Winning the close games will be a key to success for the Neosho High School varsity football Wildcats this year.
Head Coach Dustin Baldwin, now in his second season with the Wildcats, was optimistic about his team’s chances despite an 0-10 record last season. In five matchups last season, the Wildcats either had the lead in the fourth quarter or were within a touchdown of the win.
“We were in five games in the fourth quarter last year,” Baldwin said. “If there is one thing we need to do this season, it is to learn how to win those games in the fourth quarter. We have to believe in ourselves that we can execute the right way and win games.”
Baldwin said the team has been working on fundamentals this year, including trying to play a more physical game.
“There are a lot of little things and we need to focus on being tougher,” he said. “If our guys will buy-in and commit themselves to each other and the team, we have the opportunity to be a much more physical and improved football team. We certainly have dedicated this off-season to improving ourselves physically in an effort to run the football better and also stop the run in defense.
Baldwin said despite losses of key personnel to graduation last year — including wide receiver and defensive back Justin McKee, who is playing for Pittsburg State University, and offensive lineman Aaron Clardy, who is at Missouri State — he has a number of returning lettermen and a total of about 30 upperclassmen.
“It is our hope that they will compete for positions, make each other better, and provide depth,” the head coach said.
The Wildcats averaged 17 points, 158 passing yards and 125 rushing yards per game.
He listed returning players as a strength, including a quarterback, three offensive linemen, two wide receivers and a tight end.
“We expect the offensive line to be better than a year ago,” he said. “We are more explosive across the board. Our skill players are developing in both the run game and the passing game. We need guys to make plays.”
These “guys to make plays” include Bryce Murphy, Calvin Coon and Nathan Moser, who combined to catch about 60 passes last season.
“So we have some experience there and there are some guys that will push them for spots,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said juniors Cody Rains, Devin Hames, and Chance Branstettor will all push for carries in the backfield. Meanwhile, juniors Appy Mendoza, Ryan Greenstreet and Darrian Guillery will fill the H spot in the Wildcat offense.
On defense, the Wildcats have Landon Decker, Montana Duncan, Ben Elledge, Jordan White, Chris Forbes and Austin Hailey returning from last year.
“I’m excited about where we are headed,” the head coach said. “We should be more comfortable with schemes and routine than we were last year. We are still very young and our numbers are primarily in the junior through freshman classes. We have some guys who are coming back that have played before and I’m excited to add them to our team. It will take time for us to gel with all the new faces. I think we will be a better team in week 10 than in week one.”
8/22 McDonald County Home
8/29 Rogersville Away
9/5 Willard Away
9/12 Branson Home
9/19 Carthage Home
9/26 Nixa Away
10/3 Webb City Away
10/10 Republic Home
10/17 Ozark Away