By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Numbers are usually one concern for a small program, and Eric Sloan is not shy about that fact as it pertains to the Houston Tigers.
What the Tigers may lack in depth, the fourth-year coach hopes they can make up for with toughness.
“We run well. Our big guys can all do it,” said Sloan. “They like to be physical, and in the South Central Association, you better be that way or you’re not going to be successful. We hang our hat on that and the guys take pride in it.”
Houston went 3-6 last year and notched a win over Mountain Grove before falling in the first round of districts. Four offensive and six defensive starters return from that squad, which includes a handful of conference honorees.
Paydon Dixon landed on the All-SCA First team for his work in the secondary, intercepting two passes and notching 79 tackles. He started at quarterback for the first half of the season before transitioning to running back. The move paid off as Dixon notched 806 yards and 18 total touchdowns.
That moved 6’3” sophomore Dakota Burchett under center, and Sloan was happy with the returns.
“It was an experiment that bettered our team, so hopefully we can build on that this year. We’re looking for (Burchett) to lead us.”
The offensive line will feature some new faces, including MV-BT/Liberty transfer Devin Wallander, who will also patrol the linebacking corps. Seniors Brecken Adey, Dawson Koch, and William Wilson have experience up front, while 305-pound junior Lane Revelle could bring a lot of potential to the mix.
Sloan has also brought on former SCA Coach of the Year Jacob Brookshire as his third defensive coordinator in four years. He will be tasked with shrinking the 31.1 points that Houston allowed per game.
“He and I worked together a few years back when I was the head coach at Cabool, and we have always gelled, so I expect this to be a smooth transition for our kids,” said Sloan.
All-SCA selections Aiden Sawyer (Sr.), CJ Lee (Sr.), and Daniel Hutcheson (So.) will join Wallander at linebacker. Lee put up a team-high 82 tackles last season, while Hutcheson tied for second with 79 as he started every game as a freshman.
The group will be plenty seasoned come Week 1 as low junior varsity numbers have meant that rotations in practice have been few and far between.
“We’ve challenged them to be mentally tough, live through adversity, and live to play another down,” said Sloan. “It was a hot summer and there wasn’t a lot of subbing going on, so we’ve had to be strategic in the way we maximize reps and get the most out of camp.”
The main focus for Sloan is to keep Houston healthy as he believes a fully-loaded squad will take the Tigers closer to where they want to be in 2018.
“I’m excited about this group. This is my fourth year with the seniors. There is a lot of potential with this core group. If we can maximize that, it’ll be a fun year for us.”