A mix of pleasant surprises and returning starters has Carthage head football coach Jon Guidie optimistic about a new season.

A mix of pleasant surprises and returning starters has Carthage head football coach Jon Guidie optimistic about a new season.

Without a closer look at the 2014 Tigers, though, one might be tempted to label this a so-called rebuilding year. Carthage must replace almost all of its offensive numbers from last season’s 6-5 season.

Gone are players like quarterback Gabe Franklin, running back Cameron Priester and receivers E.J. Morgan and Kennan Harrison. Franklin threw for more than 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, and rushed for 680 yards and seven touchdowns. Priester led the Tigers in rushing with 805 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Morgan and Harrison provided one of the most dynamic one-two receiving punches in the state; Morgan caught 82 passes for 1,172 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Harrison had 415 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

“We lost the big three there with our quarterback, running back and receiver spots, so that was a big concern going in, who’s going to fill those shoes,” Guidie said Wednesday.

The pleasant surprise has been the playof quarterback Alex Derryberry, now a junior.

“It’s a surprise only in the fact that we knew he was an athlete, could run and make plays but his throwing ability has really stood out this summer,” Guidie said. “We went undefeated in our summer passing league over in Joplin. He just continues to impress us. He’s a smart player.”

Derryberry threw just one pass as a sophomore in 2013 – an interception – but he was also one of the Tigers’ leading defenders.

In the backfield, senior D’Angelo Poole appears to be the team’s primary back this fall. He had five carries for 14 yards last season, but caught seven passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Skyler Bloomer and sophomore Trey Collins will also get some carries. Bloomer rushed 12 times for 78 yards a year ago.

“Bloomer, in our two-back set, he’ll be in there almost every down,” Guidie said.

At receiver, Guidie said senior Ralston Schramm has had a really nice offseason and preseason. He has perhaps the biggest shoes to fill, replacing Morgan, but played all last season including on the defensive side.

“We know what he can do but he was never the guy we counted on in the pressure situations or third and long,” Guidie said. “He’s got to learn to be that guy for us. He’s doing a really good job.”

Most of the offensive unit’s returning experience is on the line, where Jeff Pugh, Zach Thornton and Logan Dreibelbis each return after starting all 11 games last season.

“They did a really good job and got better and better,” Guidie said.

Pugh (senior) and Dreibelbis (junior) will start at tackles, and Thornton (junior) at guard. The two new additions on the line are junior Walter Gilstrap at center, and junior Eli Monzon at the quick guard.

“Walter goes about 275, 280 pounds and Eli’s not quite as heavy, about 200 pounds, but I think even with Eli’s 200 pounds we’re probably bigger up front than we’ve ever been,” Guidie said. “Jeff Pugh goes about 280, Thornton is about 255 and Logan came in heavier at 240 for us. Our backup situation with Tucker Edmonson (sophomore), when he comes in he’s a 300-pounder. Our size up front will be a strength of ours.”

Another key player, who’s technically a returning starter, is junior Tyler Ralston. He suffered a season-ending injury in week one, but returns at tight end and defensive end.

“He’s a good-sized kid who can run a little bit,” Guidie said. “He started all 11 games as a freshman for us at both tight end and defensive end. You consider him a returning starter for us offensively.”

The defensive unit is where most of Carthage’s experience returns. Ralston and senior Jesse Martini will start at ends. Martini started 11 games last season. At defensive tackle, Guidie expects to roll different players in. Pugh and Thornton are probably considered the starters, and Edmonson and Monzon will rotate in.

At middle linebacker Bloomer returns after starting the second half of last season, and Collins returns after starting seven games at linebacker last season as a freshman. He ended up as the team’s third-leading tackler. The new face in the linebacker corps is junior Jess Hettinger.
Derryberry, the team’s leading tackler last season, is back in the secondary, as is Poole, who was second in tackles.

“We’ve got our three leading tacklers back which is unusual; usually you’re going to have a senior somewhere in the top three,” Guidie said.

Schramm returns at cornerback, and Dausen Gourley will start opposite him.

“We’ve got three guys back in our secondary and two linebackers and two defensive ends,” Guidie said. “Offense is where we basically have our three lineman back. Overall, they’re inexperienced kids but yet they have some game time.”

In the last few seasons it’s taken two or three games before Carthage’s defense gelled and started playing up to its ability, mostly because the Tigers have had so many new faces every year. This year, though, the defense is probably further along. That may not be easy to tell through two weeks, however, with the Tigers opening the season against top-ranked Webb City and then hosting St. Joseph Lafayette, which received 18 votes in the preseason poll.

“In terms of our installation and how far we’re at I like what we’re doing,” Guidie said. “I think coach Edwards has done a great job with them. We had a great summer in 7-on-7 with those guys.”

About Friday’s season opener against Webb City at K.E. Baker Stadium. The kickoff has been moved back to 7:30 p.m. due to heat, and yes, the Cardinals are still very, very good. After winning four-straight titles, Webb City returns eight starters on defense. And several key skill players. Guidie said one of the biggest challenges is Webb City’s depth. The Cardinals have 87 players on the roster, 10-12th grades, which is 40 more than Carthage. That depth is critical even in the preseason because with starters taking fewer reps in practice, the chance for injuries declines significantly. The depth also expresses itself on the field when Webb City’s players often are fresher late in games because they’re only playing on one side of the ball.

“They’ve got some Division 1 kids over there this year,” Guidie said. “It’s going to make them a pretty special team.”

While Guidie wishes he has the “secret ingredient” to go out and beat Webb City on a yearly basis, his formula is at least further along than most everybody else in this area. There have, obviously, been some lopsided losses in the rivalry, but in 2010 the Tigers played the Cardinals to within eight points. In 2006 the Tigers lost by 14, and a year before that it was a seven-point game. Of course, everyone remembers 2007, when the Tigers lost by 19 in the regular season, then ended Webb City’s season with a thrilling 23-22 win in the sectional game.

That Carthage team was really solid on defense and came up with several fourth-down stops. The Tigers were also really balanced offensively.

“It’s not always just about running and working the clock, which is important against those guys, but the trick is to be very balanced in what you do because once they figure it out they’re very good at stopping what you’re going to do,” Guidie said. “From a players’ standpoint a lot of it is matching them physically. They’re always very strong up front and this year’s no different. They’ve got some very nice-sized kids, very physical kids. The challenge there is to match the physicality the entire football game. We’ve really been on our kids. I think probably we’re as big and as strong as we’ve ever been up front, I really believe that. They’ve got to understand it’s going to be a very physical football game.”