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There is a natural ebb and flow to high school football. Talented classes of athletes come in, make their mark, move on and the process starts again. There are few programs that defy that.

Eureka is one of them.

The Wildcats have won eight or more games eight consecutive seasons. In that time they have finished with 10 or more wins four times and lost three games in a season only twice. Eureka is a model of consistency that routinely has it in the playoff picture and among the state's top teams in Class 6.

Eureka's lifeblood is a thriving feeder program and strong freshman and junior varsity teams that prepare players for their turn on varsity. Eureka routinely graduates strong cores of seniors only to have a new group step in and take its turn.

The Wildcats have 24 seniors on the roster, but this season will put their tradition to the test. After a 12-1 finish last season and a state semifinal appearance, Eureka is the No. 5 large school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings.

Much to the delight of opposing Suburban West Conference coaches, Hassan Haskins graduated. The powerhouse running back signed with Michigan after a senior season that saw him rush for 2,197 yards and score 34 of Eureka's 67 touchdowns. There is no replacing a player of his caliber. So the Wildcats won't.

“You have to look at the pieces you have and where they fit,” Eureka coach Jake Sumner said. “We have weapons, they're just different kinds of weapons.”

Eureka's returning pieces lean more toward a balanced attack than the run-heavy ground and pound that powered it a year ago.

Senior quarterback Tyler Kennedy (6 feet, 190 pounds) enters his third season of significant varsity action. He was forced into the starting lineup as a sophomore when then-senior standout Michael Orso was lost to injury.

Kennedy completed 77 of his 129 passes for 1,161 yards, 12 touchdowns and was intercepted eight times. He rushed for 566 yards and 10 touchdowns, second only to Haskins last season.

“Tyler can do some things,” Sumner said.

He has his top two receivers back in junior Jhalon Asher-Sanders (5-8, 165) and senior Avery Taggart (6-5, 230).

Asher-Sanders caught 26 passes for 278 yards and three scores. Taggart had 20 receptions for 384 yards and four touchdowns.

Asher-Sanders will figure prominently into the Wildcats offensive plans this season as they will try to get the ball in his hands. Taggart is an outstanding overall athlete who has verbally committed to SIU Carbondale for football and basketball.

Seniors Antonio Sanders (6-1, 185) and Trent Obermueller (6-1, 165) will see more action at receiver this season, too.

Junior Josh Baker (6-3, 275) will move from guard to center to help a fresh-faced offensive line get up to varsity speed.

The defense has four regulars returning. Senior Carter Beecher (6-1, 230) is on the defensive line. Junior Jake McCollum (6-1, 195) saw plenty of action at linebacker early in the season due to an injury to D'Antoine McMillan and finished with 61 tackles. Senior Matt Gentry (6-3, 215) will get to show what he can do at linebacker this season.

Obermueller and Sanders will help out at defensive back.

The Wildcats could get a boost from standout junior Zach Valentine (5-11, 195). He started at cornerback as a freshman and shifted to wide receiver last year but was lost midway through the season when he suffered a significant knee injury. Sumner said Valentine has been cleared to resume football activities and is working his way back to action. It has been a long, hard road for the talented Valentine.

“He could do anything we asked him to,” Sumner said. “He's progressing.”

Eureka's schedule will prepare it for a postseason run. It opens up at home with Fort Zumwalt West. Its first road game will be Sept. 7 at Hazelwood Central. It travels to Class 6 District 3 rival Kirkwood on Oct. 5 for a potential preview of what could be another electric district championship game between the two powerhouses.

“That's always fun (playing Kirkwood),” Sumner said. “It'll be good.”

2018 area football schedules

Plan your calendar for the 2018 high school football season, all in one place. For any corrections or additions, please email stats@stltoday.com

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