By Chris Parker
Mountain Grove football bounced back from an 0-10 season in 2019 with a 5-7 mark in 2020 that ended with a loss to Buffalo in the district title game.
This year, the Panthers return an experienced group with 10 offensive and 7 defensive starters returning.
“We return all of our skill position starters, as well as the majority of their backups,” Mountain Grove head coach Brandon Rodgers said. “We also return four players on the offensive line that started the majority of the season. We have multiple players on offense that will be going into their third year as a starter. We also have a very large senior class, which is something we have not had over the last three years. We expect our overall team speed and strength to be better. Our passing game really came a long last season with a solid quarterback and a big group of quality receivers. We are working on improving our inside running game.”
Tyson Elliott will key the offense at quarterback in his junior season after earning honorable mention all-conference honors at the position last year. Elliott threw for 1,652 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2020. Elliott will also play linebacker.
Classmate Hollen Glenn is a versatile weapon for the Panthers. He was a first-team all-conference wide receiver as a sophomore after he caught 42 balls for 532 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also was the team’s top rushing threat running for 701 yards and 6 touchdowns on 102 carries. Glenn will play defensive back on defense.
Senior Trenton Bevan also returns to the backfield at running back after earning honorable mention all-conference honors in 2020. He had 116 carries for 453 yards and 5 touchdowns. Bevan will play linebacker as well.
Junior Hunter Means and senior Dallas Lee return to anchor the offensive line after earning all-conference honors last season. Means, a first-team all-conference selection, will also play on the defensive line where he had a team-high 80 tackles and contributed four sacks as a sophomore. Lee will factor on the defensive line too.
Senior Jase Dowden (honorable mention all-conference tight end) and junior Drew Vaughan (honorable mention all-conference wide receiver) are the final two returning all-conference players on offense. Dowden had 26 catches for 240 yards while Vaughan had 30 receptions for 421 yards. They will both see time at defensive back on defense.
Defensively, the Panthers return seven starters.
“We do have to replace a few more players (than the offense) including three all conference selections. We were pretty solid in all areas of our defense last year, giving up only three touchdowns or less to 8 of our 12 opponents,” Rodgers said. “Our defensive line played a big part in what we did last year and we expect to be as good, if not better in that area. We also expect good things from our secondary, though we do have to replace a three year starter at safety. We are working on more consistent linebacker play. We will continue to be very aggressive against the run and get after quarterbacks.”
Senior Gavin Moore was a second-team all-conference selection at linebacker. He led the team with six sacks while pulling down 51 tackles. Moore will also see time at wide receiver on offense.
Wes Drew returns at linebacker after earning honorable mention all-conference honors as a junior. Drew had 50 tackles with eight for a loss in 2020. He will also play wide receiver.
Brenden Rogers returns at linebacker where he earned honorable mention all-conference honors. He had 61 tackles last year, which was third on the team. Rogers will also see time at running back on offense.
The rest of the returning senior class includes: Colton Allen (TE/LB), Bryce Stenzel (WR/DB), Gus MacPherson (WR/DB), Brett Vandiver (RB/LB), Hunter Cooley (OL/DL), Devon Barbe (OL/DL) and Isaiah Schott (WR/DB). Isaiah Hellbusch is another senior who will play this year as a newcomer.
Other returning juniors include: Jakob Norman (WR/DB), Trevor Reese (OL/LB), Dakota Volner (OL/DL), Brock Byerly (OL/DL), James Maynard (OL/DL) and Ethan Boswell (OL/LB). Jake McDermitt (RB/LB) is a junior newcomer.
Hoyt Mathews (OL/DL) and Bradley Henry (QB/RB/LB) return for their sophomore seasons. They will be joined by classmates Daiton Bishop (RB/LB), Deveyn Martin (RB/LB) and Kaden Richardson (OL/LB).
“Two years ago many of our seniors and juniors were starters as sophomores and freshmen. We finished 0-10. Last season we continued to improve and played for a district title. We return a majority of our team, so our players have a lot of goals they hope to accomplish,” Rodgers said. “We have worked hard this summer to continue getting better. It will be a tough fight week to week, playing in an always tough conference. It will be important for us to play well early to build back our confidence after the Buffalo loss.”
Mountain Grove opens the season on Aug. 27 at Fair Grove.