretty dang good football player regardless of position) And I have no idea yet how the Hawks distract opponents from selling out against Franchise Tailback Adam Rooney. So I am tempering my expectations here just a bit (originally had these guys sixth on this list) until we see them in action against Keokuk on opening night.
11)QUINCY NOTRE DAME (0-0)
The Raiders try to shake off a rare clunker of a 2016 season and bounce back to traditional playoff form. They are well armed to do so. Got to watch a little bit of the Raiders first contact scrimmage on Saturday afternoon and it was a sharp session, both offensively and defensively. The obvious outliers still apply: Reed Hyer, Jackson Connell, Good Looking Defensive Line, strong armed QB in Nick Wellman. On cursory glance, I thought the QND Running Game holds a lot more promise that originally would have projected with Jonathan Ohnemus injecting needed quickness and big play burst behind an Offensive Line that seemed to get off the ball really well. Intersquad scrimmages are hard to judge, obviously against scout team competition, but this was both an offense and defense that displayed a sense of purpose in its work. Anxious to see how that plays out in application in the coming weeks.
12)ILLINI WEST (0-0)
The Chargers return 17 starters from a team that kind of found its identity late in the year and was three plays away from perhaps giving Unity/Payson a huge scare in the first round of the Playoffs. Quarterback Jackson Porter and Fullback Nick Vorheis return to front a young, but speed laded backfield. IW has also put together what looks to be one of its better Defensive Fronts in some time with rising Nose Guard Ty Jackson and gifted Defensive End Kennedy Gooding leading the charge. This is an interesting springboard year for the program. The Chargers have just a handful of Seniors and one of the deepest Junior Classes around. This year could offer but a taste of what IW could have in store for Prairieland foes in the immediate future.
13) HANNIBAL (0-0)
Maybe an incredibly pedestrian Jamboree performance on Friday is the attention-getter Mark St Clair needed to get his crew to focus in; because the Pirates did not look at all sharp and they are walking into a hornet’s nest on Friday with the new stadium opening at Helias and the Crusaders seeking to end a four game series losing streak. Talent isn’t in question here. The Pirates have lots of backfield weapons to deploy (I though Kevin Campbell showed particular elusiveness on Friday) a pair of capable Quarterback options in Gabe Worthington and Wyatt Waelder, and one of the best Defensive Lines in our region as fronted by Evan Allen and Boogie Tate. But yes, after Friday, Linebacker remains a huge question mark for me about this team moving forward. And the Pirates will be undermanned a bit in the opener due to some team issues. This is adversity. Let’s see how this new group of Pirates meets it.
14) MACON (0-0)
Pete Claas bid adieu to fifteen starters from last year’s Clarence Cannon Conference Championship squad. But does anyone really think that a Tiger Defense fronted by Jeffrey Smoot, Shane Levett, and Tynan Mitchell is going to be anything but stout this season? Macon is set to significantly reload on that side of the ball and the hallmark of this program the last decade has been plugging in the defensive pieces and connecting the dots. The more telling indicator here will be what a rebuilt offense yields with Nash Waller taking over at Quarterback , three new starters on the Offensive Line, and Kevin Edwards and Travis Wood enjoying ramped up workloads. My gut says the Tigers are going to be very tough to check if the line can coalesce. That opening night showdown with Palmyra might be the most important opener, for both teams, on the Week One docket; given the questions both team’s must answer. Macon did beat Palmyra twice last season, for those scoring at home.
