By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
A new era is underway in Stockton with Luke Rader taking over the football program.
Rader takes over after spending the last three seasons at Lockwood. Prior to that, he was the head coach at Sarcoxie.
He’ll return 10 total starters from last year’s group that went 4-6, winning its final three games of the regular season.
Rader is no stranger to taking over programs and firmly believes that building relationships is the most important part of any coaching change, something that has been made more difficult due to the restrictions of COVID-19.
While the pandemic has been an added obstacle, Rader is excited about taking over at one of the most respected school districts in the area.
“Probably the toughest thing, and especially this year, is getting to know kids,” said Rader. “Both names, and their personalities. The other thing I would say is that everything you do in practice is new. So every time you go through a drill, or even warm ups, it takes a lot of time away from reps to explain how to do it properly.
“There were a lot of factors that led to us feeling like this was the place we were meant to be. As a family, we have always liked the community of Stockton. The opportunity to rebuild a program like Stockton, and bring back the tradition the community wants to see is an exciting challenge.”
Rader has had limited access to his team thus far, but has been encouraged by the interactions he’s had.
The Tigers will have to replace single-season receiving record-holder Drew Wheeler, but there are pockets of experience throughout the skill positions.
“We return some skill position players that will have experience,” said Rader. “Layne Colvin has started at QB since part of the way through his freshman year. That experience should be an asset. Tate Wheeler missed most of last year with an injury, we are hopeful he can stay healthy and have an impact.”
Six of Rader’s nine seasons have been over .500, including a Final Four run with Lockwood in 2017. His brand of football is one that travels well, centered around discipline defense, option offense and physicality in all phases of the game.
“We will base out of split back veer,” said Rader. “We hope that will allow us to utilize our experience with our skill positions, and we will need to find some linemen that will play physically.
“Defensively we will be aggressive and force offenses to make plays to beat us. We need to play sound and with great technique to not give up big plays, but we want to be aggressive and physical.”
For Rader, this process isn’t one that will happen overnight.
He’s excited about building something special in Stockton and knows that it’ll likely take a full cycle of four-year seniors for expectations and the system to truly be integrated.
In the short term, he’s hoping to start by building pride and competitive fire within the program that can be passed down to every class.
“We have several areas we need to improve in,” said Rader. “The two big areas of focus right now are competing regardless of outside circumstances, and caring about each other. If we can do those two things well, everything else will fall into place.”
Stockton will open the 2020 season on Aug. 28 at El Dorado Springs. The Tigers will play their home-opener on Sep. 11 against Butler.