By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Miller has seen an increased win total in each of its first three seasons under Jamie LaSalle.
LaSalle, who has won games at every stop, returns 15 starters from last year’s 9-3 squad, setting up 2019 to be a big year for the Cardinals.
Leading the way will be the two-headed monster of Nick Johnson and Joel Kleeman.
Johnson, a senior, is an impact player in all three phases of the game. Last season he rushed for 1,505 yards and 24 touchdowns on just 141 carries. Defensively he led the team with six interceptions. He returned three kicks for scores and he was also the team’s kicker.
He’s a nationally-regarded kicker by Kohl’s Camps and one of the most productive players in the Ozarks.
“Nick is a great player,” said LaSalle. “He is just an explosive and tough runner. He plays hard and is continuing to get better. He has only played running back for two years.”
Kleeman is a junior that may line up anywhere on the field.
As a sophomore he totaled 1,200 yards from scrimmage with 16 total touchdowns. He also returned three kicks for scores and registered five interceptions.
“Joel should have a great junior season,” said LaSalle. “He made some really big plays during districts last season. He scored in all three games and was huge on defense as well.”
Senior quarterback Preston Richardson is also back under center. As a junior he passed for 963 yards and 13 touchdowns. He rushed for 157 yards and four more scores.
Senior linebacker Neilson Hadlock returns after leading the team in tackles (67) a year ago. He’s a multi-sport athlete that competitive by genetics. Classmate Garrett Rollett will return to his defensive end duties where he led the team in sacks last season.
Junior Jeffrey Lung will remain at corner where he picked off five passes as a sophomore.
Hadlock and Rollett will be joined by Will Smith, Clay Allen and Brendan Rhinehart to form a senior quartet of offensive linemen.
Seniors Shaun Edwards (LB/SE), Parker Myhre (DE/TE) and Justin Jeffers (LB/SE) are three additional seniors that could see reps on both sides of the ball. Sophomore Brendan Thom will look to build on a successful freshman campaign at receiver and corner.
While there will be continuity with some many starters returning, there will be several changes schematically.
“We will have big changes on both sides of the ball,” said LaSalle. “We are going to a more one back set on offense with more zone blocking. We are also going to be playing a larger defensive front this year. Bigger bodies for more run stopping ability.”
LaSalle is known for being one of the most fiery coaches in the Ozarks on the sideline. Taking over a program that was coming off of back-to-back 2-8 seasons, instilling a competitive drive has been an ongoing mission of this coaching staff.
Miller will have the talent to make a run, the mental aspect will be among the biggest hurdle. If they can accept that challenge, the Cardinals could be playing football well into November.
“We are getting tougher and more committed,” said LaSalle. “It is a slow process. Hopefully we will grow more this year. We could learn a lot from watching how committed our girls are in volleyball and basketball. They are very successful and they put the time and effort in during the off-season.”
Miller will open the 2019 season at home against Stockton.