BEST OF THE REST
15)BUSHNELL WEST PRAIRIE (0-0)
David Roddis looks to build on last season’s surprise playoff berth and draws significant help with BPC Coaching Legend John McCormick returning to his staff as an assistant. The Sparclones return a dozen starters from last Fall including arguably the area’s most athletic QB in Devin Yocum, a good young line, and one/third of its dangerous running back trio from a year ago in Nate Ferguson. Opener with ex-Assistant Brian Lafferty (now the head man at Rushville/Industry) should be one of the best subplots of the opening week of Illinois Football
16)SCOTLAND COUNTY (0-0)
Tremendously difficult opener for new skipper Troy Carper as Marceline rolls into Memphis. The Tigers don’t have many bodies this year, but their front line starters are interesting as can be, especially if Junior Running Back Jaydan Payne picks up where he left off last year. Quarterback Will Fromm offers huge potential and there are really strong Offensive and Defensive Lines in play here. Tigers open with three straight at home, including a difficult date with Fayette as well. If they can somehow win two of their first three, there is plenty of hay to be made from September to October 13th.
17) CLARK COUNTY (0-0)
One of two teams (Pleasant Hill/Western being the other) that it is getting harder and harder for me to temper my enthusiasm on. Friday’s sharp effort in the Hannibal Jamboree just the latest indicator that last year’s 2-8 record is last year’s news. Indians defense looks like a different animal now with so many upperclassmen in play and neither Palmyra nor Hannibal could do much with the Front Seven here. Zeb Riney, who caught a touchdown Friday, looks like the added playmaker this team desperately needed. And London Brunk’s level of get-it at Quarterback appears much higher this season. Don’t sleep on ‘em.
Scott Stevens inherits just six starters in his first season with the Bulldogs, but the high end here is impressive. I say Brookfield early in the Barnstorm but this team is gigantic up front, fast to the edge with both Blake Cavanaugh and Khalil Walker, and set to unleash a really good looking Quarterback in Caster Dodd on the world. The connective tissue is the question mark here, but I think these guys have the pieces to be very dangerous. And if they somehow go on the road to Shelbina on Friday and pull of a win, this could be one of the great surprise powder kegs in area football
19) PLEASANT HILL/WESTERN (0-0)
West Central transfer Justin Shireman adds an injection of more physicality to a team now loaded at Linebacker and Defensive End. This should be a squad better heeled to handle the run with six guys returning who posted 60 or more tackles last season, led by Nick Black’s 122. Dalton Crane is back for his fourth straight year at Quarterback and has a veteran line in front of him. The kid you need to watch here is rising Sophomore Beast Kodiak Rogers (my favorite name in Tri-State Sports this year…sorry Diamond Fernando) who has apparently been living in the weight room. He is going to be a monster factor paired with Grant Peebles at DE and in the Wolves Backfield. Again, this may turn out to be a horrible overreach on my part but this is my pick for biggest rags to riches improvement.
20)KNOX COUNTY (0-0)
The return of Nick Edwards at Quarterback is going to be a huge lift for new skipper Bruce Vannoy. He’s got an elite target to work to in Hayden Miller, a beastly back in Cory Moubry, and a secret weapon speedster in Xavier Williams helping to power an Offense fronted by a veteran line. Even with what they lost in terms of speed, this is a more diverse Eagle attack that should have no problem scoring the football. Defensively? All Stater Cory Moubry headlines a group of 7 returning starters who gave up just 18 ppg last Fall. That these guys are only 20th speaks well of the depth of talent in the Tri-States.
The WIVC North is a minefield. Triopia is receiving a major infusion of JV talent that could reverse the polarity of a team that finished just 3-6 last Fall back into a playoff contender this Fall and a potential WIVC North Champ in 2018. Trojans will be small but quick, sort of a WIVC-version of Palmyra. And like the Panthers, this team will have a proven franchise back at the ready in Michael Burns to jump start the rise.
Last year’s Illinois Bellwether is in flux after suffering some of the biggest graduation loses in the region. New Coach Conner McLaughlin has been a win for this program since the jump and has set a chip on his team’s shoulders about refusing to lower their standards. There are some nice holdover pieces here. Taylor Klusmeyer is an athlete at QB. Luke Jansen and Todd Kelly front a nifty receiving corps. And Dakota Ehrhardt can flat get after it on Defense. This story line is dependant on just how quickly the new pieces fall into place around those known commodities.
