Youth at every turn

By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
Posted: August 30, 2013 - 5:55 AM

The West Central Conference has a little bit of everything. The six-team league has four Class 3 teams, a Class 4 team and a Class 5 team and stretches from Clinton to North Kansas City.
The teams in the league have had success in the postseason and several have rich histories. St. Pius X won three state titles around the turn of the century, O’Hara has been consistently good and Center, Clinton, Warrensburg and Sedalia Smith-Cotton have all had very good seasons in the last five years.
Last year Center won the title and marched all the way to the Class 3 quarterfinals falling to eventual champion Maryville. Clinton had one of its best seasons before falling in the first round of the Class 3 playoffs to Pembroke Hill. O’Hara and St. Pius X had similar seasons. Both featured young squads that struggled early but were able to win a few playoff games late. Warrensburg and Smith-Cotton struggled most of the season.
2012 Record: 10-3, 5-0
The Yellowjackets were loaded last season and lost several key players from that squad. Even with graduation losses Center brings back five starters on offense and three on defense. The Yellowjackets have proven over the last few years that there are plenty of good players ready to step up. One thing that Center has going for it again this year is good athletes who are big and physical. Their style matches up well with just about anyone and should keep them near the top of the league.
“We lost a lot of quality football players and quality young men off of last year,” Center coach Bryan DeLong said. “We will have to have some young kids step up. It’s always fun as a coach to guess which kids will step up, hope which kids will step and actually see what will happens. You get to watch young men mature and lead our program.”
Center 2013 Schedule
8/30       @ University Academy
9/6         Smithville
9/14       @ Hogan Prep Academy
9/20       @ Ark City, Kan.
9/27       @ St. Pius X
10/4       Warrensburg
10/11     @ O’Hara
10/18     Sedalia Smith-Cotton
10/25     @ Clinton
2012 Record: 7-3, 4-1
The Cardinals turned the corner last season and only suffered losses to Center, Class 2 semifinalist Holden and Pembroke Hill. Clinton had a strong rushing attack last year but lost a lot of those players to graduation. This year’s group doesn’t have a lot of experience so it will be a good test of the program to see if it is in the position to just reload from year to year. The Cardinals shouldn’t take too many steps back and in fact could be right back where they were if the new players step up.
“We are in great shape and our kids have worked extremely hard,” Clinton coach Chris Smoot said. “They have made themselves quicker, made themselves more agile and improved their flexibility. When we got into practice time we didn’t have to spend time working on getting into shape. We were already there.
“I think we are going to be more athletic this year than we were last year. This year’s group has a little more speed and we are going to be able to be a little more versatile both offensively and defensively.”
The way the Cardinals get wins might be different but the number of wins may be the same if things fall into place.
Clinton 2013 Schedule
8/30       @ Warsaw
9/6         @ Pembroke Hill
9/13       Holden
9/20       Eldorado Springs
9/27       O’Hara
10/4       @ St. Pius X
10/11     Sedalia Smith-Cotton
10/18     @ Warrensburg
10/25     Center
2012 Record: 3-7, 1-4
The Celtics struggled for most of last season but the young team got better as the season went on. The upside for O’Hara this year is most of the players off that young team are back and have a year of starting experience under their belt. Back on offense is the starting QB, WR and several linemen. The Celtics defense has good numbers back also so it should be a much better time in 2013.
“I think we are in the same area where we were last year where you are coming in but you are just a little bit more excited because the kids have some experience,” DeMarea said. “Right now we are looking at are these kids going to making that next step and get better and not get hurt because we don’t have a lot of depth behind them.”
Improvement is there for the Celtics. While it might be tough to climb to the top of the West Central that doesn’t mean O’Hara can’t have an impact in the Class 3 postseason.
O’Hara 2013 Schedule
8/30       Richmond
9/6         @ Lincoln College Prep
9/13       Knob Noster
9/20       Hogan Prep Academy
9/27       @ Clinton
10/4       @ Sedalia Smith-Cotton
10/11     Center
10/18     @ St. Pius X
10/25     Warrensburg
Sedalia Smith-Cotton
2012 Record: 2-8, 2-3
The Tigers are looking to improve in 2013 and the focus as practice started was the defense. Smith-Cotton gave up more than 30 points in six of its 10 games last season and a marked improvement on that side of the ball could mean more victories. The Tigers had a good offseason and coach Mark Johnson likes how his team has come together.
“We’ve got some great senior leaders and the kids have grown as a football team,” Johnson said. “The kids enjoy being around each other and are playing together very well.”
If the Tigers can get the defensive side of the ball shored up they could be in more ballgames which could lead to more wins in 2013.
Sedalia Smith-Cotton 2013 Schedule
8/30       Nixa
9/6         @ Jefferson City Helias
9/13       Columbia Hickman
9/20       @ Grain Valley
9/27       Warrensburg
10/4       O’Hara
10/11     @ Clinton
10/18     @ Center
10/25     St. Pius X
St. Pius X
2012 Record: 5-7, 3-2
The Warriors had a tough stretch in 2012 but rallied late in the season. St. Pius X lost its first six games before winning five in a row, including two postseason games before losing to Maryville in the sectional round. Most of that team is back this year and that winning experience could mean much better results in 2013. The Warriors fortunes seemed to turn when their defense became stout and gave its offense a chance to compete in games. That recipe could be used again this year and St. Pius X could make a run at the conference title.
“Right off the bat our intensity needs is going to have to be up a little bit more over last year,” St. Pius X coach Rick Byers said. “We were really young and we had kids that just didn’t know how to handle a varsity situation. We had kids that just didn’t know how to handle a varsity situation. We are really striving to get kids fired up and really get their intensity up.”
With returning talent the early focus on intensity should help the Warriors take big steps in 2013.
St. Pius X 2013 Schedule
8/30       @ Odessa
9/6         Maryville
9/13       @ Pembroke Hill
9/20       Oak Grove
9/27       Center
10/4       Clinton
10/11     @ Warrensburg
10/18     O’Hara
10/25     @ Sedalia Smith-Cotton
2012 Record: 0-10, 0-5
There aren’t a lot of seniors but there is plenty of talent in the underclassmen for the Tigers. After a season without a win the young group of players will be asked to step up and help Warrensburg get back to the winning ways of the past. If the young players can grow up quick the Tigers could make big steps in 2013 and be ready to compete at a high level in 2014.
“Our kids have really worked and prepared themselves to get ready for this phase of the journey,” Warrensburg coach Scott Grinde said. “I’m very excited about our young ones. We don’t have a large senior class this year but we have a great junior class and a great sophomore class and some of those sophomores are going to be players we are going to be really counting on this year.”
It might be tough to grow up quickly with a quality schedule like Warrensburg’s but if the talent and maturity can grow together the Tigers can be a better team at the end of the season than at the start.
Warrensburg 2013 Schedule
8/30       Excelsior Springs
9/6         @ Pleasant Hill
9/13       Grain Valley
9/20       Harrisonville
9/27       @ Sedalia Smith-Cotton
10/4       @ Center
10/11     St. Pius X
10/18     Clinton
10/25     @ O’Hara