Near-triple-digits temperatures may impact 2013 opener's outcome
By PAUL STURM, Constitution-Tribune Sports Editor
The first step of what the Chillicothe High School football Hornets envision as a turnaround season in 2013 is about to be taken. It will be a hot one.
Friday night, the Hornets will kick off a new season on the road with a 7 p.m. game against the Marshall Owls.
The game-time temperature figures to be at or around 100 degrees. Despite that, an offer by Chillicothe school and team representatives to delay kickoff until 8 p.m. – a tack a number of other games will utilize, Marshall school officials have decided to keep the starting time as originally set.
The effect of that heat on the players and the game action – which players tire more quickly and fatigue-induced mistakes – could be significant as a result of teams having had traditional preseason practice schedules altered by new Missouri State High School Activities Association rules.
"It was a little different with the way we started – with just helmets and then just helmets and shudders pads (for several days on only once-daily workouts), so you feel like you're a little behind because you had equipment on – at least partial equipment – during the summer," mused CHS head coach Phil Willard. "But it's the same for everybody."
What the Hornets hope won't be the same is the outcome of this year's season opener against Marshall and their overall season, as compared to last year.
Chillicothe allowed a long touchdown run with just under five minutes remaining in last year's clash with the Owls – the debut game of the new Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium and its artificial-surfaced Bob Fairchild Field – to lose by one point. It became the first of eight losses in 11 contests, giving CHS its third-straight losing season.
However, despite the lowly overall record, the Hornets actually come into this game having won two of their last three games, with many of this year's team members instrumentally involved in those successes.
Chillicothe closed its 2012 regular season with a shutout win at St. Joseph: Benton and then, as the No. 6 seed, toppled third-seeded Macon on the road in the first year of the new district-tournament playoffs format. A one-sided loss at California then ended the Hornets' year in the district semifinals.
The positive vibe those two late-season wins generated seems to have carried over to this year as Chillicothe played with alacrity, purpose, and impact in their "jamboree" scrimmages at Knob Noster last week.
Willard felt that showing provided a favorable springboard for the preparations for this week's opener.
"We're hoping, after the scrimmage and being able to see things on tape, that now we can really start our improvement process," he observed.
"For the most part, I was really pleased with our aggressiveness and hitting and going to the ball and our effort on offense, as far as blocking. Now we just have to refine the things we saw to get better. Hopefully, our kids are ready to do that."
Chillicothe came through the "jamboree" without noteworthy injury. A vicious collision between junior starting running back and cornerback DeEll Midgyett as he defended against a Richmond sweep turned out to produce only a deeply-cut lip and Midgyett is considered ready to go Friday.
Not only were injuries averted, but a couple of players who have been dealing with injuries have shown improvement, the CHS coach reports. One might even be able to participate against the Owls.
Marshall enters the game having graduated many key components from their 6-5 2012 team, which followed a winless 2011 with a winning season. Only four starters remain.
The biggest losses are quarterback Alex Maupin, who exploited Hornets defensive breakdowns last year to rush for 150 yards, scoring four touchdowns, including the 63-yards game-winner, and fullback Mark Plummer, who racked up 108 yards on 20 runs.
Seniors Canaan Heinzler and Nick Glassmaker, both of whom have been wide receivers previously, have battled for the starting quarterback spot during the preseason with Glassmaker getting the nod for the opener.
"They both throw a good ball at times and take control of the huddle," second-year head coach Jon Stockman told the Marshall Democrat. "I have total confidence in both of them."
At running back, Tyler Cott returns, but he primarily was a blocker last year, totaling 390 yards rushing. A tough runner, he'll get more carries this year, but isn't a big-play threat. He can catch the ball some, but Marshall didn't throw much last year with the more-experienced Maupin – the Owls' leading receiver had only 12 catches, so that doesn't project to be a major concern.
Senior running back Chris Stephenson does give the Owls the kind of outside threat they haven't had since Anthony Thompson in 2007.
"He can make people miss," Stockman said. "Give him a hole, give him a crease, and he's going to make things happen."
The Owls do have eight offensive linemen with significant experience, so the Hornets, who are greener in the line, should be challenged to win the battles in the trenches.
Defensively, a linebacking corps deep in experience will be the Owls' biggest strength.
"They've all been out on the field for eight to 10 games minimum," Stockman says of the group which includes T. Cott and Brett Maupin inside and Logan Harris and Devin Cott outside.
"They have to be the heart of the defense."
The MHS line has been shuffled a bit and its secondary is all new. The Hornets threw for a season-high 217 yards in last year's game against the Owls, so strategic testing of the new Marshall defensive backfield logically figures to be in the Hornets' game plan.
After producing only 16 takeaways with its defense last year, Marshall is putting more emphasis on that.
"We're practicing things that will increase our takeaways," Stockman acknowledges. "If we do that, I think we can play with everybody."
After watching the "jamboree" scrimmage sessions last week, Willard feels his 16th Hornets squad is pointed in a positive direction.
"We want to go to Marshall and play well," he says. "If we can do that and not make some of those mistakes we made early last year, which it looks like the experience hopefully will take care of some of those, that's going to be important to get some momentum built with that first game."
"We need to get some experience on a couple of our interior people on the offensive and defensive line. They're working hard every day to do that," he further details.
"If we can get that, I think we have an excellent chance of being competitive in every game we play."