2021 8-Man Season Preview
Date: 2021-08-18 Author: Devin Albertson
The season is finally upon us. Most of you know me as the guy with the podcast or the guy who spends way too much time on Twitter. But today I thought I would dabble into Anthony Crane’s domain and try the written word for a change.
Let’s start with the 275 conference.
Last Year: 0-8 (0-7 in conference)
The Tigers might be in for another long season. Only 16 players are out for football, but they are returning five starters on each side of the ball. Drake Miller and Zander Matson will lead the way on offense while Lance Kelley will anchor the defense. I like Coach Wardlow but I do not think he has the horses right now.
Last Year: 7-3 (5-1 in conference)
The Wolves return seven starters on offense and six on defense. Losing Ian Hedlund will hurt, but Kaylin Merriweather, Josh Smith and Braden Graves should be able to pick up the slack. The Wolves should have a top three defense in the state this season. If the offense can find its groove, the Wolves could make some noise this season.
Last Year: 6-4 (5-3 in conference)
The Panthers were decimated by injuries in the second half of the 2020 season, turning a state champion hopeful squad into a one-and-done in the postseason. Losing Landon Poppa and Caedon Messer to graduation will be a tough pill to swallow. The Panthers will also be without last year’s starting quarterback Tony Osburn. I expect Brendan and Trevor Tubbs to lead the attack for Mound City this year. Also expect strong senior leadership from Wil Young and William Rother. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong last year for the Panthers. We shall see how this blue blood bounces back in 2021.
Last Year: Not a program.
The new co-op for Nodaway-Holt and West Nodaway. The good news is the Thunder have 30 kids out for football, 15 from each school. The bad news is a lot of the players are complete unknowns. Most of the South Holt/Nodaway-Holt contributors in 2020 were from South Holt and many of the key contributors from Northwest Nodaway team either graduated or are from North Nodaway. They have some beef upfront with James Herr, Mason Chitwood and James Graham. It will be up to skill guys like Wil Cordell, Blake Bohannon and Gavin Leeper to get Head Coach Alan Calfee and the Thunder where they want to go.
Last Year: 2-8 (2-6 in conference)
Platte Valley adds North Nodaway to their co-op this year (joining South Nodaway and Jefferson). Platte Valley had a promising start to their season crushed by the injury bug in 2020. Despite losing Trevor McQueen, Gabe Nothstine and Head Coach Cree Beverlin, Platte Valley has a lot of hope for 2021. Carter Luke is a blossoming star and Ayden Blackford should add some much needed speed to their backfield. Platte Valley could find themselves in the top half of the conference this year.
Last Year: 5-4 (4-2 in conference)
The Blue Jays lost starting running back Joey Herron as well as Gabe Abbott and Trey Peshek to graduation. But they return five starters including Colten Stevens, Micah Makings, Aiden Burke and Phillip Herron. I expect the younger Herron to have a big season for Rock Port. The back half of their schedule is brutal with East Atchison, King City, Southwest Livingston, South Holt and Mound City to close out the season. Will the Blue Jays rise to the challenge or falter under pressure?
Last Year: 8-2 (5-1 in conference)
The Knights lost their co-op with Nodaway-Holt and more importantly, Drew Quinlin. There are no bigger shoes to fill in the state than Quinlin’s. Will South Holt be able to recreate the physical play they displayed on the gridiron last year? If anyone can pivot styles of play, it is Head Coach Josh Petersen. Brody Scroggins will lead the ground attack for the Knights and I expect sophomore Kendall Noland to take the reins at quarterback. Gannon Phelan and Alex Harris should aid in the running attack as well. Jaxon Schaeffer might be the best sophomore lineman in the state. If things go right, the Knights could hoist the conference title at the end of 2021.
Last Year: 12-1 (6-1 in conference)
The Wildcats are the defending state champions, but there are a lot of new faces this year. Gone is the championship nucleus of Wes Hughes, Jaedon Sears, Patrick Warren, Chase Neptune, Ethan Hoerr, Parker Keeney and Morgan Anderson. Also, Head Coach Oren Magruder left for a coaching opportunity at Salisbury at the 11-man level (I miss you already Oren). Pake Croy is now at the helm for Southwest, coming as an assistant coach from just down the road at Braymer. All is not lost for the Wildcats, Owen Oesch and Glen Holt are the best lineman duo in the conference. Tucker Singer is a promising athlete who could surprise some people this year. There are more questions than answers with Southwest right now. Can Will Hughes fill his brother’s shoes at quarterback? Are the other young kids ready to step up and make plays? This team is one of the biggest question marks for me this year in the 275 conference.
