The first season under Ryan McFarland at Seneca ended with just three wins, but that doesn’t tell the full story of the improvements the Indians made after finishing the season with strong performances against eventual Class 3 champion Monett.
What did become evident was that the Seneca football players needed to dedicate to the weight room if they want to climb the Big 8 standings.
“A lot of schools in the Big 8 take pride in the weight room. For whatever reason that was not a big priority for our kids,” McFarland said. “Being my first year in the Big 8 last year, that was probably the first thing I noticed that we were just behind in the weight room. When it comes to speed and strength, either you have it or you don’t. Last year we just didn’t have a lot of it.”
Seneca’s administration responded by upgrading the weight room and facilities at the school to help the Indians try to rise to the level of strength and physicality that Big 8 football requires.
Last year, Seneca was a run-heavy team with 2,558 yards rushing to just 444 yards passing. The second and third leading rushers return in 2017.
Gavin Clouse returns at quarterback in his junior season. He rushed for 777 yards and threw for 418 yards last season.
“We have big expectations for Gavin. We put a lot on his plate and a lot of responsibility on him (last year). There were some growing pains, but our last three or four games of the year, he played really well last year,” McFarland said.
Cole Hatfield provides an experienced running mate in the backfield after he rushed for 565 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns last season.
“He is the hardest working kid that we have. He has put in a ton of work in the weight room. He is a lot faster and a lot strong than he was a year ago,” McFarland said. “We have big expectations for Cole. We are going to lean on Cole and he is going to have to carry us on his back especially early in the year.”
The offensive line will be led by returning starting junior Harris Griffith and Gavin Dunnam at tight end. There are around 10 sophomores and juniors competing to fill out the offensive line.
Max Roark, a state champion wrestler, returns to the football field after a two-year hiatus. He will be one of the key wide receiver. Sophomore Monty Mailes, who McFarland described as the fastest player on the team, will be another option in a passing game that the Indians are working to improve.
“The thing we weren’t very good at last year was throwing the football. We have to be able to throw the football better this year,” McFarland said.
Defensively, the defensive line and secondary will be strengths.
Dunnam leads the way after an all-conference selection at defensive end a year ago. He tallied four tackles for a loss and two sacks last season.
He will be joined by Cameron Brattin, Eli Dotson and several others on the offensive line. It is a unit that McFarland says has the most depth.
Dawson Stephens will anchor the secondary with Hatfield. Stephens had 36 tackles and two interceptions as a junior. Roark and Matt Caputo will also be factors at defensive back.
The linebacking unit will be inexperienced with Kale Schrader, Daythen Long and Griffith being the primary factors in the middle of the defense.
McFarland is hoping the offseason dedication will pay off in the form of climbing the Big 8 standings.
“We want to get back in the upper part of the Big 8. It is a tough conference. To have two state championship teams come out of our conference doesn’t happen often,” McFarland said. “Our kids know that if we can be competitive in the Big 8 then come districts and November football that anything can happen.”
Seneca opens its season on Aug. 18 at home against Nevada.