By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The purveying thought around Thayer is that last season ended too early. The Bobcats captured their fifth straight district championship with an 11-2 record, but saw their season ended at the hands of Valle Catholic once again.
Now, the window of opportunity in Class 1 has been thrust open thanks to a new classification ruling that places the reigning state champions in Class 3. That decision impacts few schools greater than Thayer, which has been knocked out of the postseason by Valle Catholic eight times in the last 10 years seasons.
While Thayer has been a consistent success story in recent years, head coach Billy Webber knows this does not mean an automatic ticket past sectionals.
“It is good for us. We played them over a dozen times throughout our history and only beat them once,” he said. “At the same time, you’re losing a rivalry, and that also means someone from Class 2 will likely move down. There will still be plenty of good competition that we will have to go through to get where we want to be.”
Aside from Valle Catholic, the Bobcats’ only other loss came to Class 2 runner-up Ava. They pulled off 11 wins largely on the backs of a defense that gave up a mere 11.3 points per game, the program’s lowest in over a decade.
Their stud quarterback may have also factored into the equation.
Jayce Haven highlights a crop of eight seniors after a monster season. He found the end zone 27 times while compiling 1,046 rushing yards on 135 carries and completing 59 of 124 passes for 947 yards. At the same time, he posed the biggest threat in the secondary by snagging a team-high nine interceptions with 64 tackles and one defensive score. That was enough to earn him a First-Team All-State selection.
As he returns for his final season to lead the Bobcat offense, Webber is eager to see what his maturation and leadership will do to lift the unit even further.
“He is simply a great competitor,’ said Webber. “He is explosive on offense and likes to work and succeed, but the competition is what separates him from others. He will find some way to get an edge on his opponent.”
Haven is not the only experienced player back in the fold. Thayer sports eight returning starters on each side of the ball. Senior Jordan Madden (93 rushes, 430 yards, 14 touchdowns) and junior Jackson Willison (166 rushes, 906 yards, five touchdowns) were both key contributors on offense a season ago.
Senior Logan Doss and junior Lane Grimes will reprise their roles in the receiving corps and as ball carriers after combining for 847 total yards and nine scores. Seniors Jesse White and Chris Cray will join juniors Landry Pitts and Griffin Willison as additional key contributors to the offense.
Griffin Willison also returns with the team lead in tackles from a year ago at 102. He comes back to the linebacking corps along with Pitts, Jackson Willison, and fellow juniors Austin Green and Kyrin Magnuson. Madden, who racked up 92 tackles and four interceptions in 2019, will join the unit as well.
Bobby Dale is also back for his senior season as a big piece on the offensive and defensive lines.
“Our defense will be awfully good. It has been for some time and will need to continue to be so,” said Webber. “We will have to continue to throw the ball with efficiency and maintain our run game.”
With this level of experience and a bevy of weapons, expectations are as high as ever in Thayer. Webber is focused on controlling what is in front of his team with the hopes of growing into a probable powerhouse come playoff time.
“We have to make sure to keep our feet on the ground. We have to continue to work, but it is nice to have two classes back-to-back that are hard working and talented.”
Thayer is scheduled to open the season on Aug. 28 against Hayti.