Last season the Montgomery County varsity football team had its ups and downs, but, because of injuries to several very important athletes at key positions, never quite put it together the way head coach John Klekamp and staff were hoping they would.
Natural talents and long time Wildcats like Corey Kroll and Aubrey Nelson are gone now, having signed National Letters of Intent to play football for Westminster University starting this fall, while others like Tim Hall, Bobby Zwilling and Wyatt Walton also graduated and will be truly missed. Now its up to this staff to find the hidden gems amongst the individuals they do have on hand and shine them up the best they can between now and this Friday when the 2018-19 season finally begins.
"Nelson, Hall and Zwilling all received All (Eastern Missouri) Conference and All District Honors as our field leaders," said coach John Klekamp. "(Nelson) was one of the most dynamic players in our conference at QB where he was a dual threat, rushing for over 700 yards and passing for over 1600 yards . (Hall) was the second leading receiver in our conference with over 800 yards receiving. (Zwilling) was dominant on defense. All three of these players have went on to college careers."
One thing Klekamp believes in strongly is accountability and leadership from his team captains. That's why Montgomery County held and alumni barbecue earlier this summer followed by an overnight lock-in at the high school that night that was players only and was designed to bring out the best in these young men, especially the ones who were going to be making the onfield play calls.
"We have several players that will be in position to make major contributions this season. Garrett Dyer, Dakota Dusenberg, Luc Bronaugh, and Don Staab all return as starters on the offensive line," Klekamp said. "Blake Eoff will return as our FB as well as our second leading receiver. Colin Parrish. All of these players will help make the transition smoother as our offense grows through out the season. Ethan Abercrombie returns as the starting QB following a season ending knee injury last season."
Abercrombie also spent some time as a signal caller during his freshman year, so playing the position is nothing new to him. But, when he went down a season ago it was Nelson who was called away from his defensive duties to take over his role. Now the one pushing him for playing time is senior Drew Murie, and because Klekamp is calling on everyone for everything they have, he's counting on both of these individuals to come through for him at some point or another this year.
"On the defense we welcome back two defensive lineman with starting varsity experience, junior Trey Meyer and senior Blake Eoff, who is moving to linebacker," said Klekamp. "We return two players that have made starts at linebacker in both their freshman and sophomore seasons, Blake Yelton and Aaron Milner. In the defensive backfield we return several players with starting experience in Marlando Parker, Hyrum Bishop, Elijah Robinson, who will be joining two year starter, junior Ben Miller."
One problem the Wildcats had last season is they started off going 0-3 by losing a trifecta of very close contests to end up 4-6 overall, 4-3 EMO. This year the team hopes to come out the gates just a little bit sharper in an effort to shake off those early cobwebs and make sure it gets off to a better start this time around.
"We started the season with three loses that were all competitive games that with a few plays going our way we win," Klekamp said. "We return eight starters on offense and eight on defense. We have 24 returning lettermen from last year's team. We will lean on the experience that many of these players have gotten over the past two years."
Klekamp is not unlike many coaches when he shows that affinity for his older players because experience generally leads to smarter play. The place he hopes that veteran mentality pays off the most though is, defense, at least in part because, while the team was able to improve offensively last season, the other side of the ball didn't seem to change much.
"We hope that we will score more points than our opponents or hold their offenses to less points than our offense scores. All kidding aside, we hope that our offense will continue to make strides as it did last season as we increased our scoring average to a little under 28 points," said Klekamp. "We feel that if our offense can score 28 points that our team has the opportunity to be successful. On defense, we have to make major improvements if we want to improve."
While it's true Montgomery County's defense does need to improve, its' greatest defeats came at the hands of the same two league opponents. Take away those two contests and the statistics would read much differently.
"Although we experienced another step in the right direction we we still gave up more than 35 points a game," Klekamp said. " We played many opponents well, but struggled against South Callaway and North Callaway twice. Those three loses left a bad spot on our 2017 season."