Bolivar enters its first season without a conference affiliation after being left without a conference after the Central Ozark Conference Small Division ceased to exist after last season.
It will provide some challenges, but one that the Liberators are ready to embrace.
“Our guys are really fired up. They are making a name for themselves because (with) a lot of these guys, nobody knows them,” Bolivar head coach Glen Johnson said at a June 7-on-7 tournament. “It is a great opportunity for them to come in and be a Liberator. They have been wanting to be a Liberator all their lives. That is the awesome part. Bolivar is such an awesome town and great community that we have really banded together. I just met with my momma Liberators to decide how we are going to feed them. When you travel five hours you have to feed them a few times. Everyone has come together and the kids are fired up for it.”
Hayden Burks will lead the young Liberators at quarterback in his junior season after throwing for 838 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore last season.
“Hayden Burks is our leader and heartbeat. He finished second at 160 pounds in the MSHSHAA Wrestling State Championships last year and I have seen him mature majorly from sophomore to junior year,” Johnson said. “He came in mid-year as a sophomore quarterback on a senior heavy team and got the job done for us. The future is bright for this young man. He has worked very hard this offseason to improve his speed, strength, footwork, accuracy, and release time.”
Burks is also penciled in to help at linebacker when needed.
Fellow junior Eathen Dinwiddie is back after leading the team in rushing with 610 yards to go with three touchdowns. He stepped into the varsity lineup in the middle of the season.
“He is a tough runner that is a team guy,” Johnson said. “You can’t ask for a better kid to carry the ball for your team. He has had a fantastic offseason and put on muscle weight and got a little faster.”
He also may see time at linebacker.
Up front some combination of Cooper Wallace (senior), Cameron Branstetter (senior), Spencer Lipe (junior), Garred Engle (junior), Jack Roweton (sophomore), Drayton Huchteman (sophomore), and Mason Rogers (sophomore) will be on the offensive line.
Bolivar graduated its top two wide receiver threats, but have a strong group of guys ready to step up in Brock Pitts (Senior), Blade Hancock (junior), and Cooper Hitchcock (junior). That trio will also see time in the secondary on defense. Senior Garrett Harris returns to start at tight end. Harris will play linebacker as well.
Seth Smith will be the leader of the defense at linebacker after tallying a team-high 17 tackles for a loss and 83 total tackles last year as a junior.
Hayden Tucker (senior), Keegan Brockman (junior), Brodie Pollock (junior), Spencer Lipe (junior), along with Roweton, Huchteman and Rogers will comprise the defensive line.
“He is a great team guy and doesn’t even know that he is the returning leading tackler because he doesn’t care about individual stats,” Johnson said. “He will help on offense at running back and wide receiver. He is an explosive football player that is a great tackler as well.”
Logan Hawk (senior), Bo Banner (sophomore), Parker Erickson (sophomore), and Andrew Bunn (sophomore) will compete to fill out the linebacking corps.
Bolivar opens the season on Aug. 24 with a road trip to Eldon.
Johnson has simple expectations for his team as they tackle a new schedule with daunting travel times.
“I expect us to play hard, stick together, and continue the Polk County Grind this fall,” Johnson said.