By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
To say that Curtis Jasper hit the ground running at Joplin would be an understatement.
In his four years, the Eagles never have experienced a losing season. This coming after Joplin Football was below .500 in four of the six seasons prior to Jasper’s arrival.
The last two seasons have been program-changing runs, with Joplin going 8-2 and winning the Ozark Conference title in 2018. For an encore, they followed that up with a 10-3 campaign and Class 6 final four run.
It was the deepest postseason run in program history
“The final four run last season was a great experience,” said Jasper. “Joplin High School had never been to the final four since Parkwood and Memorial combined. The run we made last year showed the players, parents, coaches, and community, that Joplin Football can compete with anyone on the state level. The confidence that the final four experience has given our team and community is something I expect to continue well into the future. The foundation has been laid by many over the last four years. I expect the solid foundation to lead to great things in the future for Joplin Football. The support received by the Joplin community during the run was amazing.”
Now, Jasper is tasked with reloading the Eagles behind one of the most accomplished classes in school history.
Joplin will have to replace its entire offensive line, but returns dynamic duo Zach Westmoreland and Isaiah Davis, as well as three-year starting quarterback Blake Tash.
Westmoreland and Davis earned Class 6 All-State honors as juniors, with both posting historically good numbers. Davis (1,676 rushing yards, 28 TDs) already has committed to FCS power South Dakota State, while Westmoreland (2,132 all-purpose yards, 28 total TDs; 7 INT) holds several Division-I offers with more programs expected to get involved in the coming months.
“Zach has a huge impact in all three facets of the game,” Jasper said. “He scored touchdowns offensively, defensively, and on special teams. He is an all-around great athlete who makes his biggest plays in the biggest moments of the game.”
“Isaiah is a huge leader for our team. He works extremely hard in all that he does, and the impact shows. He carries the load offensively, but also contributes on defense and special teams. His biggest attributes are his physicality, his work ethic and his leadership.”
Tash, who holds NAIA offers and interest at several levels, is as experienced as a signal-caller in the area. He’s also guided Joplin to an 18-5 record over the last two seasons. His talent and leadership will again be a difference-maker for Joplin.
As a junior, he passed for 1,732 yards and 16 touchdowns, completing nearly 70 percent of his pass attempts.
“Blake is a very smart young man and player,” Jasper said. “He sees the field and adjusts accordingly. It isn’t often a coach gets a three-year starting quarterback at the varsity level. He and offensive coordinator Brandon Taute work very well together. Blake has been a leader on this team and I expect he will continue to do so this season.”
Senior Zech Stayton has lined up all over the field throughout his career and will be a weapon that Joplin will look to utilize, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Junior Nathan Glades is a candidate for a breakout season after rushing for 698 yards and seven touchdowns on just 83 carries. His speed makes him a perfect complement to Davis.
Defensively, the Eagles again will be led by Eli Eminger, who has been a mainstay since his sophomore season. He’s totaled 192 tackles since then, showing especially well against the pass with six interceptions and 12 pass breakups.
“Eli gets overlooked a lot due to his size, but you can’t measure a person’s heart by his stature,” Jasper said. “Eli is a diligent worker, a leader on and off the field, and somewhat underrated as an athlete – he is much stronger and faster than people give him credit for. That, coupled with his intelligence, makes him a great player, and I expect great things from him this year.”
He’ll be joined by returning senior starters at defensive back Holden Ledford (77 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) and Simeon Barba (54 tackles), as well as defensive end James Boyd (60 tackles). Westmoreland and Davis likely will be two-way players as well.
Maybe the biggest area of concern entering 2019 is Joplin’s offensive line.
The Eagles graduated its entire unit form last year, one of the biggest and most-physical groups in the Ozarks. Jasper has been impressed throughout the summer by his newest edition up front.
“Hunter McCleary, Sergio Pineiro, Logan Myers, Alex Curry, and Dominick Loyd are newcomers I think will play a major role,” Jasper said. “These are the young men who have stepped up to fill the offensive line positions. The new group of offensive linemen will have good size, and they are working hard to fill the shoes of those who came before them. They had a good showing at team camp earlier this summer.”
The 2019 season also will present Joplin another shot at local rivals Webb City and Carthage as the Eagles prepare for their second run in the always loaded Central Ozark Conference.
Last year, the COC pushed three teams through to the final four in their respective classes.
After not seeing many local rivals for years, last year’s games between Joplin, Webb City and Carthage created electric atmospheres. Year Two in the conference should only add to the excitement of those matchups.
Jasper liked what the conference change brought to the program.
“Joining the COC last year brought a lot of excitement to the program and community,” Jasper said. “Playing local teams who our athletes have grown up competing against always brings more excitement, not to mention the significantly less amount of travel we have now. We are excited to continue to compete against some of the best in the state. Having teams in the final four in the state in classes 6, 5, and 4 all from the same conference is amazing. Include Mount Vernon for Class 3, and that speaks wonders for the talent in the Joplin area. Our kids are excited to play Webb and Carthage again. We expect great things this year.”
Joplin returns just 11 starters from last year, but the consensus around the community and the COC is that it’ll be a reload and not a rebuild, led by the Class of 2020.
In nearly every sport, this group has played a prominent role for years. Arguably Joplin’s most-accomplished athletic class overall since the Memorial/Parkwood merger, the expectations for its senior season across all sports are extremely high.
Jasper and the Eagles, who open the 2019 season on Aug. 30 by hosting COC foe Willard, have embraced those expectations and are excited about what this fall could hold.
“With their senior year leadership, combined with the talents and skills of the two classes below them, we expect another amazing season,” Jasper said. “A winning program always requires hard work, dedication, and commitment. Tie that with holding each other accountable and being great teammates and you have a recipe for success. These young men have helped build that foundation for Joplin Football. The sky is the limit.”