By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In a year where conference alignment has been flipped on its head, no one has more new neighbors than Buffalo.
With Bolivar going independent and the rest of the old COC Small encompassing the new Big 8 West, Buffalo joins the newly-formed Ozark Mountain Conference with El Dorado Springs, Warsaw, Cole Camp, Butler, and Sherwood.
Fair Grove is the only 2017 opponent that returns to the schedule this year. Non-conference matchups with Ava, Forsyth, and Versailles round out the slate.
“We feel like a lot of these teams are like us. We’re all from rural areas,” head coach Ed Phillips said. “We want to go in right off the bat, do well, and show that we are a formidable foe each and every week.”
Phillips, a Buffalo native, led his alma mater to a 3-7 record in his first season, the most wins by a Bison football team since 2008. There are six seniors and 12 starters back, eight of which are on the offensive side.
The result has been a strong offseason that has included a good 7-on-7 showing and faster playbook dissection.
“The second year is always better. We understand the terminology better and can get to places quicker. This offseason, we’ve tried to change the way we think and how we do things on a daily basis.”
The Bison feature a trio of all-conference honorees, starting with senior linebacker Bradley Hosiner. The second-team selection posted team highs in both tackles (120) and interceptions (5) in 2017. He will also see ample time at running back.
Jamen Smith also broke out in the secondary as a freshman last year, locking down his own Second Team nod. He also proved to be a valuable receiver with 37 catches for 565 yards and six touchdowns.
Junior tackle Cody Smith also earned conference honors for his work in the trenches and will now be tasked with leading the unit as an upperclassman. Fellow juniors Hunter Crandall and Evan Potter also return after starting all 10 games on the offensive line last year. Levi Kenady expects to be in that mix as well.
Junior Colten Henderson and former state wrestling champion Ethan Smith will play important roles on defense. Smith was second on the team with 64 tackles as a defensive back last year. Henderson, meanwhile, is one of the larger defenders outside of the trenches at 6’2” and 210 pounds. He added 24 tackles and two sacks a sophomore.
He and Jamen Smith will also duke it out for quarterback duties. Henderson threw for 155 yards and a score in the limited action he saw in 2017.
Senior Levi Phillips will be another featured weapon at receiver and cornerback after scoring three times with 345 yards through the air last fall.
Ed Phillips and the Bison are still learning about their new opponents, but what they do know is they will line up against a Class 2 foe each week. With more familiarity between the players and the system, Phillips now hopes this evens the playing field.
“We are learning and growing, and still have growing pains,” he said. “We know how to lift weights hard every day and now that needs to translate to practice. We’re learning how to put forth a championship effort.”