It was a great season for football in the Ozarks featuring two local state champions in Monett and Lamar.
Thousands of players suited up for their area teams this year, and we have narrowed our Second Annual All O-Zone Football Team down to the top 33. Below you will find a First 11, Second 11 and Third 11 that is not based off position, but by who we think the top players were this year regardless of position.
To get to this list, we contacted area coaches for nominations and used what we as a staff saw this season – on the field and on tape – to narrow this list down to just 33 players.
Most Valuable Player
Michael Branch – Monett Running Back/Linebacker
2016 Stats: 290 carries, 2,123 yards, 29 touchdowns; 21 catches, 382 yards, 5 touchdowns; 63 tackles, 9.5 sacks
2016 Honors: Class 3 & SWMFCA Offensive Player of the Year, Second Team Class 3 All-Region & Big 8 Linebacker
Michael Branch started the season as our Breakout Player of the Year and exceeded the hype as he led the Cubs to the Class 3 state title. I first saw Branch this year at the Parkview 7-on-7 tournament and he looked like a man amongst boys. That physicality transferred to the Fall seamlessly. He was a two-way force for the Cubs, which makes his production that much more impressive, as he was on the field for almost every snap this season.
Offensive Player of the Year
Alex Huston – Glendale Quarterback
2016 Stats: 395-for-563 passing, 6,131 yards, 70-perecent completion percentage, 76 touchdowns, 12 interceptions
2016 Honors: Ozark Conference & SWMFCA Class 5-6 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Class 5 Second Team All-State Quarterback
Glendale blitzed through the Ozark Conference and regular season this year thanks in large part to Huston’s growth as a passer in his junior season. The defense did improve greatly from last year to this year, but Huston helped greatly in that effort by cutting his interception rate in half from two per game to one per game. He led the nation in many of the key passing categories and next year has a shot to rewrite the record book for both career and season performances in several categories.
Defensive Player of the Year
Zeke Wall – Carl Junction Defensive Lineman
2016 Stats: 35 solo tackles, 90 total tackles, seven tackles for a loss, six quarterback hurries, two sacks, two fumbles caused
2016 Honors: COC-Large & SWMFCA Class 3 Defensive Player of the Year; First Team All-State Defensive End
Zeke Wall is Southwest Missouri’s best defensive lineman and there is not too much debate to be had on that topic. He can play all over the line, and when he gets a chance he hits like this:
He can also be a factor on offense catching the ball as you saw in the play above.
Shawn Bryan – Skyline Running Back/Linebacker
2016 Stats: 263 carries, 2,801 rushing yards, (10.65 YPC) 41 touchdowns; 18 catches, 178 yards, 5 touchdowns; 3 return touchdowns
2016 Honors: SWMFCA Class 1 & Mid-Lakes Offensive Player of the Year, First Team All-State & Mid-Lakes running back, First Team All-Region Kick Returner, Second Team All-Region & Mid-Lakes Linebacker
Skyline graduated an all-time senior class and was supposed to fall off this year. That did not happen largely thanks to Bryan. Statistically there was not a more productive running back in the Ozarks. He rushed 20 times for 478 yards and seven touchdowns in one game this season. He was a game breaker every time he touched the ball whether it was rushing, receiving or returning. Bryan averaged a touchdown just over every six times he touched the ball.
Tucker Edmonson – Carthage Offensive/Defensive Lineman
2016 Stats: 50 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss
2016 Honors: Class 5 First Team All-State, All-Region & All-COC-Large Offensive Lineman, First Team All-Region & All-Conference Defensive Lineman
Linemen don’t get a lot of appreciation, but click play on the video above and appreciate Tucker Edmonson. He is a 6’3”, 315-pound force. He was the primary option for Keith Guest and Trey Collins to run behind, and life is easy for a ball carrier with the holes that Edmonson created. There were several times this year I trained my lens specifically on Edmonson trying to get a good photo and only to have him clear his defender off to the side in short order and end up with a nice, clean photo of a Carthage ball carrier flying through a wide open hole.
Keith Guest – Carthage Quarterback/Kicker
2016 Stats: 100-for-165 passing, 1,720 yards, 20 touchdowns, six interceptions; 243 carries, 973 yards, 16 touchdowns; 38-for-45 PAT; 30 punts, 39.3 average, 58-yard long; 64 kickoffs, 43.3 average, three touchbacks
2016 Honors: COC-Large Offensive Player of the Year; COC-Large & SWMFCA First Team Punter
Guest’s numbers are not going to necessarily jump off the page at you, but he was one of the steadiest players in the Ozarks for one of the area’s best teams. He was more running back than quarterback this year, but was highly effective at both. He also was a key contributor on special teams handling all of the kicking duties. Carthage lost a lot from last season’s team, but did not take a step back largely thanks to Guest who finished his career 18-2 as a starting quarterback.