Last Year: 3-7 (3-5 in conference)
The WildCards have not given me much to go on in the preseason. I know Cain Rush graduated but that is about it. Anywhere from one to four wins are expected.
Give me East Atchison to win the conference this year. I just have too many questions about South Holt, Southwest Livingston and Mound City to pick any of them to win the conference.
Now let’s head over to the Central River Conference.
Last Year: 1-8 (1-7 in conference)
The Bobcats have struggled to say the least since joining 8-man in 2016, 4-46 to be exact. This season feels different. There is positivity coming from the program. Despite losing Parker Shoe and Jake Henry to graduation, Coach Zach Douglas is excited for his young guys to step up in 2021. Griffin Hughson and Ethan Webber should carry the load on offense behind Ben Jordan and Trevor Webb upfront. I believe the Bobcats are in for their best 8-man season yet, three wins or more is a real possibility.
Last Year: 2-6 (1-2 in conference)
The Orioles had a weird first year in 8-man. They technically won by forfeit against a state semifinalist in Drexel (I still count it as a win for Drexel), almost beat their cross town rival and then had a month off due to Covid in the middle of the season. The Orioles will be looking for some more stability in 2021. It all starts with quarterback Jake Tagtmeyer, one of the more underrated players in the state. I know Concordia will be able to put up points this year, but will they be able to stop anyone? That will determine if the Orioles finish above or below .500 in 2021.
Last Year: 0-8 (0-7 in conference)
Last year was the first year Keytesville has ever had football and they definitely had some growing pains. They added Brunswick to their co-op with Northwest (Mendon), this should help add a couple more athletes to their numbers. Right now, The Thunder’s plan has to be focused on building a program long term and the process, not the immediate results.
Last Year: 6-4 (4-2 in conference)
For the first time in forever, Kirk Thacker is no longer at Hardin-Central. Andrew Watson is now in charge of the Aggies program and he has his work cut out for him. The Aggies bring back Kobe Gibson, Braydon Schick, Keyton Laire, JW Doyle and Braydon Cook. They have plenty of size but are learning a new system, we will see how fast they can get up to speed.
Last Year: 8-3 (6-0 in conference)
The Raiders will be the most talented team in the CRC this year. They lost a big human being in Jackson Lunsford to graduation (he will play at Coe College this fall). But they bring everyone else back: Cale Stoneburner, Justin Lunsford, Kyle Smith, Noah Greenwell, Carson Orr and Lucas Schwanke. I hold their former coach Seth Bass in high regards and replacing him will be a tall order for David Stuckey. The Raiders three losses last year came in overtime to Stanberry (state semifinalist), North Andrew (state runner-up) and Southwest Livingston (state champion). North Shelby is one of the serious contenders for a state championship this year.
Northwest (Hughesville) with Sacred Heart
Last Year: 5-2 (3-1 in conference)
Like Concordia, Covid made the Mustangs 2020 season a rollercoaster. They bring back every starter who contributed last year, including one of the best quarterbacks in the state in Tanner Damlo. Damlo is joined by Pierson Tichenor, Jason Boss, Nick Crosswhite, Ian Smith, Jace Bales and one of the best defenders in the state, Caden Crooker. I believe Northwest is one of the best teams in 8-man in 2021, they just need to stay healthy because they are not a deep team.
Last Year: 5-4 (5-2 in conference)
No team underperformed in 2020 like the Bearcats. But I have big expectations for Orrick in 2021. The Bearcats lost Ethan Wilson and David Brown to graduation but they have a dynamic duo in the backfield returning in quarterback Blake Buchanan and running back Jaxon Miller. Pair that with a massive coaching upgrade in Kirk Thacker, I believe the Bearcats will be one of the best teams in the CRC and the state this fall.
