By Chris Parker
Rolla football has notched back-to-back winning seasons after not finishing above .500 from 2011-16. The Bulldogs went 7-4 in a season that ended with a district semifinal loss to St. Francis Borgia.
Four all-conference players graduated from last year’s team. The toughest player to replace will be First-Team All-Ozark Conference running back and punter Trey Quick. Quick carried the ball 242 times for 1,697 yards and 19 touchdowns in his one season as a varsity running back.
“I have learned you really don’t replace those guys. You just kind of move on. The next guy up gets his opportunity,” Rolla Head Coach Jon Franks said.
Rolla does return starting senior quarterback Jack Hounsom to lead a largely inexperienced group of skill players. Hounsom completed 94 passes for 1,090 yards and nine touchdowns last season. He added in 120 carries for 413 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Jack has done a really good job this year of getting the new guys integrated and trying to teach them,” Franks said. “He has had a really good off-season and summer, so we are really excited about his progress.”
The backfield will be a committee this year with seniors Dawit Pritchett and Colton Franks joined by junior Malikia Ray. Pritchett was the only player in that group to carry the ball on varsity last year with eight carries for 43 yards.
The receiving corps will be led by juniors Brady Yarger and Landon Hirtz along with senior Isaac Hunter. Yarger is the only returning player with a varsity catch. He had six receptions for 67 yards in 2018. Elijah Cunningham will be at tight end in his senior season.
Up front on the offensive line, the Bulldogs will bring experience. Darius Facen was a first-team all-conference offensive lineman last year as a junior. He will be joined by classmates Justin Briggs, Noah Crouch and Ethan Gould. The left guard spot will be a battle between Cayden Headrick, Chris Williams and Colten Terry.
Senior Colton Franks will be the heart of the defense at linebacker. The first-team all-conference selection pulled down a team-high 128 total tackles last season. He added in seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, six hurries, four pass break-ups and two caused two fumbles.
“He grew up around football. He loves football. He studies the game and is coachable. It has been a real pleasure to get to coach my son. It is one of those things as a dad that you have to be careful not to be dad too much, and make sure we are really on him about doing things right,” Coach Franks said. “He has worked hard and been committed his whole life. He is looking forward to try and have a good senior year.”
Grayson Madonna and Hayden Fane will help round out the linebacking corps.
Up front, Cunningham, Briggs and Ray along with Eric Henson and David Rogers will be the names to watch. Cunningham, Ray and Henson will play on the ends while Briggs and Rogers are on the interior.
The secondary will have the most talent to replace including first-team all-conference defensive back Ahmed Boubacar. Senior Dathan Mickem (cornerback) along with juniors Ethan Stephenson (strong safety), Gus Gremp (free safety) and Ike Hunter (cornerback) will look to step up in that unit.
Franks will be looking for his team to control the ball better this year on offense and limit big plays on defense.
“We have to perform the fundamentals of the game under pressure a little better. We have to take care of the ball better and not give up big plays on defense. The last couple years we have been able to score in 30 seconds. We are going to have to manage the clock better and play traditional football; play solid defense without giving up big plays. That is what we have really been focused on,” Franks said.
Overall, Franks wants to see his team competing hard each snap of each game while still enjoying being a Bulldog.
“The win-loss record does not determine (success) for me. It is how we play, how hard we play and how we perform. There is so much more to it for our staff. We want to have a program that allows kids year in and year out to have the best high school football experience they can have,” Franks said.
Rolla opens the season on Aug. 30 at home against Glendale.