CREVE COEUR • There will come a time in the future the Ladue football team will have a home-field advantage.
Until that time comes, the Rams will remain on the road.
For the third consecutive season, construction on Ladue High's campus has left its football field inaccessible. For the second consecutive season, Kirkwood High will serve as Ladue's home away from home. Two seasons ago, St. Louis U. High shared its facility.
The lack of a home has not stopped Ladue from remaining among the area's best programs. The Rams went 12-3 last season and were the Class 4 runner-up. They dropped a gut-wrenching showdown with perennial powerhouse Webb City 7-0. The year before they were knocked out by Kearney in the semifinals in a matchup that came down to the last play.
Ladue is the No. 10 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason football rankings.
There was a fair bit of roster turnover at Ladue. An outstanding class of seniors graduated, but the Rams return a core of experienced and elite players who have contributed the past two seasons.
Senior running back Andrew Hunt (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) rushed for a team-high 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing two games with injury. Senior receiver Dale Chesson (6-0, 185) caught a team-high 44 passes for 899 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns.
Henry McIntosh will step into the starting quarterback role. The 6-foot-3 junior signal caller has spent the offseason building a rapport with Chesson and his other weapons in the offense. He has done nothing but inspire confidence in his standout receiver.
“I have no doubts about Henry,” Chesson said.
The offensive line was hit hardest by graduation. There will be five new faces in new places up front. It has been a focal point for Ladue as it prepares for its season opener at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 against Ritenour at Kirkwood. Coach Mike Tarpey said it might take some time for those guys to settle in, but any bumps in the road will not be due to lack of effort.
“Last year was obviously an awesome O-line. I loved those guys and they really helped me out,” Hunt said. “Our guys this year are younger but I know all of them are working just as hard as the past years. I trust them just as much.”
The defense lost two of its primary leaders at linebacker in BJ Buchanan and PJ Hensley. But Hunt was among the team leader in tackles with 68. Senior defensive end Moses Okpala (6-7, 253) is back for his third season of football. He missed his sophomore year after recovering from heart surgery. He was a devastating force as a junior with 65 tackles and a team-best nine sacks.
Chesson is receiving college interest as a receiver but also at defensive back where he had a team-high three interceptions to go along with 29 tackles.
The backbone of Ladue's recent success has been its team mantra of “11 Strong.” The Rams adopted the motto two seasons ago and it stuck. Tarpey said it has filtered through the program, so much so that it's the players, not the coaches, who regulate each other at workouts and practice.
“The accountability the kids have towards each other,” Tarpey said. “The kids we have buy in, they want to work, they want to be coached and when you get them to be accountable to each other it's what I think has allowed our program to be successful.”
After coming so close to a championship a season ago, the Rams have championship expectations once again. Their schedule will do its best to prepare them. There are dates with Ritenour, SLUH, Parkway North, Pattonville and the regular-season finale with Kirkwood. The Rams will be tested before the postseason begins.
Their recent history says they'll be a tough out when it matters most.
“We want to achieve the same goals we've had in previous years. We've been close,” Hunt said. “All of us are working really hard to go further this time and win it.”
2018 area football schedules
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