By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After Logan-Rogersville completed its first .500 season since its 2011 state championship, Doug Smith confirmed he would retire as head coach after 11 seasons.
The Wildcats did not have to look far for his replacement, plucking Mark Talbert from the staff at Fair Grove to take over the program. He spent 10 total seasons with the Eagles, calling plays on defense for the last eight.
Now, he leads Logan-Rogersville into the new-look Big 8 and a 2018 schedule that features the likes of Lamar, Aurora, and Mount Vernon.
“The competition is going to be stiff,” said Talbert. “It’s a chance for me as a new head coach entering a conference with a major focus on football to say: ‘This is what we have to do to compete in the Big 8.’ I think it’s going to bring more excitement to these towns.”
Talbert will have 14 seniors and seven returning starters to help the cause. Ryker Strong expects to be the biggest weapon at receiver as he comes off an All-COC First Team selection. A 6’6” high jumper in the spring, he hauled in a team-high 34 catches and 523 yards with five touchdowns.
Junior AJ Craft was just behind Strong on the stat sheet in 2017 and will be another go-to option. He tallied 31 catches for 511 yards and another five scores as a sophomore. Senior Brock Carter will also factor into the pass-catching mix.
The graduation of All-COC quarterback Bronson Tavenner leaves a hole at quarterback. Junior Reed Metz, a baseball commit to the University of Tennessee, will battle with sophomore Zach Bergmann for those honors. Both played on the junior varsity squad last year.
Talbert said these weapons won’t make the Wildcats shy away from letting it fly.
“Our talent will drive what we do on offense,” he said. “We’ll spread things out. Our receivers are talented enough to get out in space so that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Defensively, Talbert expects to stick to a similar look that he implemented at Fair Grove.
Carter is the top returning tackler and will platoon the linebacking corps. He tallied 32 as a junior and will be tasked with leading a defense that graduated its top six tacklers.
Seniors Karter Williams and Caleb Lowe should see their production increase on the defensive and offensive lines. They combined for 42 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries last year.
Talbert said the players have been receptive to hearing a new voice after more than a decade of Doug Smith, but he is still trying to add a few pieces.
“We have the kids that have gone all in, and those are the ones who are busting their butts in the weight room every day,” aid Talbert. “Then, we have the kids that aren’t sure yet. Those are the ones I’m reaching out to and trying to get them around us and see what we’re about.”
It will be a learning experience for him, his new starters, and their COC counterparts that assimilate into the Big 8. Talbert added his primary concern going into the fall is making sure the Wildcats are never an easy out.
“In terms of learning new teams in this conference, I don’t know what that will translate to, but I want whoever is across from us, whether it’s an opposing player or coach, to feel like the Logan-Rogersvile Wildcats are a tough group. I want to play a physical brand of football.”