This season, in his first year as the head coach of the Mexico varsity boys basketball team, Darren Pappas had two true big men to try and man the post with.
After that it was all will, grit, and determination, and attitude and atmosphere dominated by the work ethic and example set by senior Matthew Huffman.
"I have no doubt Matthew is going to do great things and be that leader, both in the classroom and on the playing field," said Pappas.
Because Huffman's earned himself a reputation as an athlete who follows orders to the point his level of on-field acheivement has risen every year since he was a freshman, the end result has been that he recently signed a national letter of intent to play football for Westminster University. That's not the only reason the wide receiver is heading on to the collegiate gridiron, though, as he's also a member of the National Honor Society.
"This senior class is the one I started with when they were freshmen. There are a lot of good athletes, Huffman being one of them, and they are going to be missed," said Mexico football coach Steve Haag. "They put a mark on Mexico High School. That's part of being a coach. You get to see a lot of senior classes go. You try and rebuild. Huffman had the type of career that when he comes back he'll be able to be proud of what he did with his stats and the games we won while he was here."
In his first year playing for Haag in 2014, the Bulldogs went 9-3 overall and fell to Helias in the second round of the playoffs according to maxpreps.com. The next season, 2015, Mexico upped its game to 10-2 overall, eliminating Moberly and Warrenton before finally losing to Hannibal in round three of the postseason.
"I'm excited. I've already started coming in early to lift weights and get bigger. Now that I can just focus on football I'm really excited," said Huffman. "I'm going to have to work hard everyday, especially in the weight room. That's one of the things I really need to work on to get to where I want to be. I've met some of the guys on the team at Westminster. I don't know them personally, but I've played against some of the other incoming freshman. They're great guys and It'll be fun to make some friends."
As a junior in 2016 Huffman and the Bulldogs finished the season at 7-3 overall after getting upset by Christian in the first round of the Missouri State High School Activities Association tournament, but that's when the seeds of something bigger began taking hold. That's because he made four catches for 54 yards and a score in nine games, which included a long of 46 yards.
"I loved the Westminster campus. Immediately I knew that was the place for me," Huffman said. "It was a connection I had. I loved it and felt like it was home. This will be my first time living on my home, but I'm excited. It'll be good. I try not to get too prideful. I try to humble myself, but I'm confident and happy about where I'm at."
As for the other schools he was considering, based on academics only the University of Missouri held his interest. While at Westminster he'll study Sports and Business Management.
"We believe he'll have success down in Fulton and hopefully he'll come back and share his experiences with us. He'll always be a Bulldog. We'll welcome him back and we wish him all the success he can get," Haag said.