St. Paul Lutheran
Last Year: 5-2
The Saints are one of the most overlooked teams in the state. I love the physical mentality Head Coach CJ Giford has instilled in the program. Ethan Kirby has the biggest of chips on his shoulder and could be one of the best defensive ends in the state. The Saints have a lightning and thunder combo in the backfield in Logan Muehler and Jayden Maggert. Mizzou baseball commit Chistian Bobzin will be under center and they have a couple other good athletes in Isaac Long and Josiah Gerdts. Do not be surprised if the Saints make some noise this year.
Last Year: 1-7 (1-5 in conference)
The Chiefs will not win any sprints but they are not afraid to punch you in the mouth on the football field. I have the Chiefs hovering near .500 this year. Look out for names such as Owen Hostetter, Blake Dankenbring, Loy Wallace, Jacolby Case and Jason Tebbenkamp to make an impact this year.
Orrick will upset North Shelby and win the CRC. Northwest Hughesville and St. Paul Lutheran are the biggest threats to North Shelby and Orrick. This conference is getting better each year, especially at the top.
Now we head to the Grand River Conference.
Last Year: 4-5 (2-3 in conference)
The Warriors were primed for a deep playoff run last year before Covid ended it before it began. Head Coach Doug Fountain looks to carry the momentum they built at the end of last year into this season. They will need to replace production they got last year from Tryce Floyd, Ethan Mercer, Kaeden Hutchinson, Devin Patton and Sawyer Cross. Kemper Cline should provide the Warriors a spark at quarterback. Nate Doolittle running the ball behind Kirby Stevens and Truman Runnels should make the Albany offense quite formidable.
Last Year: 5-6 (1-4)
Why do I think a team that went 1-4 in GRC play last year will win the conference this year? They bring back their entire roster including the leading rusher in the state, Parker Muff. Muff will be running behind the biggest offensive line in 8-man in Sawyer McCallon, Chase Moss and Kole Wells. Add in talented passer Landon Wells and other athletes like Zeke Fisher, Ty Mooney and Korbin Taylor, this team is primed for a great season. I believe this is the best team Head Coach Micah Breckenridge has had at King City.
Last Year: 13-1 (5-0 in conference)
The Cardinals made it all the way to the state championship game in 2020. Head Coach Dwayne Williams has his work cut out for him if he wants to lead the Cardinals to Columbia this year. North Andrew lost a great group of seniors in Carson Thomas, Clayton Linville, Brewer Wheeler, Keaon Hannah, Wynston Walker and Kaleb Chittum. Last year’s team was the epitome of grit and grind. North Andrew will reload for 2021 with Hayden Ecker, Drew Goff, Jacob Chittum, Dawson Eychaner and Aiden Miller. One big question for the Cardinals is can freshman quarterback Braxton Linville fill the shoes of Carson Thomas? Win or lose, I can guarantee you will be sore the day after playing North Andrew.
Last Year: 6-5 (1-3 in conference)
I expect the Panthers to look completely different than they have the last four years. Coach Cavin and the air attack is out, Head Coach Keaton Hawkins is in. I expect a more traditional approach from the Panthers this year, but expect quarterback Zane Reed and wide receiver Brody Langfitt to still put up big numbers in 2021. Sam Coin and Gage Iddings will lead the defense that has struggled to get stops over the last few seasons.
Last Year: 10-2 (4-1 in conference)
The Bulldogs are primed for a great season. They only lost Collin Sager to graduation from their state semifinalist team last year. Tucker Schieber is one of the best running backs in the state and he is joined in the backfield by Gavin Cameron and Ethan Oldham. Austin Schwebach is back under center and his brother Tyler is back at tight end. Landon Marticke and Ben Messner give them two more athletes to either throw the ball to or get after you on defense. Finally, we cannot forget about Lance Wallace and Austin Covlin dominating at the line of scrimmage. Stanberry is on the short list of true title contenders in 2021.
Last Year: 5-5 (1-3 in conference)
Last year was a disappointment by Worth County standards. Andrew Alarcon, Austin Welch, Nathan Adwell and Head Coach Chris Healy are all gone, but the Tigers almost always reload. Aydan Gladstone and Alex Rinehart are back in a retooled backfield. Dylan McIntyre and Jackson Runde will lead the defense. Auston Pride will lead the offensive line that you know will always have plenty of beef. Last year’s defensive coordinator Jon Adwell has high hopes for the Tigers in his first year at the helm.
