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The offseason is long for every team that didn't win a state championship. Some are longer than others.

None were longer than Pattonville's.

The Pattonville football team was less than a minute from claiming the first state championship in program history. Instead it suffered one of the toughest possible losses in a title game.

Staley scored the tying touchdown with 9 seconds to play and then capitalized on a gutsy 2-point conversion to win the Class 5 state championship 36-35 last November.

A talented senior class led by quarterback Kaleb Eleby were shocked and stunned with how one of the best seasons in program history came to a crashing end. The Pirates won the Suburban XII South Conference title for their first league crown since 2001. They won their first district title and made their first semifinal appearance in a decade.

How do you pick up the pieces and move forward? One day at a time.

“It's back to work,” Pattonville coach Steve Smith said. “You want to win, but if you win or lose you have to prepare for the next thing.”

The Pirates lost several key pieces after going 9-4 and finishing as the state runner-up. But they return a core that has experience few in the area can match. Pattonville is No. 9 in the STLhighschoolsports.com large school preseason rankings.

“We lost a lot, but we have some guys that can fill the void to make a run again,” Smith said. “We have guys that have experience and play the game the right way.”

The defense boasts a stout lineup of returning playmakers. Senior linebacker Donovan Prott (5-foot-8, 210 pounds) led the Pirates with 150 tackles last season as he earned all-state honors in Class 5. Defensive end Isaiah Wilkes (5-11, 240) had 76 tackles and a team-best eight sacks. Senior nose tackle DeAndre James (6-1, 290), who had 56 tackles as a junior, is a hammer up front that makes tackles and clears space for the linebackers.

Senior defensive back Aaron Webb (5-10, 150) has spent the past three seasons on varsity. He joins senior Reggie Oliphant (5-8, 150) as the most experienced returners in the secondary.

Up front, senior offensive linemen Peyton Boji (6-1, 270) and Chandler Mann (6-2, 300) return. They'll continue to clear holes for senior running back Sam Sanderson (5-9, 180), who rushed for 684 yards and scored nine touchdowns.

The biggest question coming into this season will be how the Pirates handle life without Eleby. A four-year varsity starter, Eleby signed with Western Michigan in December. He was a leader in the huddle, on the sideline and in the locker room. He attempted all but one of the Pirates' 590 passes in his final two seasons.

“It's an adjustment, it's a transition,” Smith said. “But we'll have 21 seniors this year. There are other guys trying to step up (and fill the leadership roles).”

Senior Andre Webb (5-10, 155) gets the nod at quarterback this fall. He's not the pocket passer that Eleby was, but Smith thinks he'll do just fine in Pattonville's system. The Pirates shifted their offensive identity to match Eleby's skill set.

“He's shifty. He can run it and throw it,” Smith said. “I'm not worried about it. He'll do some good things for us.”

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