By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Head coach Kris Conley likes a challenge and he’s got one with his new job leading Forsyth’s football program.
The Panthers are entering just their fourth season of varsity football this fall after compiling a 6-23 record the last three years. They were 2-8 last season.
“It’s a new program, it’s only five years old and it’s really exciting, I think, to do that with a lot of numbers around the state with football going down and they’ve got good numbers with the size of the school, they’re excited about playing football, the town’s excited,” Conley said. “They’ve got top-notch facilities. Coming from a small Class 1 school which actually had good facilities, but their turf facilities, the weight room, it’s just awesome. You can tell they care a lot about their kids and their sports here.”
Conley comes to Forsyth after coaching football and track at Sweet Springs the last six years. He was an assistant coach at Knob Knoster before that and has also coached at Jefferson City.
One of his first tasks will be to improve on an offense that averaged just 11.2 points per game last season. The Panthers scored a total of 60 points in their two wins against Jasper and Greenfield but scored eight points or fewer in seven other games. Conley has ditched last year’s spread offense in favor of the flexbone.
“I think that fits our personnel better for one thing,” he said. “What I noticed is I think with them not playing a lot of football they didn’t have a lot of confidence in certain situations. It seems like when things start to go bad – they always put together a great first drive it seemed like but when they started hitting adversity they fell off and weren’t sure what to do in certain situations, I think from not having a lot of football experience.”
A lack of experience shouldn’t be a problem now. Forsyth returns as many as nine starters on offense and 10 on defense. Where last year’s team had just four seniors, this year’s team has 15. Conley has checked out equipment to 38 different players.
Returning on offense at the skill positions are junior running back Corgan Strong, senior running back Buck Sanders, senior receiver Keith Youngs and junior receiver Colton Long. Senior Hunter Creson, the team’s new starter at quarterback, played some at receiver and quarterback last year.
Junior Colton Barrows and senior Josh Strahan return at the offensive tackles and seniors Easton Nida and Parker Gillman return at guards.
The newcomers to the offense are junior Kollin Kolb at center and sophomore Carter Mahan at fullback.
“Buck Sanders was impressive on film but much more impressive in person,” Conley said. “His work ethic, his motor, you can’t wear the kid out. You can’t do anything to tire the kid out. He comes to everything. He’s a quiet kid but definitely a lead by example guy. So athletic. Unbelievably athletic.”
Conley has also been impressed by the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Barrows, who he said is pretty athletic.
“He’s hit the weight room real hard this summer,” Conley said.
Others who have caught the coach’s eye so far are Nida (“very, very powerful, very intelligent”) and Youngs (“his speed and athleticism.”)
Forsyth will run a 3-4 multiple defense and, like the offense, will employ veterans at almost every position. They allowed 39.5 points per game in 2019.
Senior Jordan Boe will play nose guard, Gillman and Hunter Cardwell will play defensive end, Nida and Mahan will play inside linebacker, Creson and Strong will play outside linebacker, Long and Sanders will play safety and Youngs and senior Lucas Jackson will play corner.
Jackson is the only real newcomer to the defensive side, and Cardwell is moving from linebacker to end.
With the bevy of seniors on the roster, Conley thinks this will be the group that gets the program going in the right direction.
“These guys they do have some high goals, not going to lie to you,” Conley said. “They want to win conference. That’s one of the first things they told me when I talked to them. They were in some pretty tight conference games last year before it got ugly at the end.”
“Fortunately we have been able to get in the weight room this summer, being careful and stuff like that,” he said. “We were able to get in the weight room so we’ve been pretty fortunate there. They’ve been working hard. They are pretty hungry. They’re tired of losing they said.”
Conley said he views the team’s offensive line and speed in the backfield as its strength. Questions remain at cornerback, where the team lacks depth, and at quarterback, where Creson will be a new starter.
“I think him settling down and learning the system and whatnot is going to help determine how we do,” Conley said. “We’re returning four offensive line starters, three of which are seniors, so that’s a pretty good crew up front. I thought the offensive line was a strength last year. Corgan Strong almost ran for 1,000 yards.”
He said fans will see a different style of football on Friday nights, and a different mentality.
“I think the winning and losing will take care of itself,” he said.
Forsyth is scheduled to host a jamboree with Pleasant Hope.