By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 2019 season for Joplin is one that won’t be forgotten.
After facing adversity early, the death of sophomore Kadin Roberts-Day, the Eagles rallied together as a community, advancing to the Class 6 state championship game following an undefeated regular season.
“Last year was very special,” said Joplin head coach Curtis Jasper. “We had been building for a while with the previous senior classes, and last year’s seniors continued to build on the foundation we have been trying to develop. Each year’s group is special in their own way. Our goal of a state championship fell short, but we played every game we could last season and that was an amazing feeling. We had many challenges in our path by way of key injuries against Carthage and having Davis Ramsey out of the state championship game. More importantly, playing through and overcoming the death of a teammate is something that will not be forgotten. There are hard times throughout every season, but through the leadership of our senior group, our coaching staff, and several others, the team came out stronger and played for a purpose so much bigger than themselves.”
Now, in Jasper’s sixth year with the program, the Eagles will look to build on a run that has seen back-to-back double-digit win seasons and district championships.
Joplin will look for its fourth straight season above .500, but it’ll do so without the presence of all-time greats Isaiah Davis, Zach Westmoreland and Blake Tash. Davis, the 2019 Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, Westmoreland, the team’s leader in all-purpose yards over the last three seasons and Tash, the nation’s all-time leader in career passing percentage, helped reestablish the tradition of Joplin Football.
All three will move on to play on Saturdays, but that won’t change how Joplin attacks defenses on Friday nights, looking to build on their 47 points per game in 2019.
“We are going to continue to be a spread team that uses the zone run game along with RPO’s,” said Jasper. “It will look different by not having their bodies on the field, but I expect others to step up and fill their roles.”
But, the cupboard isn’t nearly as bare as some may thank and a lion’s share of the offensive workload will fall to senior Nathan Glades.
Glades has been a jack of all trades for Joplin over the last two seasons, rushing for 1,169 yards and adding 551 receiving yards with 16 total touchdowns. He’s a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball.
“I expect Nathan to continue to be tough as nails and an unbelievable competitor,” said Jasper. “We will continue to try and create mismatches with him as we have done in the past.”
Seniors Trayshawn Thomas (19 receptions, 199 yards in 2019) and Keaton Renfro (12 receptions, 185 yards in 2019) will take the receiver spots after seeing a high volume of snaps as juniors. Jasper believes both are capable of being playmakers.
Seniors Alex Curry, Sergio Pineiro and Davis Ramsey will form one of the COC’s top offensive line units. Curry, who stands at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, was an All-COC, All-Area and All-State pick. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Pineiro was an All-COC and All-Area selection as well.
Junior Tylor Peck is one of my names that could fill out the unit.
Who will take over for Blake Tash under center will come down to a position battle between juniors Always Wright and Joe Jasper, with a few underclassmen being in the mix as well.
Wright is also a basketball standout, receiving Division One interest for his talents on the hardwood.
Coach Jasper believes both have the tools to be effective in his high-octane offense.
“Always and Joe are the front runners to battle for the QB spot,” said Jasper. “We do have others who could make a run as well. We have not been on the field as of yet due to COVID, so this is based on what we expect to see. Always is very mobile. He is shifty in the pocket, and he can put really good touch on the ball. Joe is physically and mentally tough with a strong arm. He is a gym rat that loves working hard and preparing for the next challenge.”
Joplin will look different defensively, but return plenty on that side of the ball as well.
Senior Scott Lowe and junior Donovahn Watkins were All-COC selections at linebacker and defensive tackle respectively.
Senior Jacob Prosser returns to his defensive end spot, classmates Marcelino Puente, Dominick Simmons Jayden Holt will return to the back seven.
Junior Lonnie Watkins will also return to the defense.
Senior Trayquan Peavler and juniors Landen Atherton, Bruce Wilbert, Hayden Presley and Korey Read could all see time on either side of the ball.
There’s no doubt Joplin will look different on the field, but the Eagles are quietly still one of the top teams in the Ozarks, looking to compete for conference and district championships.
“We will have to have playmakers step up in the absence of those we graduated. We will have to continue to be excellent on the offensive line and defensively we will need to play fast and fearless.”
Joplin will open the 2020 season on Aug. 28 at home against Webb City.