By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com) – @thejordanburton
Few programs in Missouri – or even across the nation – have learned to sustain greatness independent of graduation the way that Webb City Football has and 2018 will again present the opportunity for Webb City to prove that.
The Cardinals are coming off of their 14th state championship in program history, tying them for the state record with Class 1 power Valle Catholic.
Last year’s title run was especially unique, with Webb City coming off of a 4-loss campaign in 2017; the program’s most losses in a season since 1998 (John Roderique’s second season as head coach).
While both Roderique and Webb City have grown accustomed to success at unparalleled levels, the Class of 2018 will forever hold a special place among all the program’s state championship teams.
“That senior class was one of the most rewarding as a group,” said Roderique. “Great leadership by the entire group. They set the tone in the locker room, weight room and on the practice field. Very rewarding to have, not just some good players but some great kids who pulled together and lead our team with class and integrity. They showed up every day and worked hard.”
Webb City returns just five starters from that team, but it’ll be more of a reload than a rebuild and it’ll start with one of the most productive offensive and defensive players in Missouri in seniors Durand Henderson and Alex Gaskill.
Henderson racked up 1,703 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. He was at his best down the stretch, rushing for 687 yards and eight touchdowns in Webb City’s final four games.
“What makes Durand special is he shows up every day with a great attitude and work ethic,” said Roderique. “He epitomizes our program. He’s becoming a good leader for our offense and team. He has a great feel for our offense and knows a lot of the small things to make him successful. Great kid to be around on or off the field.”
Gaskill is arguably the best two-way player in all of Southwest Missouri. He recorded 33 receptions for 647 yards and nine touchdowns. Most impressively, he anchored the back end of the Cardinals defense, tallying 87 tackles and six interceptions.
Webb City allowed just 8.7 PPG in 2017.
“Alex is an extremely versatile athlete and football player,” said Roderique. “He is being recruited by some as a linebacker. He is extremely smart on the field and talented as an athlete. He doesn’t get himself in bad position very often. He has great ball skills as a WR and DB.”
Outside of Henderson and Gaskill, the offense and defense will be full of talented, but inexperienced players. Roderique maintains that these positions will likely be battled for through the jamboree and throughout the season because of how much depth and parity Webb City has.
Senior Cade Beason is likely to start at quarterback after backing up Cash Link in 2017. This will likely pull Beason from his linebacker spot where he started as a junior. Seniors Austin Spink and Jacob Monroe also return after seeing plenty of snaps at tight end last season.
The offensive line remains an area of extreme competition, but seniors Tucker Friend and Matt Miller have are two names that have come up. A loaded sophomore class houses linemen Grant Goltra (6’4, 250lbs) and Zetthew Meister, two more names that could see reps this season. Classmate Gary Clinton could also compete for reps at tight end.
Junior Terrell Kabala returns after missing the majority of his sophomore season with a torn ACL. As a freshman, Kabala finished second on the team in receiving yards (296). Last season he totaled three interceptions in seven games.
He could see reps on both sides of the ball.
Another name to keep an eye on is sophomore athlete Devrin Weathers.
As a freshman he received reps at receiver, but 2018 could see him transition back to running back where he spent his junior high days. Weathers is widely considered one of the most dynamic 2021 athletes in all of the Ozarks. He could find his way onto the field in a variety of positions.
Defensively, Webb City will be full of fresh faces and without defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who rode into the sunset following Webb City’s shutout in the state championship.
Darrell Hicks will now command the defensive unit.
Senior Dylan Walker and junior Trent Thompson should see increased roles along the defensive line. Senior Treyton Simmons will likely go both ways as a defensive back and receiver.
Junior Cade Hicks and classmate Cale McCallister will provide depth in the defensive backfield. Junior Ruben Lenker could see reps at linebacker.
Senior punter Grant Burkett is also back. He averaged nearly 39 yards per punt last season, pinning five of his 26 attempts inside the 20.
Webb City’s path towards repeating as COC and Class 4 state champs isn’t easy.
With Joplin joining the COC, the conference now has a Class 6 program for the first time ever. The Eagles are also the defending Ozark Conference champions and return 16 starters. Carl Junction’s only losses last season came to Webb City and Carthage went to the Class 5 Final Four.
Webb City and Joplin haven’t played since 1997. Joplin hasn’t beaten Webb City since 1990; the last time Webb City played Carthage, Carl Junction and Joplin.
All of this should make the COC race one to watch this fall and should make the Cardinals even more battled-tested come district time.
“Adding Joplin only strengthens our league,” said Roderique. “It’s a tough conference with many great players and coaching staffs. There is a lot of diversity with regards to offensive and defensive schemes. Should be a dogfight within the league. Should be one of those years where it’s up for grabs. Many teams could have the opportunity to win the league.
“This year there are more unknowns that most years. We feel we have some talented football players, but we are a very long way from being where we need to be. In terms of CJ and Joplin they are the two closest to us (proximity), so this should make some great crowds/atmosphere. Additionally, with the change in class and district assignments (this won’t be released until 2nd week in August) nobody knows what their district looks like so that adds some excitement this year. No matter how we start this season, hopefully we will have the opportunity to play well at the end of the season. Of course, that depends on staying healthy.”
Webb City will open the 2018 season on Aug. 24 at home against Carl Junction. The following week the Cardinals will host Joplin.