Kickapoo finished 2-8 in Nate Thomas’ first season as the head coach. The Chiefs fell 57-7 to Park Hill in the Class 6 District 4 Quarterfinals to end the season.
Year Two of the Nate Thomas era will feature a new offense, but a consistent defense.
The offensive line will be a strength for Kickapoo with Carl and Mark Burton along with center Jordin Porteous returning to hold things down up front.
“With us putting some new stuff in offensively they have all started at square one. It is good to have their leadership. Those are three guys that take every opportunity to be out here before and after practice and put that extra work in every day,” Thomas said.
Wide receiver will be another place that Kickapoo can lean on with Austin Hutson, Travis King and Adam Tyson all returning. King and Hutson, who are both slot receivers, were first and second in receiving yards last year with 331 and 245, respectively. Hutson caught 27 total balls and six touchdowns. His touchdowns led the team. Tyson had 12 catches for 107 yards.
Junior Cross Elmquist will take over at quarterback after last year’s starter Mason Auer elected not to play football and instead focus on baseball. Elmquist is poised for a big season after attending the Manning Passing Academy this summer.
“(He is) a completely different kid (after the camp),” Thomas said. “There are no cameo appearances by Peyton and Eli. He said they are out there coaching from sun-up to sun-down just flat getting after it. The things he brought back from that help me as a quarterback coach. It was an awesome deal for him to be able to experience that. He came back and looked like a completely different quick confidence wise.”
Defensively, things will remain consistent schematically with the defensive line being a source of strength. That unit will be led by Adam Tyson and Marcus Jackson on the ends with Raveoin Harrell and Nate Monteleone on the interior. Harrell was the top statistical producer among that group last year with 17 total tackles and a sack to go with two tackles for a loss.
Alex Taylor will help anchor the second level at linebacker coming off of a 41-tackle season. He also had seven tackels for a loss, which was second on the team last year.
Saftey Jack Haydon will lead the defensive secondary. He had 40 tackles last year along with one interception.
Kickapoo hopes last season was just a one-year bump as the Chiefs look to climb back up the Ozark Conference standings.
“Our biggest rival is the guy in the mirror right now,” Thomas said. “With these kids, they have to get that swagger and confidence back that that we have had in the years past with all of the success that they had with coach (Kurt) Thompson and (Joel) Wells and be able to play at a high level and do it confidently every snap. If they can do that I think we can have a chance to compete.”
Kickapoo opens the season on Aug. 24 at Lebanon.