Rolla finished below .500 with a 4-5 record in the regular season in coach Jon Franks’ second season as head coach. That earned them a No. 3 seed in Class 4 District 4.
Then the Bulldogs caught fire.
They knocked off No. 6 Westminster Christian, No. 2 Parkway West and No. 1 St. Francis Borgia in consecutive weeks to claim the district title.
“We knew the whole time we had a good shot because we played in a really good conference,” Franks said. “We were close in a few games (we lost). Our record wasn’t amazing, but it was a good record. We also left a couple (wins) on the table. Our conference really prepares us for the district run. We knew getting through that healthy both physically and mentally would give us a good opportunity (to win a district championship).”
Rolla would lose to Parkway Central in the state quarterfinals to end the season 7-6.
The Bulldogs lost several key seniors from that team including star quarterback Josh Pritchett. Pritchett threw for 3,174 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,735 yards and 26 more touchdowns in his senior season.
“Josh is one of those guys you don’t really replace. You just fill in and move on with your system,” Franks said. “He had some good guys around him too. That senior class was Rolla kids. They grew up wanting to be good a Rolla. They were very dynamic and just a good group of seniors. Any time you lose groups like that you have to rely on the systems of your program to reload and keep growing.”
The dynamic Blaize Klossner returns to be a two-way leader for the Bulldogs. On offense, he will see time at running back, wide receiver and potentially quarterback. He was the No. 1 receiver for the Bulldogs last year with 103 catches for 1,196 yards and 10 touchdowns. He rushed for 424 yards and five touchdowns on 86 carries. On defense, he led the team with four interceptions and was sixth on the team with 96 total tackles.
“He (Klossner) is a great leader and a great competitor,” Franks said. “There is going to be a little more pressure on him now. Everybody is going to know who he is and they are going to work on (game planning for) him. He is probably going to open up some opportunities for other kids. That is just how it works. When you have a good year then people try to stop you which creates opportunities for other players.”
Fellow seniors Trey Quick and Elijah Young will fill in a similar role to Klossner seeing time at running back, wide receiver and defensive back. Young had 80 total tackles while Quick chipped in 72 of his own.
Jack Hounsom will take over at quarterback after leading the junior varsity team to an 8-1 record last season. He will be protected up front on the line by returning junior starter Noah Crouch and senior Kaberon Burgess.
Defense should be a strength for the Bulldogs this year.
“We return a lot of experience on defense. We are hoping we can be very good on defense for really the first time. We have gotten better as I have been here, but it takes a while to build a defensive culture especially on a spread team where we throw the ball a lot. You have to play a lot of defense,” Franks said.
That defense will be anchored by second-team all-state defensive back Ahmed Boubacar. He had 96 tackles and two interceptions in his junior season.
“He always gets the (opposing team’s) best receiver,” Franks said. “He is very important because if you take away (their) best guy you put pressure on (other) guys. We are trying to eliminate their best guy with Ahmed.”
The middle of the defense will key off of linebackers Josh Morris and Colton Franks. Morris is a three-year starter who had 137 total tackles as a junior. Franks, a junior, pulled down a team-high 150 tackles to go with four sacks last season.
“(We have) a lot of expectation out of those two because they know the system. We built things around our linebackers (on defense),” Franks said.
The defensive line will feature Justin Briggs, Elijah Cunningham, Dakota Childs and Malachi Ray. Blayne Yarger returns for his senior season after missing last year due to injury. He will move around on the defense.
Franks’ Bulldogs will have experience to lean on this season despite the loss of several key seniors.
“I think we will hang our hat on a lot of experience. Even though we graduated a good senior class, we have a lot of guys with varsity playing experience. (They) maybe didn’t start every game, but gained a lot of experience,” Franks said. “We have a really good group of senior leaders (again) this year.”
Overall, Franks is looking to keep Rolla building in the right direction to being a consistently strong program.
“We talk to our kids a lot about program. A program doesn’t ebb and flow every four or five years. A program is going to put a consistent team on the field year in and year out. It might not be a championship caliber team (every year), but it will be a team everybody has to prepare for and play well to beat. That is what we talk a lot about with our guys,” Franks said. “We talk a lot about winning being a byproduct of doing the little things right (like) working in the weight room, taking care of grades and doing the film study and practicing right.”
Rolla opens the season on Aug. 24 at Glendale.