By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Marionville Comets had high hopes for the 2018 season. With 12 seniors, they had designs on competing for conference and district championships.
Early injuries at some key positions prevented that as the Comets fell in the opening round of district play to finish 4-6. As Paden Grubbs enters his fourth year as head coach, he is ready to utilize the experience that last season provided his younger players.
“The culture overall is in a good spot,” he said. “All coaches have commented that this feels like the first group that has completely bought in to what we’re doing. That can go a long way. We have a lot of kids back that got good experience last year.”
Marionville will sport six seniors, four of which are returning starters. Ty Bick and Zach Newberry return as All-Southwest Conference honorable mentions as linemen. They will be the centerpiece of a unit that still features a lot of questions marks. Ten players were competing for various spots along the line during camp.
“I told them on the first day that this is the first time in my coaching career that I’ve had this many open positions. We had a lot of kids that had good junior varsity seasons last year. We have ideas, but finding those pieces to put around (Bick) and (Newberry) will be crucial.”
Senior Sam Huff is one solidified piece that will bolster both lines.
Fellow senior Jeremy Vickers is back as an All-Southwest Conference honoree at running back and defensive back. He led the team with 866 yards on 169 carries with eight touchdowns as a junior. Defensively, he nearly matched the rest of his team in interceptions with four while notching 53 tackles as well.
He also expects to factor into the passing game again after making 16 catches for 115 yards.
The plan is for senior Wyatt Kuhs to throw those passes. Rather than being the starting junior varsity quarterback last year, a Week 1 injury to Alexis Gracia thrust Kuhs into the varsity role. In nine games, he went 64 for 125 for 777 yards and six touchdowns with nine interceptions. He also tallied three touchdowns on the ground.
Now, he will be called upon to play like a senior leader.
“In order for us to take that next step, he is one that will have to step up his game,” said Grubbs. “He has a great arm, but has to be more assertive as a runner. He’s worked his tail off to get himself in shape and get stronger.”
Matthew Goodman, a state qualifier in the pole vault, will provide another weapon at both receiver and defensive back.
The strength of the defense could rest on the linebacking corps. The unit features only one returner from last year’s squad, but an offseason injury means the group had a completely new look at the start of camp.
What Grubbs has little question about is his team resolve. He believes this unit has shown more than in years past and that will lead to success.
“The effort is going to be there. The willingness to tackle and compete will be there. It’s a matter of the new guys learning the scheme in order to put themselves in position to make plays.”