With a new coach and system in place, and in place in a new conference, the McDonald County Mustangs are ready to romp into the 2014 high school football season.
An assistant at the Anderson school the past two years, Corey Henry has been elevated to head coach of the Mustang football program.Coach Henry feels the biggest challenge facing this first year of a program headed in a new direction is a low number of kids with experience.
“We’ve got a good number – we’re suiting up about 47, 48 kids – but they’re just young and inexperienced for the most part.” Henry asserted, “That seems to be my biggest challenge, is finding guys that have some depth and have some experience on the field.”
Henry said he will rely heavily on several returning starters, including Jake Wood at quarterback, receiver and linebacker Jake Wilke, Lavonte Jackson at running back, Jake Will at running back and linebacker, Austin Groph, Donivan Hadley and Josh Thumler, all three on both sides of the line, Seth Schockley on the offensive line and at linebacker, Derek Lawson at tight end and linebacker, tight end Derek Chaney, Damian Monzalvo at corner and wide receiver, Josh Kinzer at safety and wide receiver, and Israel DeSantiago, a freshman cornerback.
Looking ahead at the schedule, Henry forecasted a successful season if the players continue to work hard.
“I firmly believe to better yourself you have to play top-quality competition, and I believe we start and finish with top competition,” he said. “I don’t feel like any game is a weak game. I really feel like entering the Big 8 is going to be a great opportunity for us.”
Henry maintained, “It’s huge,” for the Mustangs to be rejoined in a conference, after being an independent for several years.
“I’ve been here two years, and the two years I’ve seen them not in a conference it’s just tough trying to find consistency year in and year out,” Henry said. “The school, the community and the kids, it’s an exciting feeling here to be back in a conference.”
He said there was never any assurance who opponents would be from one year to the next.
“You may not know who you are playing every other year. You may be playing the toughest schedule in the world, and you may have trouble finding 10 games,” he said.
The key to a successful 2014 Mustang season, according to Henry, is the play of both the offensive and defensive lines.
He indicated, “They’re really going to have to control the trenches for us, and I really feel like they are the backbone of the team. Our quarterback, Jake Wood, has done a great job of understanding our offensive system. He’s learning how to check plays from the line, learning what we can and can’t do to start the formation, and his leadership is just unbelievable, he’s very unselfish.”
Henry added that Wood is surrounded by very unselfish tailbacks and wide receivers.
He said that the Mustang defense will have to be very physical if McDonald County football is to enjoy success this year.
“And keep our motors running and not slow down to a slow pace,” he said.
Henry said pre-season practice has focused on finishing.
“My past two years here, I think these boys have done a good job about going out and starting a game competitive, but I feel like when it came time to finish they just haven’t ever gotten it figured out on how to finish a football game,” he said. “That’s been our main focus, learning how to finish the game and playing four quarters with a high-intensity type atmosphere.”
Finishing at 1-9 on the 2013 season, Henry said the Mustangs have some guys who are battling for spots, and they won’t know who is going to be in there until they get ready to strap it up against Neosho to begin the season.
He concluded that next week’s kickoff to the high school season will provide some answers for the Mustang depth chart.
“Everyone has stepped up, they’re learning responsibility, and they’re doing a great job of getting where they need to be to be successful,” he said.
8/22 Neosho Away
8/29 Aurora Home
9/5 Cassville Away
9/12 East Newton Away
9/19 Carl Junction Home
9/26 Lamar Home
10/3 Seneca Away
10/10 Mt. Vernon Home
10/17 Monett Away