Luke Hardman – Lamar Running Back/Defensive Back
2016 Stats: 47 carries, 818 yards, 14 touchdowns; 9 receptions, 302 yards, 3 touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 2, SWMFCA and Big 8 Offensive Player of the Year
Hardman was the only Southwest Missouri football player to be a consensus Offensive Player of the Year at the league, region and state level. This is despite missing some games this year due to injury. He is not only the fastest football player, but the fastest male athlete in the Ozarks. When asking football coaches for players that stood out to them most, Hardman showed up on the most coach’s lists including two coaches whose teams did not even face him this year. He is more than just fast, he is also an extremely physical runner when he needs to be. Really, I shouldn’t have written anything here and just told you to watch his senior highlights above. It is one of the most impressive tapes you will see.
Keegan Hoopes – West Plains Running Back
2016 Stats: 309 carries, 2,202 yards, 35 touchdowns
2016 Honors: SWMFCA Class 4 Offensive Player of the Year, Unanimous First Team Ozark Conference Running Back
Hoopes was one of, if not the most, relied upon non-quarterback for an area team in 2016. More than 50 percent of the Zizzers’ offensive snaps ended up with Hoopes having the ball in his hands. That is insane for a non-quarterback. He carried the ball an insane 309 times in an 11 game season. To put that in perspective, Larry Johnson set the record for carries in an NFL season with 416 for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006. That is an average of 26 per game, two less than Hoopes averaged this season.
Luke Montgomery – Glendale Wide Receiver
2016 Stats: 86 receptions, 1,811 yards, 25 touchdowns
2016 Honors: Ozark Conference & SWMFCA Class 5-6 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Class 5 First Team All-State Wide Receiver
Montgomery finished off a scorching two-year stretch with an 86-catch, 1,800-yard season. He finished with 3,700 yards and 52 touchdowns over two seasons. His positon was listed as wide receiver, but in the Glendale offense he filled a modified running back’s role. Huston would hit him with passes equal to or just in front of the line of scrimmage and let Montgomery work. There isn’t an available yards after the catch stat for Montgomery, but it would be an insane number. His ability with the ball in his hands is a large reason why both the Ozark Conference and Southwest Missouri Football Coaches Association honored him on a level with Huston as Co-Offensive Player of the Year.
Josh Pruett – MV-BT/Liberty Quarterback/Linebacker
2016 Stats: 196-for-301 passing, 2,761 yards, 65% passing, 31 touchdowns, 3 int; 139 carries, 926 yards, 19 touchdowns; 118 total tackles, two sacks
2016 Honors: Class 2 First Team All-State, All-Region & All-SCA quarterback; First Team All-Region Kicker, Honorable Mention All-Region Linebacker
Pruett stepped into Jaelon Acklin’s shoes three years ago and continued his legacy of a strong dual-threat attack QB for Liberty. Pruett created with his arm and his legs on his way to a 24-2 record as a starter over the last two seasons with the only losses coming to Class 2 juggernaut Lamar.
Travis Vokolek – Kickapoo Defensive Back/Tight End
2016 Stats: 71 solo tackles, 90 total tackles;
2016 Honors: Class 6 First Team All-State, All-Region, All-Ozark Conference Defensive Back, First Team All-Region Tight End
The 6’6”, 215-pound senior is going to be the area’s biggest football signee this February and it is obvious as to why. He was a force on the defensive side of the ball for the Chiefs. There were not many ball carriers that were able get away once the Vokolek got a hold of them. You have to watch his hudl tape to fully appreciate his contributions. There are several plays that he starts out almost out of frame and finishes it by making a tackle. According to his twitter account, Vokolek has offers from Buffalo, Northern Iowa, Missouri State and South Dakota. He has also made visits to Nebraska and Kansas State.
