By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
No program has seen a bigger turnaround over the last three years than Buffalo and it has all coincided with the hiring of Ed Phillips.
Entering his fourth season, the Bison have won 21 games over the last three seasons, including back-to-back nine-win seasons and district championship appearances.
To put that in perspective, Buffalo won seven total games from 2010-2016 preceding Phillips taking over the program in 2017.
This year the Bison will have to replace several starters all over the field, returning just 10 from last season, but there’s still plenty of talent to go around and it all starts with All-Everything quarterback Jamen Smith.
As a junior he passed for 1,467 yards and rushed for 1,250 more, totaling 37 touchdowns. He also returned two kicks for scores. Smith has accounted for 85 touchdowns over the last three seasons.
“He is an amazing athlete,” said Phillips. “He continues to make plays that make you appreciate how good he really is. He is a great competitor, he works hard and is committed to getting better. He works hard in the weight room and is a 4.0 student athlete. He is quick, fast and allusive. He is a great teammate and is very humble. He is a great team leader.”
Smith will also return his favorite targets.
Junior Cameron Portis led the team in receptions (30), yards (569) and touchdowns (7). Senior Bode Abraham finished second in each category with 28-509-6.
Then there’s junior playmaker Jaren Smith, who totaled 609 yards from scrimmage on just 43 touches last year with 10 total touchdowns.
All three will be counted on to again be playmakers in space.
“We have tremendous athletes back around Jamen,” said Phillips. “Bode, Cameron and Jaren are all extremely athletic and will give defenses fits. We will have good team speed this year and with lots of experience we should have a good year.”
Those four – Smith, Smith, Abraham and Portis will also make up Buffalo’s defensive backfield where Abraham is the team’s returning leader in tackles (85) and also added six interceptions.
Senior Caleb Bennett is also a returner to the receiving corps. Senior Parker Blake will anchor the defensive line.
The success of Buffalo’s season could hinge on the acclimation of a new offensive line unit to Friday Night Lights.
Senior Hadley Louderbaugh will step in at center. He’ll be joined by Breck Wendlandt and Bode Jasper. Several others are also in the mix for spots along the line.
“The new offensive line has worked hard in the weight room and will be a big and strong group,” said Phillips. “They practiced everyday against last year’s line and that competitive practice will lead to success for them. Four years in the same system will also help these guys be successful.”
Eli Potter, Logan Horn, Michael McDaniel, Glen Brown and Landon Parker will compete for reps at linebacker. Gabe Glor, Coltin White, and John Jenkins will all be competing for defensive line action as well.
The defensive side of the ball is where Buffalo is hoping to see some growth. In Buffalo’s three losses, the Bison allowed an average of 35 PPG. Those losses came against the schedule’s stiffest competition.
Phillips believes they’ve taken strides to remedy some of those defensive woes.
“We are concentrating on being quicker on defense,” said Phillips. “We will try and focus on team speed and getting to the ball. Being sound at alignment, assignment and being a great tackling team. Focusing on getting better every day.”
The program has seen success recently that few expected to see. The next step will be getting over the hump and winning a district championship after title game losses to Springfield Catholic and Blair Oaks in the last two years.
It won’t be an easy road, but Phillips believes the program is on the right path.
“We have a lot of talent that works extremely hard,” said Phillips. “They believe in themselves and their teammates. They believe they can win. We must stay healthy and away from injury. Our young defensive players will have to improve daily to compete for a district title.”
Buffalo will open the 2020 season at home against reigning Class 2 runner-up Ava. The two programs have split their last two meetings, with the total margin of the two games being just six points.