With Midnight Football down and a Jamboree a Oak Grove coming up, the regular season grows closer for the Mexico varsity football team every day.
What makes 2018-19 just a little bit different for the Bulldogs is this year they're going into North Central Missouri Conference action having just graduated a wealth of talent, much of which in one way or another went on to take part in college athletics. In their place will be a cast of returning veterans who will be asked to guide this team through the roughest parts of the schedule. This includes offensive linemen senior Mason Templeton and juniors Tristan Dunlap and Maverick Sadler and junior wide receiver Keyon Mahaney.
Also coming back for the offense is senior fullback Dillon Nichols after putting up 638 yards and five touchdowns on 98 rushes to earn All Second Team NCMC and All District honors, as are Jasean White and Tyler Talley, who ran for 292 yards and two scores on 38 carries last year.
The key defensive returners listed by head coach Steve Haag are much the same as White made 20 tackles and had a trio of interceptions in 2017-18, Sadler was a Second Team NCMC DL who made 31 tackles and Talley had 45 defensive stops. Nichols also was good for 48 tackles while other key returners on that side of the ball include Dunlap and junior Zach Watkins.
"Up front we return three starters. Tyler Talley and Dillon Nichols will anchor our backfield with Jasean White carrying some of the load," said Haag. "We will probably start sophomore Ty Prince at quarterback, but he is a good athlete who is also a very smart player. It will be as usual for the Bulldogs, trying to control things on the ground. We will need to protect the ball better this year, but I believe we can do good things on offense."
Mexico's Flexbone offense garned it 241 rushing yards, 58 passing yards and almost 28 points per game last season. Defensively the Bulldogs employ a 3-5 that gave up 151 passing yards, 120 rushing yards and 25 points per contest.
"We will need to grow the most on this side with the loss of two All-Staters. We will have more young guys on defense and they will need to prove that they want to be physical," Haag said. "We will be big up front, but the defensive line will need to be able to move. Our defense will still play aggressive and our success will be determined by how fast we can become physical and know our jobs."
When it comes to those who are new to the varsity, Mexico has some talent that was on the team last year, but saw little playing time, such as junior offensive/defensive lineman Richard Williams. Sophomore quarterback/defensive back Tyler Prince also falls into that exact same category. Junior Lane Cook has a chance to make his mark for the Bulldogs this seasom, as well.
"Prince will probably be our starting quarterback. He is a great all around athlete. Cook has worked hard in the off season and developed nicely," said Haag. "Williams is a big kid who continues to get better each day."
This season the Bulldogs start things off with non-league road games at Southern Boone on Aug. 24 and California prior to beginning NCMC competition at Marshall on Sept. 7. Mexico then hosts Hannibal on Sept. 14 before going to Clinton on Sept. 21 and welcoming Centralia on Sept. 28 and Kirksville on Sept. 5. The team then is at Fulton on Oct. 12 and then it ends the regular season on Oct. at home against Moberly.
"I am excited to see this team get on the field. We lost some athletes, but that means we will get to see some young guys step up. With the youth we will be playing being physical will determine our success," Haag said. "There is opportunity for players to compete for positions, and that is where we can become better during practice and also during games by playing more people. Our kids buy into our system. I feel our system has worked. Hopefully it will continue in 2018."