By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ozark is entering its sixth season under Chad Depee and while the Tigers went just 4-6 in 2019, returning 14 starters has increased expectations for this fall.
Of those 14, 10 are on the defensive side of the ball meaning Ozark has one of the most experienced defenses in the COC. They’ll be led by seniors Cannon Cox (37 tackles, INT), Tyrl Bolin (47 tackles) and Thomas Rushing (17 tackles, 2 sacks).
“I expect the experience they gained as juniors to not only give them an advantage on the field individually, but I also expect it to allow them to help lead the rest of the team, help make everyone around them better,” said Depee. “Thomas played almost every snap for us a year ago on both sides of the ball and special teams. He can do a lot of things for a team and fill in a lot of spots. We expect Hunter Tennison to have a big year for us leading the DL.”
Cox will be joined by classmates Colton Casteel (22 tackles) and Riley Mills, as well as junior Jace Easley in the secondary.
Bolin and Rushing will be flanked by classmate Logan Baldwin and junior Drew Blomquist.
Senior Hunter Tennison will line up next to classmate Kaiden Shuler and juniors Luke Hulse and Mason Moreland.
Ozark started the season off hot, going 3-1 and limiting opponents to 14 points or fewer in all three wins.
There will be some personnel changes on the offensive side of the ball with just four starters back.
The backfield will have no shortage of experience with seniors Bolin (479 yards, 3 TD), Ethan Pritchard (328 yards, 7 TD) and Rushing all returning. Juniors Avry Voysey and Jake Beets could also see reps.
“We believe in establishing the run game,” said Depee. “It is very important to us. As a returning starter, we have high hopes for Ethan. He has worked extremely hard in the offseason to put himself in the best possible position to help the team. I expect him to be an extremely valuable part of our offense. With that being said, we are excited to have some other guys back that I am confident are ready to contribute big time. Tylr Bolin at our full-back position plays a key position in our offense. He had a good year last year and I hope he will only get better.”
Tennison is the lone returning starter on the offensive line. Classmates Jacob Wofford and Camden Freeman, as well as tight end Price Webb, will look to anchor the line of scrimmage. Seniors Harper Kissee and Kiaden Shuler, juniors Luke Hulse, Brian Bullard, Dylan Bunch, Micah Lackrone, Braegan Patman and Claude Virden will all look to compete for roles.
Seniors Garrett Dotson and Adam Hofer, as well as junior Wendell Watts and several others will complete the receiving corps.
As for who will be under center, Cox and junior Jace Easley are engaged in a quarterback battle that will give Ozark a great athlete no matter who is taking snaps.
“As stated above senior Cannon Cox is most likely our guy,” said Depee. “Cannon got reps for us last year at quarterback as well as started on the defensive side. He’s a really good athlete. Has great vision and the natural burst of speed to go get chunk yardage. We are excited to see what he can do. Junior Jace Easley is also in the mix. He is another really good athlete that got some Friday night defensive play last year. He has been in our system for several years now too at the quarterback position. We are very confident in his abilities as well to run our offense.”
The names and faces will be different, but the system is still typical Chad Depee football.
Ozark is looking to compete for the program’s first district championship since 2012. In a league that crowned two state champions and the Class 6 runner-up, wins in the regular season and playoffs are never easy to come by.
For the Tigers to right the ship, Depee believes much of the improvement must come in their mental approach to the game.
“I believe that we have to stay focused on Ozark every day,” said Depee. “Focus on what we can do to continually get better daily. We have good guys. They are fun to go to work with. I’m excited to get a chance to go compete with these guys. We must always strive to be mentally and physically tougher. Keep our locker room climate and passionately chase our best every day.”
Ozark will open the 2020 season on Aug. 28 at defending Class 5 state champion Carthage. The Tigers will play their home opener the following week against Branson.