This season will be a little bit of a transition year for the Mountain Grove football team. The Panthers are coming off of a 7-5 season that ended with a 32-6 loss to Ava in the Class 2 District 3 championship game.
Gone from last year’s team is all-state defensive back and starting quarterback Carter Otwell. Also gone are the team’s top four rushers and five of top six receivers. Patrick Lane, who pulled down five interceptions to lead the team, is also gone from the defensive secondary.
Also gone is coach Rich Adkins who left for the same job at Hollister. Brandon Rodgers, a longtime assistant at Mountain Grove, takes over as head coach.
The good news for Rodgers is that senior Trevor Thompson does return. The third-team all-state linebacker pulled down 134 total tackles last season. He also was the second-leading receiver on the team with 25 catches for 434 yards and three touchdowns. This year he will move into the backfield on offense as the feature running back.
Rhett Wakefield will take over as the quarterback after seeing some time at the position last year as a sophomore when Otwell was injured. He threw for 276 yards and rushed for 135 yards in his limited time last season. Wakefield also pulled down 68 tackles and a team-high four sacks on defense.
“Any experience is good, so that should help him a lot. He has been doing it since the first day that we started (practice), so I don’t look at him as a rookie,” Rodgers said.
Mountain Grove relies on the run and the Panthers have a great core up front to lean on. TJ Drone (first-team all-conference) and Cody Carruthers (second-team all-conference) return on that unit. Drone will also factor in on the defensive line.
“They (Drone and Carruthers) are the knowledge on our line and they are running the same stuff, so it has been an easy transition for them,” Rodgers said.
Anthony Peterson, Caleb Fry and Ty Lamborn will also be keys on the offensive line. Lamborn will play defensive line as well.
That group will be key in competing in an always tough SCA.
“It is a physical conference and you get a variety of different teams from spread to teams that run the ball like we do,” Rodgers said.
Kole Kuster will join with Thompson at linebacker coming off of an 81-tackle season that earned him honorable mention all-conference honors.
Expectations will remain high at Mountain Grove as the Panthers reload this season.
“I think when you (play) here at Mountain Grove there is pressure on you because the town and everybody expects you to compete and go out there and fight every night. The tradition here is good and we want to keep that rolling,” Rodgers said.
Competing at a high level will be the goal for Rogers and his Panthers this season.
“I would like to compete every Friday night and go out and have a chance to win a ballgame,” Rodgers said. “I would like us to make it deep into the playoffs and make it to a district championship and play for a conference championship. We are kind of accustomed to playing for that here. We want to go out every night, be a physical team and compete.”
Mountain Grove opens the season on Aug. 24 at home against Fair Grove.