Brian Lafferty has assembled about as good a first year coaching staff as exists, including his Hall of Fame Father Tim. The Rockets have a stud Fullback in Ethan Downs (Wing-T gold) and interesting backfield pieces to employ around him, including the dynamically athletic Basil Buckner. Line play will be the difference maker here and while I hesitate to back groups that are this green up front, they are being svengahlied by the Laffertys. First three weeks are make or break for the Rockets, think they need at least one against BWP, Farmington, or Knoxville to keep playoff streak alive.
Betting against Mark Grounds is a fool’s errand. That said, the Crimsons are very young this season, play in the toughest conference in Tri-State Football, and have just one proven starter back on a defense charged with slowing the SHGs and Rochesters of the World. That said, I do like Avery Dugan a ton at Quarterback and am told reliably there is some really good simmering young talent about to hit this program on both Lines and at Running Back.
The Tony Westen Era begins with huge size up front Defensively and a fiery group of Linebackers led by Joe Musick. That’s a tipping point Front Seven that the new Bomber Skipper hopes will spur a revival of the great Macomb tradition. The Offense should upgrade as well, with Jacob Burg and Kavon Johnson looming as now seasoned second year starters at Quarterback and Tailback respectively. That’s the good. Now let me tell you in no uncertain terms just how much I hate Macomb’s breakneck schedule.
26)BOWLING GREEN (0-0)
Kevin Krietemeyer’s latest program “Lazarus Act” comes with a Bowling Green program that has fallen on hard times of late. Bobcats were a special kind of bad last season on defense, but I thought showed significant improvement against Twain and Highland Friday in Hannibal. With Steven Merz, Kaleo Dade, and Noah Pafford on board, they won’t lack for playmakers there. The transition to Krietemeyer’s trade mark offense, however, seems to be a much slower work in progress at this juncture. Put simply, the Bobcats have to find a better way to unpack the box against the run…and fast.
27)WINCHESTER WEST CENTRAL (0-0)
Adam Brockhouse takes over for Alex Ebbing Cougar Land; an apt fit given their similar WIVC Wing-T upbringings. West Central returns some quality blockers up front, particularly with Bryan Wade looking for a bounce-back campaign (at Max-Q, he’s really good) and a couple of really interesting backs here in Austyn Noble, Adam Armstrong, and newcomer Adrian Starks. If this crew can do a better job avoiding self-inflicted mistakes and rev up improvement on defense, I will likely regret having them this low on this list.
The Cannon Conference is a merciless mistress that takes special glee in crushing the hopes of those who strive for upward mobility. But sue me, I liked what I saw out of Dave Degarmo’s charges on Friday in Hannibal, especially dynamic Quarterback Chance Newton, who put on a show both as a dual threat option. Saddens me that the Cougars lost a couple of key pieces to preseason injuries here because you can see some really nice potential percolating here. But again, Murderer’s Row awaits starting with Centralia on Friday.
Shawn Yates steps into the sizeable shoes vacated by Stephen Talbert at Quarterback. Expect the IndianHawks to adjust accordingly and streamline the offense for him, trying to take get playmakers like Blake Kendall and Frankie Black in space. That established, Mike Schiebel’s crew bids good bye to a host of key contributors on both sides of the ball and the rebuild on Defense here feels formidable.
Matt McGhghy has played it very close to the vest this off-season, saying very little about his rebuilt Offense. And we are honestly pretty in the dark on that front as to just who will wind up at quarterback and how this offense will look. We do know the Chiefs return a pair of talented Offensive Linemen in Jerry Glenn and Michael Glasscock and that this team plans to run the football more than last year. Beyond that… I am very much enamored of the Chiefs Defense, which boasts the return of outstanding young Linebackers Dylan Jeffers and Keegan Carter, as well as tougher than leather DB Matt Wyatt. But theirs is a terribly brutal schedule.
