By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
2019 was a unique season for Carthage.
In what head coach Jon Guidie described as a season full of obstacles – ups and downs – he found out exactly how much quit his group had.
The Tigers claimed the program’s first-ever state championship, a 27-21 overtime win over Jackson. The win not only erased years of coming so close to the state’s ultimate Class 5 prize, but it has also jump-started the excitement for a program that was eager to get over the hump.
“It was a relief to be honest,” said Guidie. “The excitement it generated for our players and the community was unbelievable. It was an awesome experience to watch our kids build confidence in each other each week through the playoffs. The week leading up to the state title game was one I will never forget. Very special.”
Carthage now returns 10 starters, including multiple two-way starters, and will begin the season with a title very few teams ever get to carry: defending state champion.
Leading the way again this fall will be three-year starting quarterback Patrick Carlton.
The reigning Class 5 Offensive Player of the Year racked up 2,900 yards and 39 total touchdowns as a junior. He’s currently being recruited by multiple D1 and D2 programs and was invited to the Elite 11 camp for the second year in a row.
“He has done a lot of work on his own in the off-season,” said Guidie. “On our end it has mainly been getting bigger, faster, and stronger. We are excited to have him back one more year.”
The names at the skill positions around him will change, with the graduation of Kale Schrader, Marcus Huntley, Tyler Mueller and Alex Martini.
Senior Silas Templeman will expand on his 11 receptions and 191 yards from last season, likely becoming the team’s go-to perimeter threat.
Sophomore Hudson Moore, a 6-foot-3 athlete, as well as junior Riley Barker will also figure into the equation.
While the skill positions will largely be a wait-and-see game, the line is not; Carthage has the potential to be dominant up front.
Senior all-state selection Aiden Logan is a phenom that has committed to Arkansas State.
“Aiden is a great kid and leader number one,” said Guidie. “He has great size at 6-foot-7, 295lbs. He is a weight room guy as well. Great feet and is as physical upfront as we have had.”
He’ll anchor a line that also returns classmate Ian Ketchum and junior Garrett Lilienkamp.
Senior Cooper Vanwey, junior Gavin VanGilder and sophomore Micah Lindsey are all in competition for spots on the line as well.
Carthage held six opponents to 10 points or fewer last season and the Tigers will again have potential to be an elite unit defensively with speed at all three levels.
“We lost some great kids,” said Guidie. “But we do have some experience back in the secondary with all four kids with starting experience. I thought we were playing really well defensively at the end of the season and we will need to pick up where we left off as quickly as possible.”
Senior DJ Witt is back after an all-state junior campaign that saw him rack up 126 tackles and a pair of interceptions.
He’ll be joined in the secondary by classmates Justin Sneed (54 tackles, 2 INT) and Silas Templeman, as well as junior Caden Kabance (64 tackles, 13 PBUs).
Lucas Neuenswander is the lone returning senior starter along the defensive line, tallying 52 tackles and five sacks as a junior.
Sophomore Luke Gall is on many radars as a breakout player after finishing his freshman season with 57 tackles, starting all five playoff games.
Juniors Max Williams, Sylas Browning and Zach Lansford will figure into the equation on either side of the ball.
It’s never easy to know you’re going to get everyone’s best shot. Carthage has been in that position for years and a state championship will only make that target a little bigger.
But, with experience and talent returning, the Tigers have the chops to make yet another run this fall.
For Guidie, the biggest key is constant improvement and relationship building.
“Experience is a big thing,” said Guidie. “We have eight guys who started at least one game on defense, and eight on offense. This group has played in a lot of football games with deep playoff runs and we need to rely on that experience.
“Obviously we need to continue to work and get better each day and each week. Also, we need to remember how we came together as a team last year and how important that was through the playoffs.”
Defending Class 5 state champion Carthage will open the 2020 season on Aug. 28 at home against Ozark.