Branson went 4-7 in coach Anthony Hays’ first season as head coach. Year Two is off to a strong start just because of the familiarity the team has with Hays and his schemes.
“I think there is just a familiarity with the coaching staff, the schemes and the players. You feel like you are catching up year one and this year feels like we have a system in place and it is about perfecting that system,” Hays said.
Offensively, Branson will lean on an experienced offensive line after the graduation of all the key skill position players.
“The offensive line is probably what we are most excited about. This is my 13th year coaching and I have never had all five returning starters, but we have all five coming back up front,” Hays said. “We feel like that is the strength of our offense right now having those five guys back.”
Kyle Holdman, Tyler Bolin, Blake Smith, Cameron Bunting and Landon Hursh will make up that experienced line.
“Games are won up front. You have to have good skill guys, but if you don’t block for them it doesn’t matter. Those (skill) guys that played some JV last year and spot varsity know that they are going to have quality in front of them,” Hays said. “You will see a smile on their face when they get behind those guys.”
Senior Keigan Dougharty who started in the secondary along with junior varsity quarterback Gabe Sylvester will look to compete to be the Pirates’ signal-caller.
Jay Hill started on junior varsity as a sophomore and is competing with senior Chase Moody for carries in the backfield.
Defensively, three-year starter Trey Hoenie returns to the middle of the defense at linebacker. He led the team with 131 total tackles as a junior and is on pace to break the school tackle record.
“He (Hoenie) is the anchor of the defense and everybody on this team respects him a ton,” Hays said.
Caleb Klinger and Dougharty will join him at linebacker.
The secondary will be a strength behind four returning starters. Senior safeties Colton VanderLaan and Colin Andrews along with senior Britt Pierce and junior DShawn Craigg at cornerback return to that unit.
Seniors Kyler Efird and Chase Buckner return to their starting defensive end spots.
The Central Ozark Conference gets even tougher this season with the addition of Joplin, but is a challenge Hays and the Pirates embrace.
“You have to compete every single week. It is a grind,” Hays said. “You know they will be close games and if you don’t bring your A game then they won’t be close games. It is fun though. You feel like you are in the SEC of high school football. As a competitor I like it. I am trying to get my kids to buy into that and love it and not to fear anybody. Enjoy that you are playing this caliber of teams and then go beat them because if you can beat them then you can beat anybody.”
Taking things one week at a time what the Pirates will focus on.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself. I don’t even know who we are playing Week 2. You just have to take it one week at a time and hopefully we are 1 and 0 and the week after that we are 1 and 0,” Hays said.
Branson will host Aurora, Lebanon and Reeds Spring in a jamboree on Aug. 17. The Pirates will open the regular season on Aug. 24 at Republic.