31)FORT MADISON (0-0)
Tony Shiffman showed up in the Fort, hired a terrific young staff, implemented a space aged Spread Offense to better take advantage of what is clearly a pretty good pool of athletes, and sold a very optimistic vision to his kids. All very savvy move for the Hounds Skipper. I feel comfortable in asserting that Fort Madison will be better. Will the strides be measurable enough to register in a brutal district? That’s a really tall order. But if anyone on this list looms as a team who could jump 10 spots in a blink, it might be these guys.
32) VAN-FAR (0-0)
As evidenced by their Class 1 Track and Field Title last Spring, the Indians don’t lack for athletes. Heck, the Parker Wallace/Josh Hodde/Jacob Garner faction would a welcome addition to any team on this list, because those guys are some serious athletes. But all the potential here (and it is considerable) seems to get undercut by this team’s maddening inability to stay healthy and keep pieces in play. Kevin Baldwin has won a lot of games in his career and I like some of the things I saw his team do the last two years. If it ever all comes together, man this could be fun. But history dictates that is a giant “if”
33) NORTH SHELBY (0-0)
Eight Man Football, as we learned last season, is its own unique world. Not a lot of in-between. The Raiders either destroyed opponents or were on the business end of such beatings last year by the power elite in the state at this level. Not sure how to commit here either way. The Raiders will be very young and absent nearly all of those fun weapons from last season, save for QB Mason Uhlmeyer. The upshot here is that North has two quality pieces on the Offensive Line returning in Gibbons and Mesmer and should be improved on Defense. The incoming Sophomores have a bright future; but banking on it to arrive this season feels incredibly risky.
34)PITTSFIELD SAUKEES (0-0)
The Saukees aren’t without their charms. Noah Mendenhall is befuddling weapon to contend with at Quarterback. James Gwartney might be as explosive a return guy as exists in Western Illinois Small School Football. Derek Neupauer’s conversion to Running Back seems to be trending successfully. And there are 15 total starters back, not to mention the infusion of a couple of noteworthy Juniors as well as a pair of promising Sophomores. The problem here is that life in the Sangamo is as unforgiving as a day without water in Death Valley. Traction in this loaded league is hard to come by.
35)MARK TWAIN (0-0)
Karl Asbury has surprised us before but he’s going to need all the coaching wizardry he can summon to get this very young roster to hasten the growth curve. Tigers looked very green Friday in live competition at the Jamboree in Hannibal. Not untalented; but definitely not as big as the moment yet against Highland and Bowling. Upshots here: Lincoln Talbott holds some sleeper intrigue at Quarterback. And Aidan Epperson is good enough to play some Defensive Line for anyone.
The Coyotes will field a 20 man roster this Fall and that lack of depth is going to be killer for crew going both ways, all the time. It’s a shame because Breck Hancock is one of the most productive Linebackers ever to don shoulder pads in this region, just 21 tackles shy of joining the MSHSAA Career Top 10 for All Time Tackles. Great kid who is playing Quarterback out of necessity this season (he’s actually got a lively arm for a Linebacker) and I remain sky high on Mac Baladenski’s future as a big time defender as well. Brandon Williams looked good too Saturday. Just not enough bullets to go with them here.
A few months back, I thought the Rockets would be a transcendent riser in the ranks but a couple of key player defections by projected starters have tempered the expectation level. I still think Routt will be improved relative to last year and a team that seems to deserve better than this. I just don’t know who you stick them ahead of given the rise of question marks now in areas like Quarterback we thought would be pockets of strength.
38) LOUISIANA (0-0)
Armed with limited experience and limited bodies, the Bulldogs hope to buck the odds in route to ending a losing streak that dates back to September of 2013. More and more, 2017 is looking like it could be Louisiana’s last season in the Cannon, with a vote on jumping to the EMO looming at the end of the month.
