By Josh Hall
The Bolivar High School football team will have to replace a record-setting quarterback and tight end from last year’s team that went 6-5 after falling to Carl Junction in a Class 4, District 5 semifinal.
The Liberators seem up to the challenge.
“We have pretty high expectations,” senior Lane Loomer said.
Bolivar will be without Connor Sechler and Brandon Emmert after both put up record-breaking numbers in 2016.
Last year, Sechler threw for 2,235 yards and 29 touchdowns. In three years, he threw for 6,699 yards and 68 touchdowns, breaking Rafe Peavey’s career mark of 5,742 yards and 50 scores.
In the last seven years, the duo combined for 12,441 yards and 118 touchdowns. Peavey went on to sign with Arkansas and later played at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Sechler will suit up for the Missouri State baseball team this fall.
Emmert, a first-team all-state selection, is also in the record book after catching 79 passes for 901 yards with 19 touchdown receptions last year.
So who do the Liberators have coming back from last season?
“We have a lot of depth back – a lot of seniors, which is exciting,” head coach Glen Johnson said. “We’re still learning how to compete and we’ve still got a lot of work to do this summer.”
Deacon Banner, a senior, is expected to be the guy under center when the season kicks off Aug. 18. His only experience at quarterback was a spot-start during a junior varsity game his freshman year. Last year, he threw one pass for the varsity team. It was an interception.
Banner tells that story with a smile on his face, but he is confident he can get the job done.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “There’s always some pressure. I mean, it’s sports and there’s pressure. But I just want to help the team.”
There are others in the mix for the starting job.
Sophomore Hayden Burks and freshman Bo Banner, Deacon’s younger brother, are also getting some reps.
“Deacon’s had a lot of experience at the varsity level, but it’s nice to have some younger guys that can throw the ball and have been playing (quarterback) all their lives,” Johnson said. “I think competition breeds excellence, anyways. That’s the positive thing about it.”
The Liberators’ offense will look slightly different from past years no matter who gets the job. And here’s why:
Bolivar returns its top running back in senior Lane Loomer, who ran for 1,798 yards on 257 carries to go along with 19 touchdowns.
“You will definitely get to see a heavy dose of Lane this year,” Johnson said. “If anybody knows anything about football is running sets up passing. We’re not the team that passes to run.”
After suffering an injury during Week 1 last season, Jaxon Joy also returns as a powerful running back.
Bolivar will look for four-year starter Zach Howard to open up some holes for Loomer and Joy after earning first-team all-state honors last year. Howard will also be a key on defense as well after pulling down six sacks and 70 total tackles last season.
“He’s everything you want in a defensive lineman and offensive lineman,” Johnson said.
Bolivar returns most of its starters on the defensive side of the ball, but the Liberators will be without Central Missouri signee Garrett Scott and Bailey Bileau.
Bolivar will be led by Co-COC-Small defensive player of the year Bradley Thomas. He led the Liberators with 142 total tackles last year. The senior also contributed seven tackles for a loss, two fumble recoveries and an interception.
Josh Vaughn will once again present a powerful force at linebacker after recording 83 tackles a year ago. He had seven tackles for a loss as well.
Banner could play on both sides of the ball after being selected as an all-conference free safety as a junior. Senior Chase Hampton and junior Blake Neal will also be a part of the Liberators’ secondary.
Neal and Hampton each had three interceptions in 2016, which tied for the team-high along with graduated Conley Garrison. The duo also combined for 13 total pass break-ups.
“We’ve got a lot of returning guys on defense,” Banner said. “We’re still learning some stuff and working out some kinks, but we’re hopeful and we’re excited.”