By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Few coaches are more excited than Jamie LaSalle to get the 2018 season underway. The Miller native is in his second season at the helm of Miller Football, which will make his life and the life of his players simpler from an execution standpoint.
“Year One was the most difficult season that I have ever been a part of,” said LaSalle. “We are trying to develop a culture of winning. We are not there yet but we are hoping to get there this year. We need better work ethic and commitment and maturity.
“Our youth was very difficult. When you don’t have many upperclassmen, it is difficult for the younger players to learn how to practice and how to prepare for the game. It is a process that we are working through right now.”
Fortunately, LaSalle and Miller have some things working in their favor. The Cardinals return 21 starters from last year’s team, with that youth potentially being a catalyst to 2018’s turnaround. Leading the way is junior Kaul Kleeman.
Kleeman passed for 1,677 yards and rushed for 585 yards with 15 total touchdowns. He is also the team’s returning leader in tackles with 57 from his linebacker spot. This year he will primarily be used as a running back.
“Kaul is a great kid,” said LaSalle. “He works hard, does great in the classroom, is a gifted athlete, and is an outstanding citizen. He does everything that you ask of a kid. Kaul should have a monster year on both sides of the ball. Our offensive and defensive lines should be much improved and that should help him to excel.”
Other Miller weapons returning is junior Nick Johnson (447 rushing yards, 9 TD) and sophomore Joel Kleeman (12 total touchdowns in 2017). Toss in tight ends Devin Demster and Neilsen Hadlock and Miller will have no shortage of options for junior quarterback Presten Richardson.
The Cardinals will also have plenty of beef up front with senior Tyler Franzen (240lbs) and juniors Will Smith (315lbs), Ricky Pendergrass (255lbs), Brenden Rinehart (235lbs) and Garrett Rollett (235lbs) all back. Miller will have one of the biggest Class 1 lines you’ll see.
LaSalle is also excited about the development of a few seniors – OL/DL Logan Brown, LB/RB Payton Reynolds and TE/LB Devin Demster – that should play much more prominent roles in 2018.
“Logan did not play much last season but has had a tremendous offseason in the weight room and at camp,” said LaSalle. “Payton did not play much last season but has improved in the weight room and has really gotten faster. He broke his arm last season and played a lot out of his best position. Devin Demster TE/LB – Devin has only played one season of varsity football and should be improved this year.”
With so much experience returning and with a full offseason for everyone to get more acclimated with LaSalle’s system, expectations have increased for 2018.
Entering the newly formed Southwestern Conference should only make things more exciting, says LaSalle.
“Our new conference will be interesting,” said LaSalle. “I think the level of play will be roughly the same as last year. Pierce City, Sarcoxie, and Lockwood are outstanding teams from the SRVC. Marionville will be better this season and Ash Grove has done well recently from the Mid-Lakes side.”
Miller will open 2018 season on Aug. 24 at Stockton. The Cardinals home opener will be on Aug. 31 against Pleasant Hope.