By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It’s official, Bill Voorhis has cycled through an entire four-year class of athletes at Fair Grove and the results speak for themselves, with the Eagles averaging 10 wins over the last three seasons, including an undefeated Mid-Lakes title in 2016.
Voorhis’ first three classes helped take the program from just seven wins in 2013 and 2014 combined, to yearly expectations of competing at a high level with the Class of 2018 helping to spearhead that change.
“Those kids will always be the foundation of any success we have in the future at Fair Grove,” said Voorhis. “We wanted to build our team on the foundation that the single most important thing that would contribute to our success was leadership. Those kids bought in to that foundation and made it strong. They attended leadership classes and led our program through all aspects of a football team both on the field and off the field in different community service projects.
“It is not often that current players even care about guys who have graduated coming back to see them but our team is still being affected by guys like Noah Sandridge. Our current players still look up to him, even though he is not around every day. The incoming freshmen still want his approval, even though they never played with him. That is type of leadership we are working towards; players who didn’t even play with you are affected by what you did for the team while you were here. As a team, we had nine school records broken by that class, the guys who played in that group where some of the best that have ever played their positions at FG. They will be missed and there will be no simple answer to replacing what they did for our team.”
While this year’s group will miss names like Kensinger, Robertson and Mauldin, Fair Grove is returning 11 total starters and the expectation of success will not change.
Senior Rhett Hill will take over at quarterback, following in the shoes of Jayden Kensinger who passed for 2,753 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. Hill is more of a dual-threat than his predecessor and Fair Grove hopes to take full advantage of that athleticism on both sides of the ball.
“He is a tough, hard-nosed kid who does everything well,” said Voorhis. “He probably would have played quarterback for a lot of other teams in the area as a junior, but he had a record-setting QB in front of him. He did a great job in his role last year as a RB/QB and as a middle linebacker. He will take over an offense that will look much different this year with him in the gun but should take advantage of his decision-making strengths and mobility. He will continue to be our middle linebacker making him our first quarterback here to play both offense and defense full-time.”
Hill will have no shortage of weapons in 2018.
Senior Elijah Young racked up nearly 1,300 yards from scrimmage last season. He will again be key offensively with Fair Grove attempting to get him as many touches in space as possible. Voorhis calls him one of the fastest kids in the conference.
Also lining up on the perimeter will be 6-foot-4 junior Cole Gilpin. Also a basketball standout, Gilpin hauled in 64 passes for 930 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Hogs Cody Gunder, Garrett Love and Kolten Coddington – all seniors – will anchor this year’s offensive line.
Defensively, Fair Grove will be led by returners Josh Thompson and David Oplotnik. They were standouts on last year’s group that held seven opponents to 18 points or less.
“Thompson was all conference/district/SWMFCA/MFCA as a defensive back last year and is within reach of the career interception record at our school which I believe is held by Caleb Schafitzel,” said Voorhis. “Oplotnik returns as an outside linebacker as well. He is extremely athletic with long arms on the edge, making him tough to run at and even hard to throw over.”
Voorhis is also excited about the development of Darrin Oplotnik and Hale Beckley, two guys that will play prominent roles for the Eagles this season.
“Darin replaces Hunter Robertson as our strong side defensive end; he has a lot of the same tools that made Hunter our schools all-time leader in sacks,” said Voorhis. “Darin is physical and is a smart football player who plays with passion on each play. He will need to be accounted for on each snap.
“Hale Beckley is also going to be on both sides of the ball replacing Stewart Hopkins at middle linebacker and Noah Sandridge at running back. He is one of the emotional leaders on the team who will do anything a coach asks on every play.”
Fair Grove will compete in the remodeled Mid-Lakes Conference with Strafford, Skyline, Stockton and Forsyth. In 2020, the conference is expected to morph into the Ozark Mountain Conference.
The Eagles will open the 2018 season on Aug. 24 at Mountain Grove. They’ll have their home-opener the following Friday, Aug. 31, against Skyline.