King City will win the conference with Stanberry right on their heels. Albany, North Andrew and Worth County will finish in a tie for third and be dangerous teams come playoff time. The GRC will be the best conference in 8-man in 2021. No bye weeks in this conference.
Finally, we head south to the WEMO.
Last Year: 2-6 (1-4 in conference)
Both of the Bulldogs wins last year came against Osceola. Appleton City will have some of the same struggles this year in that they lack overall team speed, but keep an eye on them in the next couple of years. The Bulldogs have a few talented junior high kids coming up through the program.
Last Year: 10-2 (5-1 in conference)
The Whirlwinds only two losses last year were at the hands of Drexel. Archie will look to reload instead of rebuild this year after losing quarterback Tucker Wolfe, running back Dylan Sutton and tight end Hunter Yahnig to graduation. Led by Christian Ward on the line of scrimmage, the Whirlwinds will lean on some of their youth in the backfield in sophomore quarterback Briar McIntire and sophomore running back Kaden Sutton. Expect guys like Blake Hunter, Donovan Huser, Logan Hutchinson and Blake Trotter to take big steps in 2021. I believe Archie is a borderline top 10 team to start the season.
Last Year: 12-1 (6-0 in conference)
The Bobcats are going to be good this year. Coach Phillip Dean has coached four seasons in 8-man and has reached the state semifinals every year. I believe year five will result in the same semifinal appearance, if not more. Led by running back turned quarterback Jacob Coffey and offensive weapon Corey Cumptom, Drexel will be tough to stop this year. With Kaleb Mayfield causing havoc at the line of scrimmage, Drexel will also have one of the best defenses in the entire state. The biggest question for Drexel is can they get over the semifinal hump? The Bobcats have lost to the last two state champions in the semifinals in Mound City and Southwest Livingston. I feel like Drexel is closing the gap and closing fast. Look out for the fast cats in 2021, they are coming.
Last Year: 5-5 (2-3 in conference)
The Eagles looked the part in 2020 but something was missing last year. I believe new Head Coach Mark McFarland is going to light a fire under the program. Hayden LeMasters is the emotional and physical leader of the team. I was impressed with LeMasters last year at tight end and linebacker. Running backs Mitchell Avalos and Juan Rivera give the Eagles a dynamic duo in the backfield. I believe Jasper might be primed for a big improvement in 2021.
Last Year: 7-3 (4-2 in conference)
The Bulldogs will need to replace talented running back and linebacker Gunner Miller from last year’s squad, but Peyton Morrow might be the second best athlete in the conference behind Jacob Coffey. New Head Coach Garrett Zoucha (pronounced zoo-ha) is new from Nebraska but I think he is going to enjoy coaching in the WEMO conference.
Last Year: 1-7 (0-5 in conference)
The Indians have 16 players out for football this year and I think it might be a long year for Osceola. I expect Coach Carney to try multiple things this year to find the right combination for his team. I think Carney is a good coach, they just do not have the athletes they had a few years ago there and the WEMO is getting tougher.
Last Year: 2-6 (1-4 in conference)
Brandon Liggins has taken over as the head man for the Tigers. Peyton McFredrick is the best pure quarterback returning in the WEMO. He throws a beautiful ball. Daniel Bridgewater, Blake Laning, Daylen Walton and Daylan Black will give McFredrick plenty of receiving options. My biggest question is if Rich Hill can hold up at the line of scrimmage, they are lacking some beef there. However, the future is bright with about a dozen freshmen on the team.
Drexel will rule the south again. Coffey is just too much for the rest of the teams to overcome. The interesting battle is for second place between Archie, Jasper, Liberal and Rich Hill. I give Archie and Jasper the advantage right now but with the amount of coaching turnover this year, anything can happen.
Last, but not least, the teams without a conference.
Last Year: 3-5
The Golden Eagles have 30 kids out for football this year with seven returning starters on each side of the ball. Quarterback Landon Gardner is back under center and has an excellent receiving option in Jake Korell. The biggest returning piece for LeBlond is running back Reggie Love. I am a big fan of Mr. Love and think he is one of the most overlooked runners in the state. If LeBLond gets a good draw in districts, they could make a deep playoff run under second year Head Coach Chuck Davis.