Brenton Bush – MV-BT/Liberty Wide Receiver/Defensive Back
2016 Stats: 94 receptions, 1,538 yards, 18 touchdowns; 50 solo tackles, 105 total tackles, five interceptions
2016 Honors: Class 2 First Team All-State, All-Region, All-SCA Wide Receiver, First Team All-Region Defensive Back
Dalton Cloyd – Fair Grove Running Back/Defensive Back
2016 Stats: 93 carries, 1,061 yards, 15 touchdowns; 42 receptions, 533 yards, five touchdowns; 10 kickoff returns, 49.8 average returns, four touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 2 Second Team All-State Defensive Back & Returner, Class 2 Second Team All-Region Running Back and Defensive Back, Mid-Lakes Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All Mid-Lakes Running Back, Defensive Back and Kick Returner
Trey Collins – Carthage Running Back/Linebacker
2016 Stats: 134 carries, 690 yards, seven touchdowns; 92 total tackles, five tackles for a loss, five interceptions
2016 Honors: Class 5-6 Region Defensive Player of the Year, First Team Class 5 All-State and All-COC-Large Linebacker, First Team All-Region and All-COC-Large Running Back
Boone Kroenke – Lincoln Quarterback
2016 Stats: 112-for-177 passing, 1,698 yards, 29 touchdowns, four interceptions; 136 carries, 950 yards, 15 touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 1 Second Team All-State and All-District Quarterback
Garrett Hadlock – Mount Vernon (1st Team QB/1st Team Punter)
2016 Stats: 229-for-357 passing, 3,168 yards, 36 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
2016 Honors: Class 3 First Team All-Region and All-Big 8 Quarterback, First Team All-Region Punter, Third Team All-State Athlete
Zach Howard – Bolivar (1st Team DL/Honorable Mention OL)
2016 Stats: 69 tackles
2016 Honors: Unanimous First Team All-COC-Small Offensive & Defensive Lineman, Class 4 First Team All-Region Defensive Line and Honorable Mention Offensive Line, Class 4 Third Team All-State Offensive Lineman
Cooper Lucas – Lamar Defensive Back and Running Back
2016 Stats: 80 tackles, seven sacks; 1,008 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 2, Region and Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-Region and Second Team All-Conference Running Back
Jarrett Massie – Mount Vernon Wide Receiver
2016 Stats: 82 catches, 1,309 yards, 12 touchdowns
2016 Honors: Unanimous Class 3 First Team All-Region and All-Big 8 Wide Receiver, Second Team All-State Wide Receiver
Bryce Murphy – Neosho Wide Receiver
2016 Stats: 56 catches, 1,250 yards, 13 touchdowns, two return touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 5-6 First Team All-Region and COC-Large Wide Receiver, Class 5 Second Team All-State Wide Receiver
Carter Otwell – Mountain Grove Defensive Back/Quarterback
2016 Stats: 47 solo tackles, 60 total tackles, one interception; 129 carries, 1,254 yards, 19 TD; 44-for-74 passing, 794 yards passing, 9 TD-3 INT
2016 Honors: Class 2 First Team All-State, All-Region & All-SCA Defensive Back, Region Co-Athlete of the Year
Anthony Wilkerson – Lamar Defensive Back
2016 Stats: 53 tackles, 8 interceptions, 6 forced fumbles…7 catches, 339 yards, 48.4 YPC
2016 Honors: Class First Team All-State, All-Region and All-Big 8 Defensive Back
Chance Barbe – Mountain Grove Linebacker/Running Back
2016 Stats: 42 solo tackles, 78 total tackles, eight tackles for a loss, seven sacks, seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries; 124 carries, 1,177 yards, six touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 2 First Team All-Region & SCA Linebacker, Third Team All-State Linebacker
Michael Elbert – Carl Junction Defensive Back/Wide Receiver
2016 Stats: 53 solo tackles, 99 total tackles, five tackles for a loss, 5 interceptions; 14 receptions for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 4 First Team All-Region and COC-Large Defensive Back, Second Team All-State Defensive Back
Brandon Emmert – Bolivar Wide Receiver
2016 Stats: 79 receptions, 901 yards 15 touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 4 First Team All-State Tight End, First Team All-Region and All-COC-Small Wide Receiver
Trey Gibson – Webb City Defensive Back
2016 Stats: 47 solo tackles, 126 total tackles, four tackles for a loss
2016 Honors: Class 4 First Team All-State, All-Region and All-COC-Large Defensive Back
Jordan Gower – Thayer Lineman
2016 Honors: Class 1 Region Defensive Player of the Year, Class 1 First Team All-State Defensive Lineman, First Team All-Region Offensive Lineman
Aaron Howard – Monett Linebacker/Running Back/Punter
2016 Stats: 101 solo tackles, 160 total tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, four sacks, five fumbles caused; 65 carries, 413 yards, five touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 3 and Region Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-Big 8 Linebacker, Honorable Mention All-Region Running Back and Punter
Cody Lanning – Ozark Lineman
2016 Honors: Unanimous Class 5-6 First Team All-Region and All-COC-Large Offensive Lineman
Grant Martin – Kickapoo Offensive Lineman/Defensive End
2016 Stats: 45 tackles, five tackles for a loss, two sacks
2016 Honors: Class 6 First Team All-State, All-Region and Ozark Conference Offensive Lineman, Second Team All-Ozark Conference Defensive End
River Phelps – Cassville Runningback/Kicker
2016 Stats: 1,700 yards rushing, 28 touchdowns; 16 catches, 266 yards; 46-for-48 PAT
2016 Honors: Class 3 First Team All-Region and Big 8 Running Back, Second Team All-State Running Back, First Team All-Conference and All-Region Honorable Mention Kicker
Alex Turner – Monett Tight End/Defensive End
2016 Stats: 43 solo and 65 total tackles, four tackles for a loss, three sacks; 28 catches, 459 yards, three touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 3 First Team All-State, All-Region and All-Big 8 Tight End; First Team All-Region and All-Conference Defensive End
Ray’Quion Weston – Carl Junction (1st Team RB)
2016 Stats: 1,643 rushing yards, 22 touchdowns…25 catches, 298 yards, two touchdowns
2016 Honors: Class 4 First-Team All-Region and COC-Largel Running Back, Second Team All-State Running Back