C-T 2019 AREA HS FOOTBALL PREVIEWS: Fleshing out lines likely key to 2019 fortunes, including district shift to west

HAMILTON, Mo. — The past 10 seasons of football for Hamilton’s Penney High Hornets have been among Missouri’s most successful, producing four state championships – fifth-most in the state behind Webb City, Lamar, Ste. Genevieve: Valle, and Maryville – and the still-unmatched distinction of being the only school in state prep football history to win a state title one year and in the next-highest classification the following year as the Hornets did in capturing the 2009 Class 1 crown and 2010 Class 2 laurels.
The decades of “the teens,” of course, has seen the vast majority of that success, including eight district championships and state-playoffs appearances in nine years to date, as well as the three state titles (2010, ’12, and ’16), one state runnerup finish (2015), two other state semifinals appearances, and state quarterfinals losses the last two years. Even the transition from Missouri Sports Hall of Fame coach Dave Fairchild to Caleb Obert between the 2015 and ’16 seasons did nothing to derail the Hornets’ decade of dominance.
As Obert and his 2019 squad looking to cap the remarkable decade of sustained success with, at least, a 10th district title in 11 years, some proven, highly-capable components to do that are in place (barring injury). The big question mark will be rebuilding the graduation-impacted lines on both sides of the ball.
Speedy, junior running back Spencer Morrow (5’11”, 185 pounds) is on hand after an All-State and first-team all-KCI Conference season in which he amassed 1,638 yards and 23 touchdowns.
“We look for him to have another great year,” Obert says, while adding the caveat, “we have to replace a lot of offensive linemen from last year).
Foremost of the trio gone from the offensive trenches is 2-times All-Stater and 4-years starter Tyler Trosper. Missing, as well, will be center Malachi McBee, honorable mention in the very-rugged KCI in ’18.
Fleshing out the O-line beyond senior holdovers Eli Harper (6’1”, 190) and Dawson Cook (5’11”, 175) likely will be three from a group of candidates include returning senior lettermen Tanner Ford, Tyler Brown and Anthony Prater, sophomores Kyle Burnett and Ethan Trosper, and freshman Fisher Nixdorf.
Also needing replacing from last year’s 9-4 club are tight ends, Connor Kavanaugh (all-district and first-team all-KCI) and Cale Whitt, each of whom were 3-years starters at end. Kavanaugh not only was considered by Obert as the team’s second-best blocker behind All-Stater Trosper, but also pulled in 32 passes for nearly 400 yards and eight touchdowns (as well as six 2-points conversions). Sophomore Andrew Rich (6’, 180) projects to shift to tight end after starting at wide receiver last fall and Memphis Kinne (5’11”, 160, sr.) leads the prospects at the other end, the coach reports.
The refabricated “O” line’s primary job will be providing running lanes for Morrow and returning senior quarterback Ryan Cook (6’2”, 160). Tucker Ross (6’, 180, soph.) appears ready to be the other setback with classmate Corbin Henderson providing depth.
Cook can throw as well as run, so Hamilton has the skill to move the ball in the air. Morrow figures to be targeted often, along with Rich, Ross, and wideout candidates Kevin Williams (6’, 175, jr.) and Landon Huff (5’11”, 160, sr.),
Defensively, Harper (team-high 77 tackles, 11 for loss) is the prime remaining piece. Second-team all-KCI a year ago at end, he looks to shift to linebacker this season, where, Obert reports, Ross and Kinne project to join him. Ford (6’, 175) and perhaps even freshman A.J. Hon (5’9”, 175) could factor in, as well.
With the reassignment of Harper, Rich is the only defensive line returnee, making that the biggest question mark on that side of the ball. As with the offensive line, senior lettermen Brown and Prater and underclassmen Nixdorf, E. Trosper, and Burnett are among the lineup contenders. Levi Hartley (5’9”, 200, soph.) also could see some time there or on offense.
Cook and Morrow are back in the secondary, which loses Ross to the linebacking corps and is without graduated Michael Roberts. Obert anticipates utilizing Williams and Huff to fill those vacancies initially with junior Losson Park and sophomores Nate Wyckoff and Henderson as additional options.
Morrow also plays pivotal roles on special teams, not only returning kickoffs and punts, but also doing the placekicking and punting.
Given the losses to both lines, Hamilton: Penney – even with the proven talents of Morrow, Harper, and others leading the way – figures to have a difficult time challenging for the KCI title. The likes of 2018 Class 2 state runnerup Lathrop, Class 1 state semifinalist Mid-Buchanan (which pulled away from the Hornets 41-21 in the quarterfinals), Lawson, and East Buchanan are expected to be strong again.
“Lathrop and Lawson always are at or around the top,” Obert observes. “East Buchanan and Mid-Buchanan return a lot of quality players from very good teams and the rest of the conference is always tough.”
Penney will need its line play to jell very quickly to be competitive, since “East Buck,” Lathrop, and “Mid-Buck” are its first three league foe in weeks 3-5 (the Buchanan County schools both coming to Hamilton). Week 2 foe Gallatin, an archrival, also figures to test the Hornets after nearly rallying to win at Gallatin a year ago.
As for postseason prospects, after finishing only fifth in the Class 1 District 8 regular-season standings last year (due to three KCI losses), Hamilton the district table at the expense of top-seeded and previously-undefeated Milan and once-beaten No. 2 seed Marceline on the road before dropping a rematch with Mid-Buchanan in the state quarterfinals.

This year, however, while still in Class 1, the Hornets have been shifted west by the Missouri State High School Activities Association to District 7, where the path to another district crown would appear challenging, since it likely will require going through Mid-Buchanan and East Buchanan a second time. The other schools in the district will be Polo, Plattsburg, North and West Plattes, and Maysville/Winston.