Last Year: 0-6 (11-man)
The Wildcats have 17 players for their 2021 return to 8-man football. Greenfield had a successful 8-man run from 2014 to 2017 before returning to the 11-man ranks. First year Head Coach Jordan Bryant will lean on his five seniors to start the season. The Wildcats will also be led by two lineman in Xander Vaughn and Jimmy O’Neal. Austin Pickett will be at quarterback with his running backs being Alex Pickett and Brad Reid. Expect a few growing pains from a younger roster, but they do have some speed and could be an interesting team to keep an eye on.
Last Year: 2-7 (11-man)
The Eagles have struggled the last couple of seasons at the 11-man level, I believe the move to 8-man was much needed to help rejuvenate the program. Keep an eye out for Branson and Braydon Miller as well as Keaton Strange. Baseball star Rylan Roberts will be the signal caller for Bruce Vannoy and Knox County. Also, Carter Marble is a darn good linebacker for the Eagles, I think he will excel at the 8-man game. I believe the Eagles have a good chance of finishing above .500 this year.
Last Year: 9-2 (11-man)
The Tigers lost to Marionville twice last year in 11-man, but lost 12 seniors to graduation as well. Head coach Clay Lasater knows there will be transition to the 8-man game but his players are well equipped for the change. Lockwood has a good blend of size and speed that make them an intriguing team this year. Kane Cooper is a 6’3” tight end that is going to be a problem to cover. Sophomore Henry Schnelle will be under center for the Tigers with talented runners Elijah Kerr and Landon Stump carrying the rock. I almost put Lockwood in my top 10 to start the year but decided against it until I saw how they handled the transition first, but I like this squad.
Last Year: First Year Program (previously in co-op with St. Joseph Chrisian in 11-man)
First year programs are tough to gauge. On one hand, there is a lot of excitement around something new. On the other hand, you are behind the eight ball compared to programs that have been building something for years. The Trailblazers will have plenty of speed to burn this year including one of the most explosive athletes in the state in sophomore running back Dontae Burch. Other names to keep an eye out for are Seth Martin, Blake Doss and Josh Hudson. Head Coach Seth Bass is a great coach to have to build a football program from the ground up. It’s rare for a first year program to have a winning record in year one, but I think the Trailblazers could do it.
St. Joseph Christian
Last Year: 0-5 (11-man)
After going 0-13 in two years as an 11-man program in a co-op with Northland Christian, the Lions return to 8-man. I have not heard much from the Lions program going into the season, but from what I have heard, it might be a long season.
Last Year: 1-9
The Rams struggled to gain their footing in their inaugural 8-man season. After beating Keytesville in week one, they lost eight straight before forfeiting their playoff game due to Covid. Junior lineman Hayden Dixon will lead the charge this season for Schuyler County. Kale Windy, Connor Smith, Noah Newland and Mayson Humphreys are a few skill guys that could make major impacts in 2021.
I also asked every coach who they thought would win their conference (I asked the teams without a conference to name the toughest team on their schedule) and who they think will win the state championship.
East Atchison received the majority of the votes to win the 275 conference. South Holt was mentioned as a tough contender.
Orrick is the coach’s favorite to win the CRC with North Shelby and Northwest Hughesville getting some attention as well.
The GRC was split between King City and Stanberry, no one else was picked to win the conference.
Drexel is the favorite to win the WEMO with Archie getting mentioned as well.
Now for the state champion favorites, 29 of the 38 coaches answered this question. A few split their votes between two or three teams and four of the 29 coaches voted undecided. King City and Stanberry tied for the most votes, seven apiece plus a split vote on two more ballots. East Atchison received three votes. Drexel received one plus a split vote on two more ballots. North Shelby got one vote plus a split vote. Albany and North Andrew both got one vote each. Northwest Hughesville, Archie and Lockwood were all on split ballots.
I predict Drexel, East Atchison, King City and Orrick will make the state semifinals. King City over Orrick in the state championship game. But we shall see how MSHSAA decides to do their district assignments.
Enough talk, let’s play football!