By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
2018 will be a year of transition for Carl Junction.
The Bulldogs – one of Missouri’s top Class 4 programs – will enter the fall without two of the best players in program history in Pitt State freshman DL Zeke Wall and senior Rayquion Weston.
The loss of Wall was expected, but Weston’s turn ACL suffered during a summer camp had given the Bulldogs some early adversity. West has rushed for more than 3,000 yards and 50 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He was also a first-team all-conference linebacker last year.
Still, head coach Doug Buckmaster welcomes back several key pieces from last year’s 10-2 squad.
Buckmaster, who has created offensive powerhouses at Carl Junction, Joplin and Carthage admits replacing Weston will be difficult, but it is not impossible.
“We are fortunate to have multiple players who are capable of providing the same type of production. We will simply have to go about it a different way. Adversity strikes you adapt,” Buckmaster said. “Obviously, I wish we we’re not having this conversation. Ray is definitely a difference maker type player. These things happen in all sports and you move on.”
Without Weston, even more responsibility will fall on senior quarterback Joe Kennedy.
As a junior, Kennedy racked up 2,052 passing yards and 1,122 rushing yards, becoming one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in Missouri.
“Joe is physically bigger, stronger and faster and is mechanically and mentally more advanced as a football player,” said Buckmaster.
Kennedy will return the right side of his offensive line with senior tackle Matt Hosp and junior guard Cooper Cook back.
Speedster senior receiver Kobe Maxwell is also back in the lineup and could be a candidate for a breakout season.
“Maxwell absolutely needs to be a larger part of our game plan each week,” said Buckmaster. “Makes plays when ball is in his hands. Tough, physical player also.”
Buckmaster expects several players, seniors through sophomores, to compete for the three spots along the offensive line. That includes seniors Nick Sill, Cole Lundien and Nate Bernard.
There are several options for replacing Weston. Buckmaster believes they’ll get production at the position regardless of who it is.
“Junior Teagan Armentrout, we have always felt would be outstanding as our running back, he was our back-up a year ago and was very effective,” said Buckmaster. “He will remain the starter at free safety as well as play running back. Senior Zach Hills a possible starter at inside linebacker has been outstanding in JV games the past two seasons and will be a part of the rotation.
“Kobe Maxwell is another we have always thought would be an explosive threat at running back. Kobe is someone we needed to get more touches for this season and here is another way to use him. (We) also have two sophomore running backs in Brady Sims and Kendall Washington who were outstanding on our undefeated Freshmen team a year ago.”
Sophomore Alex Baker is another name that is mentioned when talking about Carl Junction Football. He is a strong quarterback, but will likely see reps at wide receiver.
Buckmaster is also excited about seniors Nakota Warren, Blake Thomas and Tyler White at receiver.
Defensively, Carl Junction will look different without Zeke Wall and Levi Dudley, but the Bulldogs do return nine full and part-time starters from last year’s unit.
Senior Colton Kennedy, along with classmates White, Armstrong and Maxwell give the Bulldogs a ton of speed defensively.
Junior Isiac Shields will return at linebacker. He’ll be joined by seniors Blake Thomas and Tyler Varner. Fellow senior Tyler Huffman also returns to the defensive line.
Junior Sage Honey is expected to make a major impact along the defensive front after being limited by injuries last year.
While their emotional leaders are gone, Buckmaster believes their influence has rubbed off.
“They have learned from guys like Zeke Wall and Levi Duley and understand how to prepare to be successful on and off the field,” said Buckmaster.
With Joplin joining the COC, an already deep league becomes even deeper.
Ultimately, Carl Junction’s measure of success will be its ability to get over the hump in a district championship after losing five consecutive district championships.
Carl Junction will open the 2018 season on Aug. 24 at Webb City. The Bulldogs home-opener will be on Aug. 31 against Carthage.