The 2017 Scotland County football season saw a rookie coaching staff and a roster with just five seniors post a positive mark before falling in the district semifinals to South Shelby.
Now in his second season at the helm, Coach Troy Carper has more veteran leadership to turn to as the Tigers return a senior-laden roster in hopes of posting the program’s fourth straight winning record and a berth in the state playoffs.
While the team graduated just five seniors, there are some big shoes to fill, particularly on the line. Carper will have to find replacements for all-performers Bryson Orton and Stephen Terrill, who started on both sides of the ball for the Tigers. Dylan Karsh was a starter on the line for the Tigers as well before missing much of the season due to injury. Also gone are running back Gage Dodge and receiver Brett Monroe.
“Those definitely are some tough players to replace, but we have some kids that are stepping up to fill in,” said Carper who heads into the season with 28 players on the roster.
The coach will have lots of seniors to turn to in 2018, led by quarterback Will Fromm. The Tigers’ signal caller completed 104 of 206 pass attempts as a junior for 1,587 yards and 15 touchdowns. Fromm was also the team’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 123 times for 721 yards and nine scores.
Fullback Jayden Payne rushed for 460 yards and six TDs on 82 attempts last year. The senior will again be called upon as a lead blocker and likely will see his touches increase in his senior season.
Carper will have to replace Dodge in the backfield after the senior ran the ball 105 times for 399 yards and seven scores. He was the team’s second leading receiver, hauling in 30 receptions for 314 yards and three TDs.
Sophomore Kaden Anders and junior Parker Triplett will step into Dodge’s starting role at slot back. Senior Jace Morrow will also see time there. Morrow had 16 receptions for 129 yards last year and ran the ball 16 times for 87 yards and a TD. Anders ran the ball 10 times for 73 yards as a freshman and caught six passes for 28 yards. Triplett, the team’s back-up quarterback, ran the ball 12 times for 56 yards.
Fromm will have to find two new top targets. Also graduating was Monroe, who led the team with 33 catches for 723 yards and seven touchdowns.
Senior Matthew Woods will lead the returning receiver squad. As a junior, he caught 14 passes for 321 yards and four TDs. Senior Jared Dunn likely will take over at the other receiver spot, after sitting out last year.
“This is probably the most athletic team we have had here at SCR-I in quite a while,” said Carper. “It is really nice to have that much talent spread all over the field. We’ve been joking about it, who are the other team’s going to cover with their #1 defensive back?”
Carper said that depth and the number of athletic weapons offensive coordinator Kyle Ellison has to work with hopefully will stretch opposing defense pretty thin.
“We definitely are going to make them cover the whole field,” said Carper.
Coach Ellison’s offense will be similar to a year ago, but Carper said it has been simplified for the players, who will all have another year of working with Ellison.
The run-pass option play calling will give Fromm the freedom to read the defense pre-snap and decide if he will hand off to the running back, keep the ball for the pass attempt or pull it down to carry it himself.
“Pretty much every play features all three options,” said Carper. “We are going to keep defenses on their toes.”
The key will be protection up front, where SCR-I is moving in three new starters in the trenches. Two of the three are new to the position as well, as junior Branton Burrus will take over at center after playing running back last year. Senior Connor Harrison will move in to the right tackle spot after serving as receiver last year. Senior Parker Triplett moved over from tight end last year to take over for the injured Karsh and will return along with Mason Kliethermes and Grant McRobert.
Burrus will start on the other side of the ball at nose guard with Triplett moving to a defensive end spot from his starting linebacker role last year. McRobert will move outside to an end spot after starting at tackle last year.
Kliethermes and Payne will return to anchor the defense from their inside linebacker positions. Morrow will start at one outside backer position flanked by Anders. Parker Triplett and Woods will likely start at cornerback with Fromm and Dunn at the safeties.
“We aren’t very big,” said Carper, “but we hope to make up for our lack of size with our speed. We want to get off the ball and play fast and wreak havoc with our quickness.”
SCR-I will be tested right out of the gates, going on the road for the season opener August 24th at reigning Lewis & Conference Champs Marceline. The fellow Tigers have some big shoes to fill themselves, after graduating top rusher and conference offensive player of the year Rylan Chrisman, top receiver Levi Terrell and a trio of all-district linemen in Gabe Kelly, Noah Wright and John Stelplugh. Marceline will be led by senior quarterback Chase Billups and tackle Nathan Sayre.
Fayette finished second in the L&C at 7-1 followed by Westran at 6-2. The Hornets upset Marceline in the state playoffs, before falling to eventual state champions Monroe City in the quarterfinals.
Fayette will return all-league running back Isaiah Estes, the reigning conference defensive player of the year, while Westran will be led by all-conference quarterback Alex Young and lineman Ben Miller.
SCR-I finished fourth in the L&C last year at 5-3 and will look to move up in the standings.