FEARLESS DUERRISMS PREDICTIONS
MONROE CITY 30
CLARK COUNTY 21
SOUTH SHELBY 35
SCOTLAND CO. 20
SCHUYLER CO. 18
KNOX COUNTY 38
LEE’S SUMMIT N 28
MARK TWAIN 18
ST CLAIR 28
BOWLING GREEN 13
KHQA NON-FOOTBALL POWER POLL
1)WEST PRAIRIE VOLLEYBALL
The defending state champs return a pair of Division One Pledges at the two most important spots in the Floor in Middle Hitter Peyton Bowman and Setter Cory Vyhnanek, both bound for Western Illinois when their prep playing days are through. Vyhnanek had nearly 800 assists last season. Bowman had more than 300 kills and 100 blocks. Pema Zellman gets an expanded role on the front line as well after proving an invaluable contributor last season. Graduations of Hannah Thompson, Julie Shoemaker and Hunter Griffith leave big spots to fill, but the legendary Teri Paul really likes her young talent and was pleased by the continued team growth in the off-season.
2)LIBERTY GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY
Stunned that Jared Schmidt’s crew merited no better than 11th in the state preseason, given their Third Place state trophy last Fall and the returning pieces in play. Perhaps consternation over the graduations of Megan Barry and Katelyn Obert, but Katelyn Robbins and Kaela Wellman are a great veteran 1-2 combination around which to build, with ample young talent on the way. Courtney Riley’s continued development here could be a big key.
3)BOWLING GREEN LADY BOBCAT SOFTBALL
Dean Streed returns one of the most powerful lineups in the state, bringing back players who contributed 33 of the 35 total home runs this team produced. Bowling Green pledge/All State Catcher Gabi Deters leads the hit parade, coming off a season that saw her hit .521 at the plate with 11 Home Runs and 26 RBI. Anah Noble was no slouch either with six dingers and a .456 BA. Heck, Katelynn Charelton and Sarah Harness would have been Offensive MVP’s on just about any other team in the area. Harness is a stellar pitcher to boot, who is coming of a 17-3 campaign. State title or bust.
4) QND BOYS SOCCER
Greg Reis bids goodbye to his All American Keeper Lucas Cline, but counters with one of the deepest wells of scoring talent he’s seen in his career. Mitchell Murphy’s return to full health gives QND added punch and incentive to add to an arsenal that includes Macker Little, Colby Kapp, Will Drew, and highly acclaimed incoming Freshman Seth Anderson, who I am told is the most skilled player to enter this program at least since Taylor Reis. The Raiders got nice growth last year from the likes of Peyton Stegeman and Konner Shuckman, which certainly helps flesh out the middle. And the QND folks think that Griffin Kirn will be just fine in net ahead of a nifty back line.
5)HOLY TRINITY VOLLEYBALL
Melissa Freesmeier teams should be permanently etched onto this list. All they do is win big and travel to Cedar Rapids every year. The Lady Crusders will benefit from the return of a stellar Junior nucleus that includes powerful Middle Hitter Emily Box, the multi-talented Mya Lawlor, Taylor Boeding et al. HTC is the region’s preeminent Sports Dynasty until some proves otherwise.
6)FORT MADISON VOLLEYBALL
Apparently, the Fort isn’t just a one Volleyball team town anymore. The Hounds return terrific pieces from a 22-10 squad last Fall, fronted by Amber Dilsaver, McKenna Fehseke, and Super Setter Leigh Johnson, currently ranked in the Top Five in the State at her position by Iowa Preps.
7)PAYSON SEYMOUR VOLLEYBALL
The Lady Indians return their own powerhouse front line starring Josie Stanford, Riley Epperson and Kamyrn Flesner; not to mention one of the most versatile all-around talents in the region in Setter Melina Tedrow. This is the year everyone has been pointing to for these girls. Do they have the firepower to get to Redbird and past the considerable obstacles in their way?
Seven More to Watch
MONROE CITY SOFTBALL
BOWLING GREEN GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY
QUINCY HIGH VOLLEYBALL
CANTON BOYS SOCCER
CLARK COUNTY BOYS CROSS COUNTRY