By Josh Hall
Rolla High School football coach Jon Franks doesn’t want to put a win-loss expectation on the season.
But he does expect his team to compete.
“Our kids are going to play hard,” Franks said during a 7-on-7 session in late June. “That’s really all we’re after – working hard and playing hard.”
The Bulldogs went 1-8 during the regular season last year, but earned a 38-34 win against St. Clair in the first round of the Class 4 District 4 tournament and a 35-14 victory over Union in a semifinal game before falling to Parkway West.
Rolla loses leading rusher and Second-Team All-Ozark Conference selection Xavier Douglas, who ran for 972 yards on 186 carries, from last year’s team that finished with a 3-9 record.
But the Bulldogs have some experience coming back for the 2017 campaign.
“We played a lot of young kids last year, got a lot of kids back,” Franks said. “That’s really not an excuse or a benefit. We’ve just got to get better.”
Senior quarterback Josh Pritchett returns under center after going 83 of 184 through the air for 1,199 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Pritchett also ran for 850 yards on 115 carries and scored 12 touchdowns as a junior.
“He’s put effort and time in to it,” Franks said. “He’s looked pretty good this summer, but nobody has pads on yet.”
After battling injuries all of last season, senior running back Davis Buhr is healthy entering the new season and will lead Rolla in the backfield. In five games last season, Buhr ran for 430 yards on 47 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Buhr underwent knee surgery as a sophomore and suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in Week 7 that also required surgery. Douglas entered the 2016 as the No. 2 back behind Buhr before his injury.
Also back after a solid sophomore year is Blaize Klossner. The two-way player caught a team-high 33 passes for 412 yards and also recorded 90 tackles as a free safety.
“Blaize is a good football player,” Franks said. “You wouldn’t look at him and be like, oh that’s the guy. He’s a really smart, tough competitor. Just a good football player.”
Senior Tristan O’Neal, a second-team All Ozark Conference selection at Tight End, is also back after catching 14 passes for 130 yards. Trey Quick (junior), Elijah Young (junior) and RJ Alfred (junior) will all be targets for Pritchett this season.
Defensively Rolla loses honorable mention all-conference selection Jacob Cunningham, who recorded 98 tackles at linebacker.
Josh Morris (junior) will lead the way for the defense after tallying a team-high 101 tackles and three sacks at linebacker last season as a sophomore.
“Really, expectation-wise for us, is to practice hard and continue to try to improve at football,” Franks said. “I’m not going to put a win-loss expectation on us or anything like that. Where we’re at with our kids is just focusing on getting better. We have so many things to continue to work on.”