By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Republic has put together back-to-back three-win seasons in the first two years under Dustin Baldwin. Five of the eight losses from last fall came by a possession or less.
The Tigers did avenge a Week 1 defeat against Branson by eliminating the Pirates in the opening round of districts, but lost to Carthage the next week. This year, there are a handful of spots that are still up for grabs through camp, primarily on defense.
“We’re inexperienced at a lot of positions,” said Baldwin. “We have a lot of guys that we feel have good character, that will be accountable, and will run to the ball. We’re just having to find some new spots and see where everyone fits best.”
The landscape is clearer on offense, where three linemen, two running backs, and the quarterback return. Senior running back Riley Sigman is the lone All-Central Ozark Conference selection back in the fold. He collected 750 yards on 128 carries and six touchdowns, while also hauling in a pair of touchdown receptions.
Lucas Hayes, another senior, spent 2018 learning the quarterback position at the varsity level after leading the junior varsity squad to a 7-1 record the previous year. He accounted for 1,345 total yards, including 1,045 through the air, and 12 scores last fall.
“He is getting more comfortable with his reads; when to keep it and when to hand it off,” said Baldwin. “We ask a lot of our quarterbacks in terms of making post-snap reads on defensive ends and linebackers.”
Haiden Moody, Cody Morehouse, and Logan Fahrlander all provide stability on the offensive and defensive lines as seniors. They have drawn high praise from the coaching staff and will allow Republic to be a difficult running team to contend with again.
“We have three or four guys back on the line that started last year. We ran the ball well last year, so to have that many guys back, I certainly think that’s where our strength will be again.”
The receiving corps will see a mix of seniors Blake Hulland, Clay White, and Easton Prevo along with junior Austin O’Hara.
Hulland hopes for some stability after injuries robbed the second half of each of his last two seasons. He sits with six career interceptions, including four in just seven games last fall, and intends to improve those numbers at the safety position.
Fellow seniors Jaden Appleberry and Jace McLelland could also see snap in the secondary as will Porter and Dalton Parks.
Seniors Evan Smith and Justin Sturdevant will be anchors of the linebacking corps and will be flanked by O’Hara and Jarod Hughes.
Baldwin hopes that new faces can find comfort when tasked with these increase roles. Some have varsity experience, while others will have to make the jump from junior varsity and get acclimated to game speed.
“We’ve had two straight successful junior varsity seasons. Those guys are now juniors and seniors. Their expectations may be a little different than some people may have had here in the past. They’re excited to get going.”