Branson has a new head coach in Anthony Hays who comes over from Parkview.
Hays inherits a team that hasn’t won more than three games since 2013, but the Pirates bring back a senior class that is ready to restore Branson to its former glory.
“We have several seniors that are coming back this year. They won a playoff game last year and had a taste of success toward the end (of the season). I think they really want to expand on that and have a great final go at it and leave a legacy for these young guys to build on and bring Branson back,” Hays said.
Leading the way is returning starting quarterback Ryan Still. Still threw for 1,746 yards and 11 touchdowns with six more rushing touchdowns on the ground as a junior.
“To have a returning quarterback with some starting experience and football IQ when you are installing a whole new offense has been huge in the transition,” Hays said.
He will be joined in the backfield by returning all-conference running back Kyle Hunn. Hunn started at running back and in the secondary last season, but will focus only on offense this year with spot work on defense.
Senior Karson Knudson will be a key threat at receiver.
The offensive line will be young with no returning starters. Juniors Kyle Holdman, Tyler Bolin, Blake Smith, Cameron Bunting and sophomore Landon Hursh will be the unit from left to right.
The inexperienced group benefitted from not having to play defense in the summer.
“We are two-platooning, so they aren’t playing d-line at all. They are getting double the practice amount on the offensive line. We feel like we are a couple weeks ahead by doing that. By the time we had team camp they were starting to gel and it was starting to click for them,” Hays said.
The defense will switch from a 4-3 base to a 4-2-5.
Junior Trey Hoenie returns to the middle of the defense at linebacker after an 85-tackle season as a sophomore. He will be joined by senior Michael Sylvester.
Seniors Damian Chapa and Noah Greer return to start on the defensive line.
The secondary will have five new starters. Nick Pead, who is a senior transfer from Alaska, is the only player with varsity starting experience. He was a wide receiver and safety for Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska.
Branson opens the season on Aug. 18 at home against Neosho.