Last fall’s football season just might be considered as a big stepping stone for the Spartans to march into the 2013 campaign with added confidence and desire to do more.

In 2012, a well-disciplined Moberly squad arguably was just five snaps of the football from being a program having 9-1 record that included a rare victory against perennial Class 4 powerhouse Hannibal while entering MSHSAA’s new state playoff system.

Instead Moberly’s record ended at 7-3 and 5-1 in the North Central Missouri Conference. There were coverage miscues by the Spartans on four long TD runs by the Pirates spoiled that upset bid in a 34-22 loss, and during their Week 10 contest a questionable non-penalty call kept what proved to be Marshall’s game-winning drive alive for the Owls defeat Moberly 20-17 in overtime.

Despite those heart-wrenching setbacks and ‘what-if’ moments, last year’s season came away with many positives for a Spartans team having a fairly young offense that needed a little more seasoning and a defense that was still maturing overall.

With the thrill of Friday Night Lights illuminating the start of the prep football season tonight, Moberly is hoping to build upon the work put together from both last fall and in the off-season, and ride that motivation to unprecedented levels in 2013.

“We’re pretty excited about what this season may have to offer in Spartans football. We have a lot of kids coming back with varsity experience, especially kids who are coming back that play in the right spots like in areas at both the offensive and defensive line, our defensive backfield and we have a very good talented and smart quarterback who are all returning,” said Moberly football coach Jason Ambroson as he enters his 13th year at the helm. “Add to that the fact we have several younger kids who were sophomores last year that got to see a lot of playing time and we have some newcomers who are really competing hard for a position and are doing well. All of this adds up to us having some pretty decent depth as well.”

“The excitement is not just with the kids we have coming back, but all of the kids we have in our football program because they all care, they work hard and they support one another and push each other to be better football players.”

Coach Ambroson and staff can rest a little easier as Game 1 approaches tonight when Moberly hosts defending Class 2 state runner-up champion Blair Oaks knowing that 18 lettermen, including 11 starters, from last season are returning.

Moberly has 13 seniors and 22 juniors on its roster and this brings a mixture of talented veterans and some feisty newcomers bringing healthy competition as every one gains a desire for varsity time on the football field.

“What I really like about this group of kids is that they are working and competing hard for position and against one another, and they have the mindset that it is not about ‘me’ but rather it is all about ‘we’. Their focus is on doing things and making sacrifices in doing what is best for the team,” said Ambroson.

This statement led into the 2013 motto being adopted by the football Spartans; More.

“I want our kids to understand the word ‘more.’ As human beings we all have immense capabilities. I love all these kids on this football team and they all work extremely hard, but they can do things better. They can do more. They can do something to get 1 more yard or so on offense by blocking better or our ball carrier can read where to go better,” explained Ambroson. “Defensively we can do more to drop the other ball carrier back a yard or more by getting to the ball quicker. We can do more  by studying our playbooks more, looking at game film, asking questions, encouraging one another more during practice and on the field. I don’t want our kids to worry about who they play against, but rather how each of them play on every given night.”

“They need to play with a sense of urgency all the time, wanting to get more out of every situation, and seeking opportunities that pushes them to strive for more.”

It will be no secret to opponents that Moberly will execute a pro-style spread offense, a system that wants to put Spartans ball carriers more into a one-on-one situation against the defense for the purpose of moving the chains and absorbing time off the clock.

“We want to create much space horizontally and vertically and try get our guys better chance to break a tackle and gain space,” Ambroson said.

Moberly outscored its opposition by an average score of 28-14 last fall while gaining about 181 rushing yards and 154 passing yards per contest.

The Spartans are fortunate to Justin Connaway return for his senior year as field general. Defenses cannot let the 6-foot, 165-pound frame of this Moberly senior quarterback fool them.

This all-district and all-NCMC team performer was given by Ambroson the privilege of having a loose leash allowing Connaway to make audible play changes at the line of scrimmage as he saw fit.

“Justin’s football IQ is extremely high. I can remember years ago of Justin being along the sidelines close to me serving as a volunteer ball boy and sometimes as a water boy. He would come over to listen to what was being said during time outs, and come to practices to watch and learn at a young age. He also is an accomplished three-sport athlete and that pays dividends for him because he knows how to think and adapt to multiple situations that presents itself,” said Ambroson. “I can honestly say that Justin is the best overall quarterback that I’ve ever coached here at Moberly, and we have had some pretty good QBs here since I’ve been here.”

