When Matt Buha was handed the keys to the MICDS football program in 2015, one of his goals was to bring the Rams back to prominence.
Over the next four years, MICDS made gradual steps toward that goal, culminating last fall when it finished 13-2 and was the Class 4 runner-up. It was the 14th championship game appearance in school history and the first since 2012.
The seniors that were the anchors for that team were freshmen when Buha's tenure began. It was on their backs the proud tradition of MICDS football returned. Now the Rams are going to find out if they can sustain their success.
Don't bet against them.
MICDS is the No. 9 small school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings.
It's not fair to say the cupboard is bare at MICDS. The cupboard just looks different. The Rams bring back five players who saw significant time on offense and another four on defense.
Among those returners are senior linebacker Joe Condie (6-foot-1, 170 pounds), who made 107 tackles and two interceptions as a junior. He's been tasked with a leadership role and he's wrapped his arms around it like a would-be ball carrier.
“I feel like we lost a lot of talent and leadership,” Condie said. “But we have a team of new kids coming in with a ton of potential.”
None of those new faces have to look farther than the starting quarterback to find an example of someone who came up, learned the ropes and made an impact. Reagan Andrew (5-7, 180) stepped in as a freshman and threw for 1,708 yards, 17 touchdowns and was intercepted eight times. He rushed for 331 yards and seven scores, too. A year later, Andrew said the team continues to take a lessons from the recent graduates.
“We're pretty young but we had good seniors who left a legacy for us to follow,” Andrew said.
Junior tight end and defensive end Will Kacmarek (6-5, 230) is itching for the opportunity to make some plays this season. A varsity regular since he was a freshman, Kacmarek has been banged up by injury the past two years. He's going to be a key to the Rams running game as he joins Gerald Bentley, who returns for his third tour on the varsity offensive line.
Senior running back Garrison Moody (5-10, 180) rushed for 310 yards and scored five touchdowns last season. Junior athlete Crawford Bundy (5-11, 155) caught 20 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 28 tackles and a sack in the defensive secondary.
Among the most important lessons gleaned from last year's seniors was the effort and intensity required to win football games. MICDS hung tough to beat Parkway North and Smithville by a combined nine points on its playoff run. It came from behind to beat Hazelwood East for its first district championship in six seasons.
The Rams competed until the final whistle. This year's team wants to bring that same mentality when it takes the field.
“We know every play matters,” Andrew said. “It's who has more heart to finish out the game.”
For the underclassmen to see firsthand what it took for MICDS to make its run last season is invaluable. Coaches can give speeches, teams can embrace slogans but nothing breaks through like experience. The Rams don't have a lot of players that saw the field, but they've been part of a program that has prepared them for when it's their turn.
That time has come. Buha doesn't think it will take long for them to live up to the legacy and tradition in which they have grown.
“This group has so much potential and so much in front of them it's a matter of time before they find their stride,” Buha said. “The idea of competing and winning as a standard is something they'll take into the season.”