By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Republic is coming off a 2-8 season in 2019, but there are plenty of positives to take away from where the Tigers are heading entering this fall.
The program is coming off of a down year, but of those eight losses, four came by one possession or less and three of the other four came to powers Webb City, Carthage and Joplin.
Also, this is the first class that has progressed exclusively through Baldwin’s system. So while Republic returns just 11 starters, the Tigers are now fully aware and engrained to the system and expectations carried by Baldwin.
The senior trio of Josh Sterling, Landon Porter and Gavin Walker give Republic and experienced cast of receivers, with Sterling being someone that also saw plenty of reps at running back.
They’ll be counted on to be dynamic players in space this fall.
Senior Jackson Drennan, as well as juniors Chase Buford, Haiden Jones and Landon Finley will also look for receiving reps.
“This is potentially the best core group that I’ve ever coached at receiver,” said Baldwin. “We will be very deep at that position.
If they work hard and push each other could potentially be a very productive and solid group. Landon and Gavin had good years for us a year ago.”
Senior McKinley Woods is the lone returner on the offensive line. Seniors Tyler Burks, Ryzen Gonzalez and Lane Salsman, as well as juniors Tristan Hart, Isaac Gyles, Landon Walker, Eli Haithcock, Derek Kabetske and sophomore Dean Marcum are all in competition to fill in the gaps. They’ll all be in the conversation along the defensive line as well.
Baldwin’s offenses have been historically explosive, but still rely on the ability to run between the tackles.
“The offensive line is relatively inexperienced and a bit undersized,” said Baldwin. “That said, there are a lot of good character kids that are working really hard this off-season to be a strong unit and I believe they will do a great job coming together by the time we get into the fall.”
The backfield will have a different feel with the graduation losses of standouts Riley Sigman and Lucas Hayes. The door is wide open for several players to step in at either position.
The quarterback battle is four players deep at this point with seniors Jared Hughes and Dalton Parks, junior Avery Moody, as well as sophomores Gavyn Beckner and Gunner Ellison, all in the mix.
“All of these guys are good leaders and their strengths vary,” said Baldwin. “We will be looking for consistency from them and evaluate them into fall camp to find out who is going to play.”
Sterling had more than 500 yards of total offense last year and could line up all over the field. Senior Bryce Clark, juniors Memphis Maples, Cooper Lander, in addition to sophomores Ezekiel Meads and Connor Sandridge, will all look for carries.
The defensive side of the ball returns plenty of experience.
Seniors Bryce Messier and Tommy D’Andrea, as well as junior defensive tackle Micah Ericson, will anchor the unit from the trenches.
Senior Austin O’Hara and junior Cooper Lander return at linebacker.
Seniors Dalton Parks and Landon Porter return to their starting secondary positions as well.
Juniors Avery Moody and Chase Buford were part-time starters in the secondary last year. Along with classmate Tristan Hart at defensive tackle, they’ll likely see increased roles this fall.
Several seniors and juniors are pushing for playing time at all three levels.
For Republic to take the next step as a program and compete at a high level within the conference and district, there must be an improvement defensively. The Tigers allowed 43 PPG last fall.
“We have more depth and are older this year defensively,” said Baldwin. “Not many players, if any will have to play both ways which should keep us fresh and focused throughout games. We are looking for a big improvement this season on the defensive side. We need our seniors to step up and lead. Stopping the run in our league is critical and we weren’t productive enough a year ago in that department.”
Republic will open the 2020 season on Aug. 28 at Neosho. The Tigers will play their home opener the following Friday against rival Willard.