Fox's exit leaves MAFC Red title wide open

2010-08-24T19:08:50Z 2010-10-11T14:26:29Z Fox's exit leaves MAFC Red title wide openBy Dennis Barnidge | STLhighschoolSPORTS.com stltoday.com

This is not the old Mississippi Area Football Conference.

Not in the Red Division where Fox and Seckman were invited to hit the road. Not in the Blue Division where most of the division reformed as the Jefferson County Conference. Not even in the White Division where Herculaneum exits and former Blue Division power Maplewood enters.

In the large-school Red Division, there is agreement on two things: First, the playing field is more even now that Fox and Seckman have moved back to the Suburban West and Suburban South, respectively; and second, the team to beat in the reconstituted Red Division is, well, anybody besides the team that looks back at you in the mirror.

While most coaches pointed toward Festus as the team to beat in the MAFC Red, Tigers Coach Russ Schmidt pleaded not poor but young.

"This is the youngest team I've ever been around," he said. "We've got eight seniors back. We went from 23 seniors last year to eight this year."

So when he looked over the division lineup for a favorite, he suggested the team-to-beat shirt might be a good fit for ? for almost everyone but the Tigers.

"Throw the Dragons out there, throw the Raiders out there, heck, throw Windsor out there," Schmidt said.

To which the others in the league said: Right back at you.

De Soto Coach Bobby Thompson, whose teams have won 14 games the last two seasons, said Festus has earned front-runner status by pressuring Fox for division honors the last three seasons.

"I think Festus is who you have to consider the odds-on favorite," he said. "Until somebody knocks them off the top of the barrel, they're the team to beat."

Piling on was new Windsor Coach Greg Westermayer, who was an assistant at De Soto last year and at Festus for several years before that. "You have to put Festus up there until somebody in the conference who's not a 6A team can beat them," he said.

Here is a look at the Jefferson County teams in the MAFC Red:

Festus (6-5)

Schmidt is not worried about his team's numbers or talent. Experience, though, that's another thing.

"They're good kids, they're character kids, but there's not a lot of Friday night experience there," he said.

While waiting for newcomers to find their legs, the Tigers will count on a defense led by returning starters Tyler Meng and Jordan Ruffin to make big plays and keep things close. Meng, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior linebacker, was an all-MAFC player last year. Ruffin, a 5-8, 155-pound senior, is a three-year starter at defensive back.

"Early this year we'll be a defensive team," Schmidt says.

One thing Festus will have going for it on defense and offense is a group of interior linemen that brings some bulk to the fight. Anchored by senior Dillon Fears at 6-1 and 240, the group includes twins Josh and Jason Howell, both 6-3 and 250, Kessler Harris, 6-1 and 270 and Mason Dunnavant at 5-9 and 230. Seniors Ethan Roussin and Bryant Biondo can step in, too.

An offense that featured do-it-all quarterback Shawn Crump in 2009 is being retooled with junior Jason Walker calling signals. Walker, like much of the lineup, is short on experience. Schmidt, though, is encouraged.

"He's not as good as we had last year with Shawn (14 touchdowns, 969 yards rushing, 1,253 yards passing), but he's already ahead of where Shawn was as a junior," the Tigers coach said.

Walker, who worked as one of Crump's receivers last year, will have several targets this fall including Ruffin and junior Blaine Eggemeyer.

Seniors Donta Taylor and Zach Maddock and junior Alex Graham will juggle the ball carrying chores to start the season. Taylor, 6-2 and 225, is an exciting option because of his combination of size and speed.

De Soto (6-4)

For the Dragons, it's all about what's up front.

"Our season is really going to hinge on how good we are on the offensive and defensive lines," Thompson said.

With 6-0 and 290 senior Dillon Santhuff as the anchor, the Dragons' line work has the chance to be pretty good. Santhuff will team with senior Justin Grothe and junior transfer Colin Bothel as two-way starters up front. Junior Corey Fenton and sophomore Ray Bradshaw also will be counted to do some heavy lifting in the trenches. At 6-2 and 260, Bradshaw could be a nice addition up front.

