By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
A mere six points separated Marionville from its first win in districts in five years last November. The Comets faced state-ranked Miller in back-to-back weeks to finish the season, with the first loss in Week 9 coming by a single point.
The Comets are finding a silver lining in those losses and carrying that into this fall.
“To lose back-to-back close contests to a senior-heavy group, it should give our kids confidence,” said head coach Paden Grubbs. “You can tell they are walking around with chips on their shoulders. It opened their eyes to what their potential could be. They realize they’re close, but it will just continue to take dedication.”
A load of playing experience is back as 15 starters return from last year’s 4-6 team. That group includes six of the ten players that landed on the All-Southwest Conference list. Between the reps and the memory of how last year ended, Grubbs feels he has a recipe for success brewing.
“Just having a year of getting physically stronger means a lot. These kids were playing varsity when they were 14 or 15 years old.”
The junior class expects to be the skill-heavy group, highlighted by running back Dakota Wilson. The Second-Team All-SWC selection turned in one of the most impressive sophomore campaigns in the area last year, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark while finding the end zone 17 times. His final totals equaled 1,141 yards on 194 carries.
“Wilson is a special running back. He is 5’5” and 155 pounds, but he just has that low center of gravity and is so strong in the weight room. In February, he won his competition in his class at the Glendale Powerlifting Meet. He hides well behind the offensive line and has great vision. We expect him to have another big year running behind those guys.”
Junior Koy Dittmar will be joined once again in the pass catching corps by fellow junior Jacksen Smith and senior Kyle Brattin. They combined for eight touchdowns and 766 yards through the air in 2019, and each one earned an All-SWC honor.
They will see their passes from sophomore Wil Carlton, who takes over at quarterback after missing most of last fall due to injury.
The offensive and defensive lines are also loaded with upperclassmen and experience. Adam Phillips, Kelbey Parker, Jeremy Messenger, and Austin White make up the seniors of the bunch, while junior Eric Garcia will also see more starts. Messenger carries the team lead in tackles with 70 to go with two sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries from last season.
Roberto Mayorga, a sophomore, also expects to see time in the trenches.
Overall, Grubbs is pleased with how his offense came together at the end of last year and how that momentum has allowed his players to pick things right back up this summer.
“We went to more of a spread, run-pass-option style last year, and it really started clicking about Week 7,” he said. “For them to come back after the success we had, it’s just a boost of confidence going into this year.”
Defensively, Wilson, Dittmar, and Brattin will platoon the linebacking corps alongside another returning starter, junior Wyley Brown. Wilson and Brattin collected 69 and 67 tackles last fall, respectively, while Dittmar added 52 of his own.
Big things are also expected out of junior Kaden Klineline, who hauled in four interceptions last fall before getting hurt. He and Brown could also contribute at receiver, while senior Justin Carr could also be a factor in the secondary.
Grubbs is also excited about his freshmen class, the biggest since he took over at Marionville. Several members have the talent to make an impact in 2020. If that is the case, it could add some vital depth to a group already hungry for success.
“Being a Class 1 school with typically around 30 on the roster, it’s about continuing to get into game shape and staying healthy.”
Marionville is scheduled to start the season on Aug. 28 at Pleasant Hope.