Tradition is an integral part of any varsity football program, and the fact that Mexico head coach Steve Haag and his staff have made winning a tradition by having earned at least six victories in each of the past five seasons in some of the best marketing any program could ever hope for.
It's true that every team has its own personality, and that's reflected in the fact the Bulldogs finished with a record of 6-5 overall, 2-3 North Central Missouri Conference, in 2018, while going 8-4 overall, 4-2 NCMC, in 2017. Despite these variances from one year to the next Mexico is always going to do what it does best, and that's play a run-oriented, ball-control offense, communicate well and swarm to the ball on defense and on special teams playing mistake-free by way of repetition.
"We knew we were going to have inexperience playing in 2018. You never know how the players and team will develop," said Haag. "We did some things well and some things we need to improve. Overall I was happy with our preperation and mentality throughout the season. Now we need to take these lessons into the offseason and fuel our fire to win a conference and district championship in 2019."
One goal every team has is to be playing its best ball right when the playoffs are starting. For Mexico it was struck with a string of late season injuries that included a concussion that forced Maverick Sadler to miss the entire postseason. Jasean White also had several issues that forced him to miss the Moberly game, though he could have returned for the next contest had the Bulldogs defeated the Spartans. But, with Keyon Mahaney on crutches for that final playoff game, Mexico certainly wasn't at full strength.
"Late in the season injuries affected us more than in years past. It definitely hurt us, but it gave younger players an opportunity to show us what they have and develop for next year," Haag said. "Injuries are never good, but they are part of the game. I believe that the incoming freshman have some talented players. Although we have been blessed to have some freshman play and do well, we must first start looking at older players to fill roles because maturity helps in a physical game like football."
One way maturity specifically helped the Bulldogs was last year when Dillon Nichols joined the team as a junior because he certainly didn't play or behave like a first-year player. Instead what the team got was a state wrestling champion who was ready to lead by example and did exactly that. The fact he wasn't an underclassman, but had experienced plenty of athletic adversity, certainly did appear to help his efforts.
"Moberly had 17 seniors, 12 started. It was tough to match their physical play with my young group and we saw how those games played out," said Haag. "Also, the most wins in Mexico history was in 2015 when we had 17 seniors. We will, like this year, have freshman and sophomores playing big roles. We need to bring in big classes and keep those players out for four years. That's not easy. We ask a lot of our players. Football is demanding. Our numbers are trending up. I hope that continues."
Now, just like every varsity program, Mexico has to adapt to the fact graduation is about to steal from it's numbers, which will include White, a running back/defensive back, and Nichols, a fullback/safety. Also moving on will be fullback/linebacker Devin Logerman, running back/defensive back Nate Goff and linemen Hayden Maddox and Mason Templeton.
"Seniors are always difficult to replace because each individual brings depth to our program, but it is part of the business, and we will need to find players who are ready to step up and fill their shoes," Haag said. "The one thing that I will miss out of this class will be their work ethic. They never asked anything other than an opportunity to play. They worked hard and took advantage of the opportunities they were given. They will never know how appreciative I am of that type of character."
What comes next for the Bulldogs is varied. For some basketball. Others, wrestling or school. As for Haag, it's not so much the "what" that's important, but the "where".
"We would like to thank the community of Mexico for supporting our program. It would not be possible to do half the things we do without the support of this great community," Haag said. "I believe there is no better place to build a program and play this great sport than right here in Mexico."