Thompson says he is putting a lot of responsibility not just on the line, but on his entire defense.

"Defense is where it's at," he said. "I really believe - and have always believed - that if the strength of your team is your defense, you're setting yourself up to win."

Cast in key defensive roles this fall will be the linebacking corps that includes seniors Mike Lee, David Hoss and Harrison Evola, juniors James Erhart and Brandon Fluegge and sophomore Frank Figge. The backfield will include seniors Donald Hoss, the MAFC interception leader, and Edquardo Oquendo along with junior newcomer Jared White.

De Soto's offense was hit by graduation. Gone are quarterback Jay Algiere and 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Danback. Donald Hoss, a senior, takes over at quarterback, while the tailback job goes to Lee.

A big fan of the running game, Thompson said Lee will be a load for opponents to handle. "Mike's really shown us an ability to be physical and go between the tackles," he said.

Donald Hoss has a strong group of pass catchers in David Hoss, Evola, Oquendo and White.

Thompson has high hopes for his third De Soto team. He said the Dragons ought to be able to build on last year's six-win season.

"I have higher expectations for this group," he said. "I'm very excited about them. I think there's some definite potential."

Hillsboro (1-9)

Fancy is not part of the Hawks' game plan for 2010.

"This is going to be a hard-hat, blue-collar sort of team," Coach Brian Robbins said. "We're going to scrap a little bit."

The heart of whatever is to come this fall likely will be powered by a small senior group that includes Ryan Bubulka, Luke Remington, Drew Hern, Blaine Mohart, Blake Boyd, Ryan Evans, Matt Jansen and Zac Roeder.

"It's a small group, but it's a good group. The quality is there even if the quantity isn't," Robbins says.

That may be the only 'small" reference to a group that includes Bubulka. At 6-8 and 300 pounds, the senior is the sort of physical presence that gives an offensive or defensive line credibility.

The Hawks' offense will feature a pair - yes, a pair - of quarterbacks. That may sound like a bit of a crowd, but Robbins said the Hawks will make things work out. "We have a good problem, we think," he said.

Two-year starter Ryan Deckard, a junior, returns as the Hawks' QB. Justin Horn, a sophomore, also will play some at quarterback. Robbins isn't saying how the pairing will split time, though he says it's possible both quarterbacks will be in the lineup at the same time.

Coming off a difficult 2009 season - "Nothing's easy when you're 1-9," Robbins said - Hillsboro faces a schedule that won't give it many chances to take it easy.

"We don't have the Foxes and Seckmans and Holts on our schedule, but we play seven teams that were in the playoffs last year," Robbins said.

Despite the challenge, the Hillsboro coach said he is "cautiously optimistic" the Hawks can battle out of last year's funk.

"I don't know what people are expecting from us, but I hope we'll surprise some people," he said.

Windsor (1-9)

The spread offense experiment produced a lot of passes and a good number of points, but not many victories. It's been four seasons since the Owls posted a .500 record.

First-time head coach Westermayer waves off talk about the team's recent rocky showing. "We're not really looking at what they did two years ago or what happened last year," he said.

Instead, he said, the focus is on building for each of the next 10 weeks.

"We've brought in some high expectations," he said.

The change will be of the night-and-day variety. Last season, Windsor launched 343 passes for nearly 1,800 yards. This season, the ball will not be flying around nearly as much.

"I hope we throw it 50 times a year, but I hope not too much more than that," Westermayer jokes. "We're going to run the football. That's what we preach."

Westermayer, who was an all-state player at Windsor, says the Owls are absorbing the changes.

"They're really doing well with the transition," he said.

Windsor returns four players on each side of the ball.

Seniors Andy Schuhwerk and Ben Worley return to anchor a line that has some experience and, with an average weight of about 260, some bulk. Joining them up front will be Jeff Crook-Hutsler, another senior, and Alec Fister, a junior. At 6-1 and 305, Fister is the biggest of a group that won't come off the field very often.

While Windsor lost most of its skill position players to graduation, Westermayer thinks the Owls have top-notch replacements. Senior Jerry Maddox takes over at quarterback, and junior Tyler Dawidowski steps in at tailback.

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