By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Two years ago Marionville won just two games. Last season the Comets righted the ship, going 6-3 during the regular season.
Now, in Paden Grubbs’ third season at the helm, Marionville is looking for more.
Returning 12 starters from last year’s group, the Comets now enter the new Southwest Conference with a group built to win immediately and it starts upfront.
Seniors Wil Ghan and Isaac Morgan, as well as junior Ty Bick will anchor Marionville’s run-heavy attack. All three started last season and will pave the way for one of the conference’s most dynamic backs in Alex Gracia.
As a junior he racked up 577 rushing yards and 260 receiving yards. This season he’ll have his hands on the ball even more, lining up at quarterback.
“We expect Alex to have a great year,” said Grubbs. “Alex expects that out of himself. You can sense he’s very focused when he shows up every day. He will play quarterback for us this season. We want him touching the ball every play. He leads by example. Works extremely hard and one of our strongest kids in the weight room. We are excited as a coaching staff to watch him run the show this season.”
Several newcomers will help shape the offense.
Landon Minge and Zach Newberry will take over right and left tackle duties respectively, solidifying a unit that could have a great campaign. Senior Matthew Bowling will likely be the team’s top perimeter threat at receiver, with classmate Will Jones also stretching defenses.
But, Marionville will hang its hat on defense.
The Comets held six of their 10 opponents to 14 points or fewer with several big names from that unit returning.
MLB Evan Dotson is back after a 73-tackle season, giving Grubbs an experienced senior in the middle of his defense. Bowling and Jones will also line up at corner, giving Grubbs one of the best defensive backfields in the conference with junior Jeremy Vickers over the top at safety.
Replacing standout Wiley Wycuff at nose tackle will be senior James Tucker, someone Grubbs believes will bring a high-intensity, high-motor approach to the position. He’s also excited about sophomore OLB Kyle Brattin and believes he could be a wildcard for an already solid defense.
“We expect our defense to be better this year led by Evan Dotson,” said Grubbs. “He is a really smart linebacker who can run. He gives all the calls and has since his sophomore year. We always want to improve. I think you will see nine seniors starting on defense come Week One. It is an older group and a group that is hungry to win after getting a taste of 6-4 record a season ago.”
The Southwest Conference will immediately become the Ozarks premier Class 1 football league with traditionally dominant teams like Lockwood, Pierce City, Miller and Marionville all in the same conference.
Grubbs is excited for the league, understanding the iron sharpens iron and being challenged in weeks one through nine will only make his team tougher come October.
“I expect it to be a very challenging new conference,” said Grubbs. “We are familiar with Ash Grove and Pleasant Hope, but it will be fun to play the new teams in Lockwood (Class 1 final four), Pierce City (11-1), Sarcoxie (9-2), Diamond, and Miller. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
Marionville will open the 2018 season on Aug. 24 at Pleasant Hope. The Comets will play their first home game on Sep. 7 against Lockwood.