By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
2017 was a learning experience for Neosho in its first year of the Leon Miller era. And, after a 2-9 campaign, the Wildcats are looking for more success in Miller’s second season.
Miller is hopeful the lessons of last year will help this group win more games.
“I think the lessons we can learn from last season is we have to come out ready to play every game and we must stay strong and finish,” said Miller.
Finishing is something Neosho struggled with a season ago, losing three games during the regular season by a single possession.
Neosho does have something that was lacking entering 2017 with several returning starters. Miller brings back 11 total starters this season, six of which are on the defensive side of the ball where the ‘Cats held six of their 11 opponents to 21 or fewer points.
The team also grew offensively as the season progressed, averaging nearly 27 PPG over its final six games before a season-ending lost to Final Four squad Carthage. Neosho had averaged less than 9 PPG in its first four games of the season.
“Players worked hard and played hard and that enabled us to be competitive with a younger somewhat inexperienced team,” said Miller. “We continued to improve and played better as the season went on.”
Taking on a bigger role offensively will be senior running back Cade Lyerla, who returns after earning All-SWMOFBCA honors last season.
“Cade will be a solid contributor,” said Miller. “He’s has had a great summer and looks to be ready for a great year.”
Lyerla will also have the benefit of running behind an experienced offensive line, which includes seniors Ethan White (5’10, 240lbs), Ryan Slade (6’1, 300lbs), Sean Moran (6’2, 225lbs) and Kipp Box (6’4, 295lbs). The unit will be rounded out by junior Hunter Box, giving Neosho five guys with starting experience at arguably the most important position group.
Seniors Connor McGehee, Drew Osborn and Tre Letts will see reps at the other offensive skill positions.
Box and Moran will also help anchor the defensive line group, while Osborn and Letts return to their linebacking positions. Lyerla and McGehee bring starting experience to the defensive secondary.
Miller is counting on seniors Broc Logan (TE/LB) and Elijah Green (WR/DB), as well as juniors Anthony Thompson (OL/DL), Brady Franklin (WR/DB), and Gage Kelly (RB/DB) to make an impact. Sophomores Drayke Perry (RB/LB), Kaden Decker (OL/DL) and Racey Shandley (QB/DB) will also see valuable reps.
Familiarity with the system and continuity should make this season much smoother for Neosho. With Joplin joining the COC, the slate will be even more brutal. Miller is hopeful everything can culminate with the Wildcats being in the thick of things come late October.
“COC will be as tough as ever; great league, great players and great coaches,” said Miller. “Players know what to expect, those that are a part of the program understand the commitment and work required to be successful. Continue to improve, compete each and every week at all levels, be in the hunt for the conference/district race and make a play-off run.”
Neosho will open the 2018 season at home against Ozark on Aug. 24.