By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After Willow Springs notched just two wins in its first two seasons under Logan Schwalm, the program posted a 6-6 record in 2019. The Bears nearly tripled their points per game average from the previous year en route to a Class 2, District 3 runner-up finish.
Being able to record the highest win total for the program since 2013 was thanks in large part to a stout 17-senior class. Now, with only three starters back in the fold, the Bears are returning to work.
“Everything is wide open. We are throwing everything at them in practice,” said Schwalm. “As coaches, you know where some players may slot in, but it’s not until you hit it hard for that two-week stretch in July that you really see it.”
Even with so many positions to fill, Schwalm has been pleased with the condition in which his players showed up to summer workouts and the effort they have put forth since coming back
“We took two and a half months off school, but since we started summer activities, the core group has been there every day. They have fire, and it has been impressive. We just need to get experience at eight or nine positions.”
Only one of the 10 All-SCA selections from 2019 is back: senior linebacker Justin Chaney. He is the top returning tackler after the three leading players in that category graduated. He recorded 63 as a junior along with two sacks and an interception.
He should also see his role in the passing game increase after being on the receiving end of two touchdowns last year.
Brayden Henry, a junior, is also back as a starter on the offensive and defensive lines. He will be joined in the trenches by newcomers Warren Ennis, a sophomore, and juniors Micah Stetina and Landon Crudgington.
Kyle Wood is the last returning starter and stands as the top receiver on the team. He hauled in 58 passes last year for 649 yards and seven touchdowns. He will also slot back into the linebacking corps after collecting 59 tackles as a junior.
Stetina and sophomore Gavin Ferguson should also be in the mix at linebacker.
Gavin’s brother Brenden, a junior, will be in the secondary, and has also been battling junior Owen Duddridge for snaps at quarterback. The Bears also expect to get an offensive boost from some new faces, including Scotte Osborn, a junior who will step in at running back after missing his sophomore campaign, and Thomas Chaney, who is coming out for his senior year to play at receiver.
If there is one thing that excites Schwalm about this group, it is the overall team speed.
“We are faster than any time I’ve had since I’ve been here. We are new at a bunch of spots, but we are hungry and the athleticism is there.”
He believes the mix of dedication and age will make up for the lack of varsity experience. There is still an air of success after what the Bears accomplished last year, and they hope that extends throughout all levels of the program.
“We do have upperclassmen filling some of those roles. I think a lot of people will be surprised. We had success last year at the varsity level and only lost one game by one score in junior varsity. You’re bringing in that younger group that has known winning.”
Willow Springs is scheduled to open the season on Aug. 28 at Clever.