In 2017-18 the North Callaway varsity football team was hitting on all cylinders just the way head coach Kevin O'Neal and staff were hoping they would for a good part of the season.

With an offensive formula that started with Adam Reno running up the middle with power and around the end with speed, that allowed signal caller Tully Thomsen to find targets like fullback Jordan Delashmutt and wide receiver Dawson Wright for gains both big and small all season long. The Thunderbird's even made a nice playoff run that didn't end until one Saturday afternoon in Clark County when the Chiefs had one of those games when everything simply went right for them.

Now North Callaway is looking to repeat as Eastern Missouri Conference champions without Reno or Thomsen, the former of which graduated while the latter moved out of the district because his Father got a new job. Also gone from a year ago because of graduation are Strong safety/Wide Receiver's James Haubner and Austin Edwards, Tight End/Defensive End Clark Zerr and offensive linemen/defensive linemen Mason Garner, Trevor McDowell, Josh Hudson, Tyler Bondurant and Cameron Cochran.

"We will look to establish a solid running game again this year," said O'Neal. "Our defense needs to continue to be aggressive."

With offensive lineman/linebacker Tanner Pezold also being lost to graduation, last year the T-Birds were 11-2 overall, 7-0 overall. Because O'Neal hasn't coached anywhere else and this will be his fifth year with North Callaway, so far he is 29-16 with the team.

"We need to continue to develop our new players on the offensive and defensive lines," O'Neal said.

Fortunately, there are multiple key returning athletes from last years 43-man roster. This includes senior running back/linebacker Delashmutt, senior wider receiver/defensive back Wright, senior offensive defensive lineman Mark Isgrig, senior wide receiver/defensive back Chet Cunningham, junior offensive lineman/defensive lineman Will Jeffries, junior running back/defensive end Mason Wortmann and sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Cody Cash.

Backing up these veterans will be a core of players that are new to the varsity, but could get a chance to contribute in 2018-19, such as junior quarterback/defensiveback Jadon Henry and junior offensive lineman/defensive lineman Ben Bondurant. Senior running back/defensive end Dakota Brush has also made some good, early impressions, as have sophomore tight end/linebacker Christian Griffith, freshman running back/linebacker Trevor Ray and freshman offensive lineman/defensive lineman Zeke Gilman.