Friday night’s jamborees mean that Missouri High School teams are one week closer to opening the 2018 season for real.
The Neosho Wildcats travel to Mount Vernon’s Mountaineer Stadium and the Wildcats will face the host, old rival McDonald County, and independent Bolivar, all three opponents Neosho will not see during the regular season or likely not the postseason either.
This seems to be the norm for jamborees.
Neosho enters its second season under veteran head coach Leon Miller, who look to improve on that 2-9 overall record last season.
Certainly, that will never be easy in the Central Ozark Conference and that road just got even more difficult with the addition of Joplin.
In recent seasons, Neosho filled a nine-game regular season schedule with teams like Logan-Rogersville (Class 3) and the Wildcats do not have that opportunity in 2018.
The Wildcats return more experienced players than last season and, traditionally, teams make an improvement under a second-year head coach because they require less time learning new systems and both the players and the coaches feel more comfortable with each other and know one another better after the first season.
The Wildcats have two candidates for starting quarterback this season, juniors Gage Kelley and Quincey Willis. Kelley’s older brother Gavin Kelley quarterbacked the Wildcats last season.
Running back Cade Lyerla returns for his senior season and he will have the benefit of running behind a strong offensive line (probably Neosho’s biggest strength last season), including Ryan Slade, Sean Moran, and Kipp Box.
The Wildcats again will do their best to keep the ball out of the hands of the explosive offenses throughout the conference.
Connor McGehee, Drew Osborn, and Tre Letts (all three seniors) bring experience back on both sides of the ball, with Letts a starter at linebacker his sophomore season after a season-ending injury to starting linebacker Cameron Gorham against Webb City.
Neosho opens its season next Friday at home against Ozark.
The McDonald County Mustangs also enter their second season under head coach Kellen Hoover, who improved the Mustangs’ fortune by five wins last season.
McDonald County graduated some key seniors like Peyton Barton, Israel DeSantiago, and Cole DelosSantos, but the Mustangs do have 11 returning starters with six offense and five defense.
A key returner will be all-Big 8 Conference first team offensive lineman Elliott Wolfe, whose presence should help new quarterback Ben Mora and running back Oakley Roessler.
McDonald County opens its season next Friday against Marshfield.
Neosho and McDonald County last played each other in football in 2015, opening the season down in Anderson, but first the addition of Carl Junction and then Joplin, as well as the expansion of the Big 8 to 14 schools and two divisions with no games outside the conference, means Friday night will likely be as close as we can get to Neosho and McDonald County facing each other on the gridiron.
The jamboree starts at 7 at Mountaineer Stadium.
— The Seneca Indians have traditionally made a trip to Joplin for a jamboree with the Eagles and the Webb City Cardinals.
That’s a strong triad of teams, and now it’s even stronger with the addition of seven-time defending Class 2 state champion Lamar.
Lamar and Webb City have established themselves as two of the best football programs in Missouri, both coming off state championship seasons. (Webb City returned to the winners’ circle in Class 4.)
Just how good were these four teams last season?
A combined 46-4 overall record with Lamar and Webb City both unbeaten on their roads to state championships.
The Indians made a great leap in head coach Ryan McFarland’s second season last season, going from three to nine wins. The Indians finished 9-2.
Senior quarterback Gavin Clouse returns behind center for his third season and he proved himself both running and passing last season, generating 785 yards and 12 touchdowns passing and 953 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing.
Dynamic running back Trey Wilson and senior offensive lineman Eli Dodson highlight the offensive returners, while Harris Griffith and Wilson highlight the ones returning on defense. Wilson rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and made a team-high 10 quarterback sacks.
Seneca opens its season next Friday against Springfield Catholic. Like the Mustangs against Marshfield, the Indians get to welcome a former COC Small school to the big time of the Big 8.
— The East Newton Patriots make the trek to Pleasant Hope on Friday for action against the newly-formed Southwest Conference members Marionville, Miller, and Pleasant Hope.
The Patriots return eight starters from last season’s winless season and they will look to give second-year head coach Broc Wolfe his first career win. Opponents shut out East Newton six times.
East Newton opens its season next Friday against Hollister, again welcoming a former COC Small school to the bigger Big 8.
— All but one of the five Daily News coverage area schools returned their head coaches, and the only one with a new head coach, it’s the Diamond Wildcats and Mac Whitehead.
Like the Patriots, the Wildcats come off a winless season and it was a rough one, as Diamond was shut out in over half of their 10 games.
Diamond heads Friday night to Springfield Catholic, where the Wildcats face Catholic, Hollister, and Ava.