By Justin Samspson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 2018 season featured more wins at Marshfield than the previous three years combined. The Bluejays used a six-game surge to post an 8-3 record, their first winning season since 2010.
A stout 16 players landed postseason honors, and while only four remain, those who are back are eager to get back to work after a second-round exit in districts.
“The games we won, we were really grinding those out,” head coach Cody Bull said. “It was a lot of fourth-quarter wins with a lot of guys playing. We were proud of that. Our goals are to be better, to win the conference, and advance further in the playoffs.”
The group of nine seniors won’t be quite as hefty as the 2018 class, but they will have plenty of backup in a sizable junior class that is ready to take on bigger roles. Most of them contributed to a successful junior varsity season last fall, something that Bull had the luxury to orchestrate.
“I wanted to keep them down there to be successful. Some of them could’ve been varsity players last year, but with the number of seniors we had, we were able to keep them as a group. We’re trying to learn how to win here and one winning season isn’t going to do it. I want them to be used to competing every week and have a chance at being that type of team.”
Bull is pleased to have the Espy brothers, Brennan and Brooks, back on the roster. Both were All-Big 8 East First Team selections at skill positions. Now juniors, Brooks will reprise his role at receiver and in the secondary, while Brennan will be tasked with replacing longtime starting quarterback Brock Utecht.
Utecht accounted for 22 total touchdowns as a senior, but Espy appears up to the challenge. He made 10 end zone trips of his own while putting up a team-high 854 yards on the ground.
“We’ve been working since basically the season was over,” said Bull. “We’ve had three guys going twice per week since we got back from Thanksgiving break. Whether it’s footwork, throwing, or watching film, they’re learning anything new that we’ve added and what the job will entail.”
With Brennan’s move to quarterback and the graduation of the top two pass catchers from 2018, including All-State tight end Truett Gardner, seniors Thomas Mcillwain and Parker Brusherd will step into those duties alongside juniors Landon Wilson and Trey Summers.
Juniors will also play a big role in the trenches with Wyat Dill, Isaiah Starks, and Bobby Maples all expected to contribute. Seniors Zane Henry is a returning starter at the position, while sophomore Maguire Wilson could also be in the mix.
The strength of the defense could be found in the secondary, where Bull believes McIllwain and Brooks Espy have the talent to cover anyone on the schedule. Espy was one of the most productive corners in the area in 2018 with five interceptions along with 76 tackles.
“Both our corners are lockdown guys. They are tough and physically talented. They’ll hit you and have great ball skills.”
Junior Blake Anderson will also step in at the safety position.
The defensive line will go as All-Conference senior Ayden Rouse does. He plans to be a force back at defensive end after collecting seven sacks as a junior.
The Bluejay buzz is certainly back heading into year three under Bull, but he is downplaying what a single good year can accomplish. It takes time to build culture and he is thankful for those that have helped get Marshfield to this stage.
“It’s been an awesome process starting with that first group of seniors. They helped us lay the foundation of expectations. We want program success and not individual team success for a season.”