Connaway threw for 1,534 yards (146-239) and 12 touchdowns, and ran 83 times for 425 yds. and five scores in his inaugural year at QB as a junior.

“Anytime you have a quarterback that will completes more than 60-percent of his passes, throws a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3-to-1, and gets sacked only 4 times in a season, it gets your team into positive positions to be successful on the football field,” said Ambroson. “That is what Justin brings to our football program, but he is also surrounded by a lot of good team players too.”

Gregg Bain, a 5’11, 190 lbs. junior, will handle most of the running game and he will be accompanied by Chris Palmer (6’1, 175) in the backfield. Both Spartans bring agility, speed and toughness to the position. Bain rushed for 512 yards on 99 carries and found the end zone 9 times as a sophomore.

Ambroson said he is excited to see how well his linemen on both offense and defense performs this fall. Highlighting these positions are the services provided by three strong, talented seniors.

Jeff Kinder (6’2, 273) is moving from center to guard position on the O-line in which he was named all-district and all-NCMC, and defensively (94 tackles, 3.5 sacks) he earned 2nd team All-State,  all-NCMC and all-district honors.

Colton Tremain (6’3, 240) earned all-NCMC recognition at the offensive guard position. Tremain (100 tackles, 6 sacks) was named last season to the 3rd team All-State, all-NCMC and all-district teams.

Zach Koenig (6’3, 240) will return at tackle.

 “We really have some good linemen returning. Our three returning seniors played about every snap of a football last year and Mickey Sires was someone who had a role to fill in for someone occasionally and would played different spots on the field. Those four guys are very flexible of where they can play at the line and they have good strength, good discipline, good size and good speed,” Ambroson said. “When you add all of that up, it becomes a valuable asset to have on a football team because if you cannot get things done up front on both sides of the football, a team will struggle no matter the kind of talent you have with the skill positions.”

Other projected starters at the line are center Mickey Sires (6’0, 238, jr.), tackle Tyrek Hayes (5’10, 255, jr.) and senior tight end Dylan Derboven (6’2, 170) who will also serve at wide receiver. Defensively, look for senior Dimaja Smith (6’2, 205) at the end.

Ambroson said Connaway will have a variety of quality targets to hit during Moberly’s passing scheme, and he would not be surprised if there is five different receivers names are commonly found in the stat sheet of each game played. Look for seniors Blake Joiner and Derboven, along with juniors Scott Mason, Dupree Alexander, Preston Riles and Cameron Smith to often be running the passing routes as part of the air attack.

“We don’t have a true tight end in the mix. We have some very good big guys up front and we have some very good skill guys who are more of receiver types so we will use these kinds of talents to our advantage in this kind of offense. You will see us getting every one involved on every play somehow. Like having our wide receivers involved in making blocks several yards into the backfield to open up running lanes for our ball carrier,” said Ambroson. “We don’t have some of the 6-foot -2, 220-pound kids to use at the end like we have had in previous years, but we have a lot of the smaller-size guys who are quick, athletic and can make the catch. We will spread the field wide, use a lot of motion to create more one-on-one opportunities against the defense.”

The Spartans have good returning experience in the defensive backfield.  Alexander and senior Gage Esry will share time at safety. Other defensive backs are Mason, Palmer, Smith, and juniors Tyler Huffman and DéAndrae Dameron.

Meanwhile, the positions at linebacker will have players having limited experience a year ago working that assignment. Joiner is moving from DB to linebacker, and senior Devon Cox, Bain and Riles will join him.

“Our defensive unit has strengthened and I like what I have seen in the off-season. We will operate out of an odd-front defense. This allows for us to better adapt to what the offense is giving at the line of scrimmage,” said Ambroson. “Our defense philosophy is very simple. That’s getting as many guys to the ball carrier as possible after every snap of the football. The more people we get involved, the more success we are going to have.”

Following tonight’s contest here with Blair Oaks having a special starting time of 8 p.m. due to temperatures reaching the mid-90s, the Spartans hit the road for two weeks before returning to Dr. Larry K. Noel Spartans Stadium to celebrate its homecoming game against conference rival Fulton on Sept. 20.