By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Few programs in Missouri have experienced success at the level Carthage has over the last half decade.
Carthage’s 2018 season ended with an 11-2 record, the program’s fifth consecutive district championship and third Final Four appearance since 2015.
The Class of 2019 was apart of 41 wins in their four years.
“Each team is a little different and each time it’s like starting over,” said Carthage head coach Jon Guidie. “To watch those guys gain confidence and get better each week, come together as a team and overcome adversity is where the gratification comes in. It’s more special than the destination, it truly is about the journey you go on with each team. Last year was another special one.”
Despite the recent success, the Tigers still haven’t hit a rebuild year yet with this year’s edition having the potential to be one of the most talented in recent memory.
The Tigers return 11 starters and will be among the favorites in Class 5.
The trigger man for it all will be junior quarterback Pat Carlton.
The Elite-11 invitee has had a whirlwind of camps and combines this summer, following a sophomore campaign that saw him pass for 1,115 yards and 14 touchdowns with just one interception. Carlton rushed for 1,354 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Guidie feels like his best football is ahead of him.
“Some of the things that he does are just impressive,” said Guidie. “But he still has room to grow and he knows it. Sometimes you watch in awe at some of things he can do and his natural talent. But we also know there’s a lot of work there. The ceiling is really high with him and we feel like he’s set to have a great year.”
Senior running back, and fellow All-COC pick, Tyler Mueller rushed for 987 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and will be one of the area’s top backs this season.
Up front, Carthage will be led by senior All-Everything lineman Oscar Campa. Better known as an interior defensive lineman (58 tackles, 10 TFL), Campa is also a standout on the offensive line.
He, along with senior returner Brener Ocana, will give Carthage a physical presence in the trenches.
“He’s a great kid on and off the field,” said Guidie. “He’s a great leader that leads by example. He works in the weight room and he takes pride in himself. We’re very dependent on him and he understands that. I don’t think he wants to let anyone down. He had a great junior season but I think he’s ready to breakout. If he was a one position guy he would be truly exceptional. For us he goes both ways and I think it takes something out of him, but he’s found a way to be extremely productive.”
The receiving corps will look a little different.
In the last two years Carthage has had standouts like Arkell Smith and Jayden Morgan, not leaving many targets for others on the roster.
With both graduating in consecutive years, the passing game will likely go through seniors Marcus Huntley and Trulyn Kendrick.
Huntley looked great during 7v7 throughout the summer. Senior Alex Martini (63 tackles, 2 INT) will see more targets at tight end or flexed out as a receiver. Junior Silas Templeman will also be in the mix.
Defensively is where Carthage will again make its money. As a unit, they allowed just 15 PPG last season, the program’s fewest since 2010
Campa will set the tone at the point of attack, while Martini at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds is one of the most imposing defensive ends in Missouri.
The All-COC and All-Area pick has gained weight and grown, making him more of a headache defensively.
Linebacker Kale Schrader moved from Seneca a year ago and found success as a three-sport athlete. His 97 tackles and two interceptions earned him All-COC honors last fall. He’ll be joined by fellow senior Bobby Kendrick, who totaled 76 tackles last season.
Twin brother Trulyn Kendrick will also return to the secondary.
Senior Avery Snead (5-11, 205lbs), junior Aiden Logan (6-5, 270lbs) and sophomore Garrett Lilienkamp (6-2, 220lbs) will round out the offensive line unit.
Juniors Lucas Neuenswander (6-2, 215lbs) and Daelon Shockley (6-2, 280lbs) will join a huge defensive line.
Senior Sam George, as well as juniors DJ Witt and Justin Sneed, will join Carthage’s secondary.
This has the potential to be a special fall for the Tigers.
A talented and experienced crop of returns and a cast of newcomers that have immense potential have created a buzz around the program.
With fellow Final Four programs Webb City and Joplin in the league, the conference title race could be the key to a playoff run.
Guidie believes the talent around the Joplin area and in the COC help have played a role in Carthage making deep playoff runs.
“The Webb City game is huge,” said Guidie of the rivalry between the two communities. “CJ has developed into a big game and Joplin coming in too has been great. Our conference is so diverse that once you hit the playoffs there’s nothing you haven’t seen in terms of scheme and system. When you see some of those schools that are private or from bigger cities it makes it a little easier because you’ve seen so many different types of teams.
“This is a good group and an experienced group. They’ve been there before and they know what it takes. Time will tell if they want to go all in and put in the extra work require to get over the hump.”
Carthage will open the 2019 season at Nixa on Aug. 30. The Tigers will play their home opener the following Friday against Carl Junction.