By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
While some coaches lament the loss of so much firepower, Chad Depee sees it as an opportunity.
Ozark returns just one of its nine All-COC selections from last year’s 7-5 team while having eight spots to fill on each side of the ball. The underclassmen that have waited their turn will have to learn fast to keep the Tigers at the level they’ve established over the last two seasons.
“You hope some traditions and cultural stuff rub off,” said Depee. “You hope being a part of a couple district championship games and playing in the COC week-in and week-out has prepared them, but ultimately we all have to do the work.”
The Ozark offense switched to a new gear late last season, putting up point totals of 42, 43, and 55 before falling to Lebanon in the Class 4, District 5 Championship game. The Tigers dropped three games by one possession (two by a field goal) but have still compiled 15 wins since going 1-9 in Depee’s first year.
That is the culture that Depee expects to rub off now that the system has yielded success.
“One of our strengths comes along with longevity. Our seniors have been in the same system their entire high school careers. The kids beneath them started the same thing in junior high. We are passionate about staying systematic in everything we do.”
Senior Ethan Sandoval will be the catalyst to keeping that offensive pace. One of eight seniors on the team, the running back landed on the All-COC Third Team for his efforts last year. He racked up 1,041 rushing yards on 205 touches with eight touchdowns.
His carries should balloon with the graduation of fellow conference honoree Preston Carson, now at Southwest Baptist. He will also see in an increased role on defense, which Depee expects to be a trend with more positions than in years past.
The trenches will feature that trend in spades. All-State defensive lineman Jace Gorn is gone, but there are plenty of upperclassmen to fill spots. Trent Sederwall is the only returning starter and was the lone junior of the unit last year. He expects to be joined by seniors Wyatt Long, Garrett Sutherland, Hunter Porteous, and Christian Drake.
Parker Ramsdell saw limited snaps at wideout as a junior, but should be pushed as a bigger target this fall. Fellow senior Carter Davis will also play a key role at running back.
One area without a senior presence is at quarterback, where junior Chance Strickler and sophomore Cannon Cox are duking it out for duties.
Ramsdell will also be featured in the secondary along with seniors Caleb Doyle and Keaton Carson. The linebacking corps will feature classmates Logan Emmerth, Calin Bolin, and Braden McAllister.
What the Tigers may lack in Friday night snaps, they make up for with age. Depee believes that has helped the process over the summer and sees a chance to hit the ground running in the season opener at Neosho.
“The new faces have been working their tails off for several years,” Depee said. “They’ll have to learn on the fly a bit. We’ll have to gain some experience quickly.”