By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
You won’t find many 9-3 teams more displeased in their season than Carl Junction.
It wasn’t anything that the Bulldogs did that left them upset, the displeasure lies in what CJ didn’t do.
In its first year competing in the COC Large, Carl Junction finished 6-2 with wins over Webb City and Nixa. In a typical year that would’ve been enough to earn the conference championship, but losses to Ozark and Carthage by a combined 10 points kept the Bulldogs from hanging banners.
Then, there’s the 27-6 home loss to rival Webb City to end the season. Making it even tougher to swallow is the fact that the Cardinals lost to eventual Class 4 state champion Harrisonville just one week later, 27-21.
Carl Junction’s season has come to an end at the hands of Webb City in each of the last four seasons, three of which came in district championship games.
Beating WC for the first time in 37 years was a tremendous accomplishment, this season is about getting over the hump and winning a district championship. Which will likely go through Webb City.
“I think winning a district championship is every team’s goal but definitely for our kids,” said Carl Junction coach Doug Buckmaster. “They feel like they have an opportunity to better themselves and move on through district play. We need to finish and our kids are looking at what has happened in the past and they really want to finish it.
“Getting that win under their belt against Webb City is a positive for the psyche and knowing that they’re capable of beating them, but we just didn’t finish. That’s the goal now. We’ve had tremendous leadership from our seniors and a great summer to this point. Hopefully that will make us better and give us a chance to move forward.”
That senior class is the foundation for what will be one of the most dangerous teams in all of Class 4.
Carl Junction brings back 15 starters, nine of which are on the offensive side of the ball. The Bulldogs will again be anchored by its play in the trenches with all five starters along the offensive line and all three starters up front defensively.
Seniors Taylor Howard and Duncan Stamps each earned All-COC honors for their offensive line play. Classmate Eli Middleton was named All-SWMOCA as a center as well. Senior Tucker Haynes and junior Matt Hosp round out the starting line unit.
Junior back Rayquion Weston is one of the most dynamic running backs in Missouri with D-1 interest continuing to come in because of his blend of size and speed. Weston rushed for 1,643 yards and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore, which includes nine 100-yard games. He also added nearly 300 receiving yards.
All-COC receiver Aaron Ludders is also back after leading the team in receptions (35) and receiving yards (515).
“Ray is a physical runner who has gotten bigger and stronger in the offseason,” said Buckmaster. “Ray runs well and is also a very good receiver out of the backfield. He is a playmaker. Aaron runs good routes, is fast and has length. Has the potential to be a top receiver in the area. Has several D-2 offers already and it helps that he’s a state champion in track.”
The quarterback battle will remain an open competition for the foreseeable future with senior Caden Christy, juniors Joe Kennedy and Nakoa Warren and sophomore Garrett Taylor all in the conversation.
Carl Junction’s defense held five of its 12 opponents to 14 points or fewer last season and was one of the best in the COC.
Levi Duley is back after leading the team in tackles (114) in 2016. But, his ability to get free runs to the ball happens because of his defensive front.
Seniors Zeke Wall (All-State, O-Zone Defensive Player of the Year), Hosea Jones (All-COC) and Jordan Jones (All-COC) are big, physical linemen that play with a tremendous motor. Their numbers don’t jump off the page but all three linemen command double teams and force offenses to account for them.
The Bulldogs will look different in the back half defensively after replacing mainstays Zayshawn Weston (Pitt State), Michael Elbert (Southern Illinois) and Hunter Adams (3-year starter).
Buckmaster will again have no shortage of talent at his disposal and returns plenty of experience.
After proving they truly belong among the elite in the Ozarks, Carl Junction is hungry to again compete for a COC Large championship and try to navigate a district that includes state powers Webb City and Camdenton.
“I think we proved that we can play in this league and that we belong,” said Buckmaster. “We’re hopeful that this is the group that will move us forward. Our seniors had high expectations coming in as freshmen. They want to be champions. It’s important to them and they want to do the work necessary to make that happen.”
Carl Junction opens the 2017 season on Aug. 18 at Webb City. The Bulldogs will play their home opener on Sept. 1 vs. Ozark.