By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After picking 15 wins over the previous two seasons, injuries and inexperience pestered Ash Grove in 2018. The Pirates took just 16 healthy players into their district opening defeat at Skyline and finished 2-8.
With new starters already in the fold as the season began, the Pirates’ inability to stay healthy meant things had to be kept simple in practices throughout the year.
“It was definitely a unique year,” said head coach Ryan Long. “We had a handful of guys that got starts throughout the year. It was a revolving door.”
Ash Grove expects to feature plenty of new faces once again as only four starters are back in the fold. One big catalyst will be the progression of junior Jake Thompson at quarterback. He expected to primarily play linebacker last fall before an injury on the last play of a jamboree thrust him under center for the first time.
He battled as his weapons routinely landed on the injured list. If that can change this fall, Long expects it will mean a leap in his game.
“I think we’ll be much better prepared this year. With Thompson having a full summer working at quarterback, we feel confident in him, and we have four tailbacks that are hands-down our fastest kids on the team.”
Those four rushers include seniors Jonas Adams and Noah Baker, junior Will Lanter, and sophomore Tristan Bowers.
Another senior, Tyler Tolmasoff, could see touches as well after moving in from Republic, while senior Alex Squibb joins Baker and Breckin Schinder as primary targets at receiver.
Senior Hunter Wheeler was an honorable mention for the All-Southwest Conference on the offensive line last fall and will return to the trenches. Junior Dylan McCroskey will line up alongside him.
All will be tasked with helping Ash Grove on its 14 points per game average from a season ago.
McCroskey will also play a key role at linebacker following an All-Southwest Conference Second Team selection. His 56 tackles ranked second on the team, while he also notched two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
Thompson will join him in the linebacking corps after registering a 59 ½ tackles with an interception. Davis, Bowers, and junior Cole Coleman will also see time at the position.
Adams, Schindler, and Squibb expect to round out the defense in the secondary.
With only six seniors, Long knows the Pirates could be a project for the second straight year. While healthy, the team chemistry is apparent. If consistency can follow, so will success.
“We have a bunch of kids in new places. They’re working well together and coming together as a team,” he said. “As we continue to do that, we’ll be able to figure things out this year.”