REBUILD OR RELOAD FOR BULLDOGS?
No matter what level, the road to the state championship goes through the Kearney Bulldogs.
In 2013, in a one-year appearance in Class 5, Kearney advanced to the state semifinals before being knocked out by eventual champ Lee’s Summit West.
Last year, Kearney again kept winning until Webb City took out the Bulldogs in the Class 4 semis.
To return back to the semis will be quite a feat, as KHS returns just three starters on each side of the ball. But while the Bulldogs may be young in 2015, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make another long playoff run by season’s end.
Kearney (12-2 overall in 2014, 92-20 in the last nine years) will start with a great building block with senior Cale Garrett. Garrett, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker and running back, was named the Class 4 state Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. For good reason, with 157 total tackles (110 solo), 17 for a loss. He already has landed offers from numerous Division I schools, including Bowling Green, Western Illinois and Northern Iowa among others.
Joining Garrett at linebacker are seniors Matt Rule (5-11, 190), a first-team all-conference and all-district selection in 2014, and Micah Manser. Zack Riley, a 5-10, 225-pound junior, also will register tackles at linebacker.
The defensive line will be senior heavy with Zac Courtoise (5-10, 220), Louie Etuale (6-0. 275), Ryan Hoffman (6-3, 215) and Robbie Collier (5-11, 210). However, while seniors, they will be garnering their first full years at the varsity level.
“We are expecting big things out of Zac and Louie but they still have to prove themselves,” said Jones.
Senior Marcus Harris (5-8, 160) leads the secondary as a returning first-team all-conference selection at cornerback. Seniors Tyler Yount and Cole Myers also will line up at corner. Aaron Mello (5-8, 165), Jess Davis (6-1, 180) and Spencer Wolters (6-1, 170) are among the safeties for the Bulldogs, which saw two three-year starters graduate last spring.
“We will have to have some players step up and make plays there,” Jones stated. “The key defensively is that our kids understand the mentality that the coaching staff wants them to play with and they need to do that.”
On offense, Garrett, Harris and Riley will comprise the backfield. Logan Hinck, a 5-10, 170-pound senior, will lead Kearney at quarterback, with junior Ethan Irsik also seeing time.
Up front, senior Brandon Gonzales (6-1, 240) returns as an all-Suburban Small 6 choice in 2015. Anthony Chambers (6-4, 250) and juniors Grant Tanking (6-1, 240) and Jeremiah Smith (6-0, 220) also bring size to the offensive line. Ryan Hoffman (6-3, 215) lines up as the returning starting tight end. Adam Battles (6-1, 185) and Mello will snare balls at receiver.
Despite the inexperience across the board at the varsity level, Jones feels confident the Bulldogs will be just fine by the time the playoffs roll around.
“We just need to stay positive and work to improve each week,” Jones said. “I think our schedule is set up great for us because we will be playing a lot of Class 5 schools during the year and then moving to Class 4 during districts. Our kids need to understand that is to our advantage during the playoffs. We have to be mentally tough and remember it is not how you start but how you finish.”