By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Joe Haynes announced his presence at Waynesville with the program’s best season in a decade, posting a 7-4 mark and district semifinal appearance in his second season.
The Tigers had won just seven games in the previous four seasons combined and hadn’t finished above .500 since 2010.
Haynes credits a special group of seniors that have been dedicated to righting the ship.
“The 2020 Class was loaded with players that bought in whole heartedly to the vision we had for this program,” said Haynes. “The commitment to making our program respectable, was evident by the success that we benefited in 2019.”
Waynesville will return 12 starters from that group as the Tigers look to take the next step in reestablishing Tiger Football.
The bulk of the returning experience is on the offensive side of the ball.
Senior Gavin Ka’awa-Pa is an All-Ozark Conference selection and will lead things in the trenches. He’ll be joined by classmate Antonio Pearson who also started a season ago. Sophomores Niko Fau and Jacob Forshey – both who tip the scales at more than 265 pounds – will also be competing for line reps.
Senior Michael Lewis will return to his quarterback position after passing for 1,066 yards and 12 touchdowns – adding 329 rushing yards and five touchdowns – during his junior campaign. He’s a three-year starter.
Senior AJ Martin and junior Marion Fiame will return to the receiving corps, while Jared Hyatt is back at tight end, with Jeremiah Garcia also working in.
The most intriguing part of Waynesville’s offense will be the return of junior Eric Richardson and sophomore Evander Bradford.
Richardson rushed for 355 yards and five touchdowns, adding 56 receiving yards and another touchdown. Bradford rushed for 331 yards and five touchdowns on just 45 carries.
Both players will look to replace All-Everything back Shen Butler-Lawson.
“We feel that the offense will still be dynamic and explosive this season,” said Haynes. “We have a lot of experience returning in our skill positions, and those guys are ready to become the next great playmaker out of Waynesville.”
Defensively, Waynesville will have some holes to plug after losing seven starters.
Senior Joseph Linkous and sophomore JaShawn Mabry-Lyles will anchor the defensive line. Mabry-Lyles finished his freshman season with 72 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks.
Junior Evan Stubblefield will figure into the front seven.
Martin (29 tackles, 13 PBUs) and Richardson (36 tackles, eight TFL) will solidify the secondary. Chase Thomas-Plummer will figure into the secondary equation as well.
Haynes believes that Richardson could have a breakout season.
“Eric is one of the most dynamic players among the Tigers team,” said Haynes. “He is the ‘X-Factor’ on both the offensive and defensive units. He runs a sub-11 second 100m; he brings pure speed and toughness to the running back position on offense
“He also is a solid asset to the defensive unit. A free safety with range to play from hash-to-hash. As a sophomore, he played on every special teams unit, and started on both offense and defense.”
Entering Hayes’ third season, things are certainly trending upward at every level of the program, with the familiarity of the system and expectations now being the norm. Haynes is hopeful Waynesville can continue to progress and build off of last year’s success.
“Things are a lot smoother now due to our program being unified from the middle school all the way to the varsity program,” said Haynes. “The foundation of the varsity program is the middle school program, and we have a great group of men working within the middle school program. Our coaching staff has a wide range of knowledge and experience, and we have strong continuity among the staff. The biggest takeaway is the player ‘buy in’ to the vision and direction of the program.”
“Getting off to a fast start in the first three weeks will definitely aid us in our conference play. We believe this will be the season that will be the most challenging to reach the top spot. With the addition of Bolivar, the field just became more challenging. They fit the mold of being another tough team similar to Lebanon, West Plains, and Camdenton. They are definitely not going to be a pushover, and will be a solid opponent for all the OC to deal with,” Haynes said. “We feel we should be able to make a push for our conference title. Maintaining our focus and momentum going into the playoffs will also aid us in our pursuit to bring home a district title.”
Waynesville will open the 2020 season on Aug. 28 at Parkview. The Tigers will play their home-opener the following Friday against Camdenton.