There is no getting around the fact that the Bolivar Liberators have owned the Small COC. Before last year the Liberators had claimed every COC-Small Title since the league COMPLETELY switched to two divisions. That streak looked to be over when their long winning streak came to an end at Carl Langley Field last year. But, a Springfield Catholic upset of Reeds Spring kept the Wolves from winning the title outright and earned them a piece of the title as well as allowing Bolivar to continue that part of the streak. For the first time we had tri-champs.
Look for the same teams to be in contention again this year. Things will be different this year. Its the last go-around for the league as we know it. Buffalo is leaving for a newly formed conference. Bolivar is staying but they are all alone and have not been able to find a league that wants to welcome them. The rest of the conference is headed to a redesigned Big 8 starting next year.. You know that everyone would win that last title as they head out the door….
Reeds Spring said goodbye to the speed of Korey Robinette and the unselfish leadership of JP Gardner along with a lot of guys that helped get the program to where it is today. But, they return a huge part of last years team including an intact offensive line and the biggest part of the front four on defense as well. Both inside linebackers are back and two of the three DBs. Perhaps the biggest shoes to fill will be those of four year kicker Joel Gertson. He was nearly automatic on extra points and would regularly put the ball in the endzone on kickoffs.
Blake Gronvold goes into his first full season as QB1 after taking the job in the middle of the season last year. Kelly Newton moves from halfback to fullback and Seth Stamps returns as one of the primary ballcarriers.
Springfield Catholic turned the corner in their third year under Steve Hancock and Ron Martin. The Irish had a number of graduates on the offensive side of the ball but the defense returns almost intact. Quarterback Tyson Riley makes the Irish offense go and the junior, will perhaps be looking to make an even bigger impact this year. As much press as he gets for his offensive skills, its the other side of the ball where I think he really excels. As a sophomore, he was as good as a safety as I saw all of last year.
Bolivar is not going away quietly. The Liberators will look quite a bit different this year. For the first time in quite some time they will not have a quarterback with a D1 arm behind center. Look for them to rely heavily on their defense and the legs of running back Lane Loomer. They are a team that feels slighted with the rest of the league taking off for greener pastures. And, you know they want to finish off what their former teammates started and go wire to wire with the Conference Championships.
Hollister make huge strides a year ago. They jumped into the top half of the league, won more games than ever before, and want to keep that ship going. Now, it wont be easy. One of the strengths of the Tigers a year ago was its offensive line. Those guys are gone. Lots of inexperience will be counted on to protect Jackson Bekemeier and his cast. Coach Jacob Hamon and his assistants are as enthusiastic as you will find. If that same energy rubs off on the Tigers they might just find themselves climbing up the standings again. Getting off to a good start is key for them.
Marshfield is the biggest school in the league but has struggled as of late. They find themselves starting all over again with a new head coach. Cody Bull returns to the Ozarks after a stint in Texas to lead the Blue Jay football program.
Logan-Rogersville is a great example of how quick fortunes can change in small town high school football. It wasnt that long ago they were hoisting a State Championship Trophy. Their demise can be placed squarely on numbers. A lot of times after success the numbers jump and more success blooms. It has been the opposite with the Wildcats. A number of athletes have chosen to specialize and they have been hit as hard as anyone in the Ozarks with that problem.
Buffalo is once again in transition. After a couple of years as the lead Bison, Mark Jackson moved on for family reasons. The Bison turned to a hometown guys. Ed Phillips returns to the place he graduated high school. The former Branson defensive coordinator takes over a program that has struggled mightily over the past decade. They really like some of the talent that is coming in the next three or four years and hope to rebuild a once proud program.
Now, who will be the final Champ that this league will produce?
My worthless prediction..
- Reeds Spring – Wolves want the title they think should have been theirs alone last year
- Springfield Catholic- Coach Hancock’s bunch is good and have only gained more confidence after last years rise.
- Bolivar- not often you pick someone that has done what they have done 3rd and they could easily prove me wrong. But judging them on last year and what they and other teams have coming back… this is the spot.
- Hollister- I know, most people will say I am picking them a little high. But those people said that of me picking them high last year. If they can protect Bekemeier they will finish here.
- Marshfield- Blue Jays will get better. Its just a matter of it being this year or a year or two down the line.
- Logan-Rogersville- Wins might be tough to come by.. but I think they get Buffalo.
- Buffalo- Hope Coach Phillips is able to get things going at Buffalo. And I think he will. But, its not going to be this year. The new conference will help starting in 2018