“We've had a great summer and done some great things,” Branson head coach Dan Henderson said. “Hopefully we have some carry-over to this season.”
In the third year of his tenure, Henderson hopes the speed of the Pirates’ skill positions help propel Branson closer to the .500 mark after going 3-17 in his first two seasons, including a 1-9 mark last year.
That schedule, though.
“That COC Large schedule is brutal,” Henderson admits. Neosho, Nixa, Carthage, Ozark, Carl Junction, Republic, Willard, and newcomer Webb City are all on tap this season, with Marshfield scheduled from the COC Small in week six. “We're just trying to survive early and just trying to get better every week and compete. Our goal is to win and that's what we're going to try to do.”
Branson’s potential was on display as they won Parkview’s 7-on-7 tournament. Senior wide receiver Luke Masters is the Pirate’s only returning all-conference player. He caught 70 passes for 971 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, and can mentor less-heralded options like Kyle Hunn, David Turner, Chad Utzman, Roy Watson, and Hunter Weber.
“We're better at our skill positions than we've been,” Henderson said. “You can't coach speed. You've either got it or you're chasing it. Hopefully that pays dividends for us down the road.”
Ryan Still will step in as Branson’s quarterback this season after leading them to success in this summer’s 7-on-7 camps. Branson has traditionally been a balanced offense, and that should help Still settle in and get used to his weapons.
None of this matters if they can’t create time for him and open holes in the running game, something that Hunter Henderson (no relation to the head coach) hopes to lead the way in. The veteran will lead a raw but young group that hopes to mold as the season progresses.
“I feel like we may be a little better up front,” Coach Henderson says. “We've just got to get ready to go and be ready for the grind.”
The Pirates bring back 10 starters from a season ago, which Henderson hopes creates a culture and establishes continuity. Branson’s boys captured a COC Small title in basketball last spring, and if a rising tide raises all boats, then the football team is next to step up.
“I hope to be improved,” Henderson said. “I expect us to be improved from what we've been. It's the third year in the system and we're excited and looking forward to seeing what happens.”