By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Tom Cox is building things the right way in Mount Vernon, which is the reason why his Mountaineers have increased their win total in each of the last five seasons, including a state final appearance in 2017 and Final Four run in 2018.
Prior to Cox, it had been more than a decade since Mount Vernon won double-digit games or claimed a district championship.
“We were trying to change the culture and it wasn’t always a bed of roses,” said Cox. “We tried to raise the level of expectations for the individuals and the team, on and off the field. Year Three was a breakthrough season. We went 7-5 and played for the district championship. The guys were buying in to what we were trying to do and the excitement for Mt’neer football was on the rise in the school & community.
“The last two years have been really fun. Make no mistake, we have had some really good players who love to play the game. We have just tried to give them the best opportunity to use their God-given gifts.”
Mount Vernon will now have to reload after losing All-Everything two-way star Will Boswell.
Boswell was O-Zone’s Player of the Year after racking up 1,567 yards and 21 touchdowns offensively, as well as 164 tackles, five sacks and five fumble recoveries defensively. He was the Class 3 Defensive Player of the Year.
“Will had a ton of talent and a work ethic to go with it that was second to none,” said Boswell. “No doubt his on the field abilities will be missed but he also made everyone around him better. It’s those intangibles that will be hard to replace. But we’ve got some guys that are trying hard to do just that.”
Cox and Mount Vernon aren’t lacking in talent, it’ll just be a different look this year.
Leading the charge will be All-Big 8 quarterback and senior Zach Jones.
As a junior he passed for 2,418 yards and 22 touchdowns.
With former Mount Vernon great Garrett Hadlock joining the staff, Jones could see an uptick in production this fall through the ground and air.
“Zach will be called on to carry the ball more,” said Cox. “We will try to incorporate the quarterback more in the run game. Carson Bowman will take over the tailback spot while still being heavily involved in the passing game.”
Bowman is a fellow senior that was one of the area’s top playmakers last year regardless of where he lined up (48 receptions, 658 receiving yards, 6 TD; 371 rushing yards and 5 TD).
Senior Cale Miller (28 receptions, 421, 4 TD) and junior Rafe Darter (40 receptions, 455 yards, 7 TD) will see an increase in targets with Bowman transitioning to a more exclusive running back role and the graduation of Kelly Vaughn.
Senior Tresten Shipman and junior Jagen Prescott will also see reps at receiver.
Mount Vernon returns 80% of its offensive line from last year’s semifinal game.
Antonio Perry (6-0, 210lbs) is the lone senior. He’ll be flanked by juniors Zach Bray (6-1, 250lbs), Josh Kerr (5-11, 210lbs), Gavynn Gann (5-11, 220lbs) and Jacob Montemayor (5-9, 200lbs).
Cox is expecting to be balanced this season, with the possibility of an air raid element.
“We will probably be more wide open on offense this year,” said Cox. “We will try to get the ball to our talented receiving corps. Cale Miller and Rafe Darter are big, tall targets on the outside. Our offensive line has some great experience too.”
Defensively is where things will look different.
Shipman is an all-state safety and will take on a leadership role.
Jones and Miller will see time at linebacker, while Justin Moore will take over Boswell’s inside linebacker spot.
Senior Sam Burks will return to his defensive end spot. Perry, Kerr, Gann and Montemayor could all see extended D-line reps.
There are a host of newcomers that will provide depth.
Aaron Day, Chase Strong and Carter Bartelsmeyer are all WR/DB combos. Junior Mason Ballay will be a back-up quarterback but could also find his way to the secondary.
“Defensively, we will have to get more people to the ball,” said Cox.
Payton Presnall will provide linebacker depth and could also see reps at receiver.
Brayden Martin and Nate Hudson will be in the mix at linebacker and running back.
Darwynn Thompson, Jordan Collier, Dominic Dawson, David Teel and Ben Storkson could all fill holes on either side of the line.
Mount Vernon will again be a player in the Big 8 and district picture.
After shocking the entire state back-to-back years, Cox and company are hoping the third time can be the charm for the program’s first state championship since 1978.
“We return a good nucleus of the 2018 team that are very good players,” said Cox. “They have been on successful teams throughout their high school careers thus far. They have seen what it takes to extend the season deep into the playoffs. They know what it’s like to get close to the mountain top and they have a desire to go farther and reach the summit.”
Mount Vernon will open the 2019 season at Monett on Aug. 30. The ‘Neers will play their home opener the following week against Nevada.