OZARK, Mo. -- Teams like the 2012 Ozark Tigers don't come along every year. The red and white knocked out top ranked Lee's Summit West in the state quarterfinals before falling just short of a trip to the state championship against Fort Osage. With 18 starters gone from that team the question is, 'will the Tigers rebuild or reload?'
HEAD COACH - Mark Bliss (3rd season as Ozark head coach)
2012 RECORD - 11-2 (lost to Ft. Osage 16-7 in class 5 semifinals)
PLAYERS TO WATCH - Riley Herrold (Sr. LB/RB), Quinton Wingert (So. RB), Caleb Essick (Sr. Ath)
When asked how the Ozark Tigers will respond to last season's success, head coach Mark Bliss is glass half full.
"I've told the guys one man's departure is another man's opportunity," said Bliss. With the graduation of that big senior class last year we have another good sized senior class (24) back again this year."
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While only two starters return on both sides of the ball several younger players got quality playing time in the second half of blowout wins last season.
Among those Bliss will rely heavily on for leadership is senior linebacker Riley Herrold.
"He's getting looks by a lot of schools, but obviously that doesn't mean anything until you go out and prove it," said Bliss. He understands his role and that he will have to go both ways for us."
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Herrold is one of just two players who will play on both sides of the ball, an area Bliss is trying to limit, saying last year's team struggled late in their loss to Ft. Osage because of so many players being on the field the entire game.
"A school our size, we should be able to two-platoon if possible and that's the approach we've taken this year."
The Tigers will miss talented skill players Cody Lindsay, David Salazar and Austin Roberts, but feel they have some youngsters ready to step into those roles. Senior Clint Godfrey takes over at quarterback after leading the JV squad last year. Sophomore Quinton Wingert is a talented ball carrier who will be thrust into the backfield. Caleb Essick is a junior who Bliss says will play all over the field in the mold Roberts last season.
"He's the fastest kid on our team," said Bliss. "We're going to utilize his abilities as much as possible and try to get the ball in his hands any way we can."
Last but not least the offensive line returns with a pair of senior leaders.
"We're going to be a little bigger up front than last year. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, but those kids have a lot to prove.
Ozark opens the season at St. Joseph Benton before their home opener against Harrison, Arkansas September 6th.
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