Pierce City had 31 players on its roster last season and just five of those players were seniors.
The youthful Eagles showed few signs of inexperience by finishing the season 7-4. Pierce City fell to Thayer in the Class 1, District 2 semifinals to end the year.
This year Pierce City will look to reap the benefits of playing so many underclassmen in 2016.
“I think we have a good mixture of upperclassmen and a good sophomore class that got a lot playing time last year,” Pierce City head coach Brad Hocker said. “When you are forced to play as many freshmen as we did last year, typically it doesn’t go very well on the varsity level, but these kids I think that they are different. We won seven games and at one time we had seven freshmen out on the field on defense. You don’t typically get that type of production out of a freshman class.”
Key seniors do return to lead the Eagles this season.
Donell Kleiboeker returns for his senior season after being named the SRVC Defensive Player of the Year as a junior.
He tallied 124 total tackles along with four tackles for a loss in 2016. He is also a key contributor on offense after rushing for 442 yards and six touchdowns on 71 carries to go with 10 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown.
“Not only does he lead on the field, but he leads in the classroom and the community. He is a part about every club we have here,” Hocker said
His twin Dallas was a second-team all-conference linebacker after tallying 95 total tackles to go with six tackles for a loss. He was honorable mention all-conference at receiver after leading the team in catches (33) and receiving yards (591).
Jackson Kleiboeker gives the Eagles three brothers on the field at any given time. The sophomore is a standout receiver who was second on the team in receiving yards (249) to go with three touchdowns. He also is a defensive factor with two interceptions and 34 total tackles as a freshman.
Gage Brown returns for his senior season at quarterback. Brown will be a three-year starter for the Eagles, and that experience gives Pierce City flexibility at the line of scrimmage.
“We have been calling plays from the sideline since day one of camp and been changing plays at the line,” Hocker said.
Brown threw for 1,231 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior while adding 678 yards and nine touchdowns on 95 carries on the ground. He led the Eagles in all three of those rushing categories.
Trey Sagehorn was the second-leading rusher as a freshman with 68 carries for 471 yards and seven touchdowns. He will be joined in the backfield by senior Kaleb Meyer who had 40 carries for 327 yards and six touchdowns last year despite an injured ankle.
Pierce City loses talent on the offensive and defensive lines with the graduation of all-conference linemen Jordan Cruz and Brayden Miller.
Senior Trenton Byers will be looked on to lead the way up front after first-team all-conference offensive line and second-team all-conference defensive line honors.
“Trenton is one of those kids that has set his goals to play at the next level. He has the size and strength to do that, and I think he has the drive to do that,” Hocker said.
Senior Noah Aust, junior Aric Zabala, sophomore Seth Fisher will also be looked at to step up on the offensive and defensive lines
Sophomore Trenton Kluck was honorable mention all-conference at linebacker last year to give the Eagles three returning all-conference linebackers. Fellow sophomore Dominick Smith will also be a factor at linebacker to give the Eagles a very strong group in the center of the defense.
The full secondary also returns on the Pierce City defense.
With so much experience back, Hocker is confident his team can hang with anyone the Eagles play.
“I don’t look at a game on our schedule thinking we cannot win that where you go into it feeling kind of hopeless. I think we are going to be able to compete with everybody. Hopefully we can stay healthy and do some things,” Hocker said. “The conference is wide open. Hopefully we can make some noise there.”
Pierce City will travel to Stockton on Aug. 11 for its jamboree with the host Tigers along with Lamar and Nevada.
The Eagles open the season on Aug. 18 at home against Diamond.