Pierce City ran through an undefeated regular season in 2017 to claim the final SRVC title. The Eagles fell short of a district championship after falling 14-0 to Thayer in the Class 1 District 2 championship game.
The Eagles lose six all-district players from that squad, but there is still plenty of returning players for coach Brad Hocker to work with this season.
Junior Trey Sagehorn will key the offensive attack for Pierce City coming off of a first-team all-conference season as a sophomore. He took 110 carries for 1,120 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He chipped in 11 catches for another 156 yards while averaging 30.5 yards per punt return. Defensively, Sagehorn pulled down 70 total tackles and two interceptions as a defensive back. He earned second-team all-conference honors at defensive back and as a return specialist.
“He (Sagehorn) is smart. You can do a lot things with him from catching the ball out of the backfield to he had some touchdown passes last year,” Hocker said. “He is a good athlete. Any program would be happy to have him. We are just going to continue to try and get the ball in his hands in space and see what happens.”
First-team all-conference defensive back Jackson Kleiboeker returns for his junior season. Kleiboeker picked off three passes and returned two for touchdowns last season. He will also be a key piece of the offense at wide receiver coming off of a year where he caught 20 balls for 332 yards.
“He has a great work ethic and is extremely intelligent. I could put him anywhere and he would excel. That is the Catch-22. If you move him somewhere then you are lacking somewhere else,” Hocker said. “I think he is best for us out on the edge being able to catch the ball and make plays. He is just a smart player and great tackler who always seems to be in the right place.”
Colten O’Hara will take over for the graduated Gage Brown at quarterback.
“He does a good job of getting the ball out of his hands. There are not a lot of negative plays,” Hocker said. “He may not have the deep ball threat that Gage had, but he is a smart football player.”
Up front, Gabe George, Kaden Raley, Seth Fisher, Tysen O’Hara and Matt Hall will anchor bot the offensive and defensive lines. Raley is the lone senior in that group with the rest entering their junior seasons.
Trenton Kluck will hold down the middle of the defense at linebacker coming off of a second-team all-conference season last year as a junior. He had 106 total tackles last season. He will also see time on offense at tight end.
“He loves the process,” Hocker said. “There is method to the madness. He is always there working hard and asking good questions. He is getting people in the right position to stop certain offenses.”
Senior Tyler Shipman, junior Dominick Smith and sophomore Chanse Ford will join Kluck at linebacker. Shipman will also see time as a wide receiver.
The SRVC dissolved after last season, which has the Eagles entering the Southwest Conference this year with fellow SRVC rivals Diamond, Lockwood, Miller and Sarcoxie along with former Mid-Lakes schools Ash Grove, Marionville and Pleasant Hope.
It is a change Hocker is looking forward to not just for varsity competition but also sub-varsity games.
“There were times we were having to play two quarters of junior varsity and you are essentially playing the same kids you played in varsity. It was tough. Some of these younger kids were getting beat up and that is not good,” Hocker said. “We will have between 30 and 35 (players) which means we will have a good JV group and they need reps against kids that are the same skill level.”
The move will also revive some dormant rivalries while keeping current ones intact.
“Pierce City and Marionville used to be a big rivalry and now you have that coming back. Ash Grove is always a tough competitor. Adding in Pleasant Hope is a bigger school enrollment-wise. Hopefully they can get some kids out and get a good program going. We love the rivalry with Miller and Sarcoxie as well,” Hocker said.
Hocker’s goals for his Pierce City Eagles go beyond just a final win-loss total.
“I never give a (win total goal). I want these kids to develop into good young men. I want them to work hard, be responsible and develop a work ethic they can carry on to whatever they are going to do in the future,” Hocker said. “As long as these kids stay hungry and do the right things and hopefully stay healthy, the I think it is a successful season. I feel like if we do those things then we are going to be in every game and the wins are going to take care of themselves.”
Pierce City opens the season on Aug. 24 at home against Lockwood.