C-T 2019 AREA HS FOOTBALL PREVIEWS: Ross, Tigers will try to reload around Sims, Bruner, McCauslin. District prospects still look good

MARCELINE, Mo. — Despite repetitive turnover in its head coaching position the past five or six years, the rejuvenated Marceline Tigers high school football program has been among north Missouri’s best small-school outfits again after the long-time power had a fallow period for much of the first decade of this century.
Having successfully dealt with a virtual revolving door as far as their head coach has been concerned of late, the Tigers are confronted with a likely-greater challenge in 2019 – massive losses, both in quantity and quality, from last year, due to graduation.
More than 15 seniors – more than a third of the roster – suited up for the black and gold a year ago, a healthy percentage of them playing major roles on one or both sides of the ball. That veteran identity helped carry MHS to a 10-2 season which, in head coach Mark Ross’ inaugural campaign leading the Tigers, produced a Lewis and Clark Conference co-championship, a trip to its Class 1 district final (state playoffs round of 16), and, perhaps most satisfying, a last-play 9-6 victory over rival Brookfield in the “Bell Game.”
“Last year, the kids adapted extremely well to the new schemes we put in front of them,” Ross reflects. “They grew tremendously throughout the year.”
Now, however, the page turns and in-season growth likely won’t be an option for high achievement; it figures to be mandatory for producing a winning season.
Ross will oversee a new squad with only three returning lettermen, each of whom were 2-way starters and one of whom will make a critical shift to a new position on offense.
The anchors – all seniors – will be guard/linebacker Colby Sims, running back/linebacker/placekicker Cullen Bruner, and wide receiver-turned-quarterback/linebacker Alex McCauslin.
Sims (6’, 190) was unanimous all-L&C on defense last year and second-team all-league on offense and second-team all-district on both sides of the ball. Bruner (6’, 175) was a 1,000-yards rusher in the well-distributed MHS attack a year ago and earned second-team all-conference recognition on both offense and defense. McCauslin (6’, 170), who’ll succeed prolific, multi-years starter Chase Billups under center, got in some time taking snaps last year in blowouts.
The trick to getting the most out of Bruner and McCauslin will be finding new pieces up front to supplement Sims.
Ross considers the top prospects for the four vacancies to be seniors Colton Stark, Carlos Valdez, and Cole Renshaw and sophomore Nathan Cupp. Three of those four weigh 220 pounds or more, so the Tigers will have some “beef.”
With Ross utilizing a “spread” pro-type offense, there’ll be need to find targets for McCauslin. One tall one looks to be 6’2” sophomore Wyatt Molloy, while smallish senior Austin Tarpening and sophomore Hunter Nelson also figure to play, according to the coach.
“We have a lot of new faces filling empty holes,” Ross admits, but he notes “lots of the kids have taken plenty of varsity ‘reps’ in those positions.”
The “Black Rage” Marceline defense _ in the aggressive, 4-4 scheme Ross utilizes – obviously will benefit from having the three experienced linebackers to bulwark it and figures to be the team’s “calling card.” However, matching last year’s points-allowed average of 9.9 will be very difficult.
“We have many younger kids who took quality ‘reps’ at the varsity level” in 2018, the head coach reiterates. “We will look to continue to grow off of what we developed last season.”
Bruner, who kicked the “Bell Game” winning field goal as time ran out last September, provides a special-teams weapon many small schools don’t have. That could help make the positive difference in the closer games this year’s MHS squad figures to play.
While Ross anticipates graduation also having significantly impacted Lewis and Clark co-champ Fayette, he looks for regularly-strong Westran and recent league addition Knox County to be among those battling for the league crown. Even former power Salisbury, after several very lean years, could be on the comeback trail, he senses.
“We look to be in the mix,” Ross remarks.
Marceline will host Knox County next week (Sept. 6), followed by the ultra-intense clash with neighbor Brookfield (at Brookfield this year). The matchup with Westran will be in week eight.
As for Marceline’s postseason prospects, the just-announced Class 1 District 5 assignment appears to offer a realistic path to the state quarterfinals, despite the graduation losses. The only schools of other seven in the district which won more than three games in 2018 are Fayette and Sweet Springs/Malta Bend (6-6).
Knowing the MHS program’s history, Ross understandably is optimistic, despite the lack of extensive starting experience on this year’s roster.
“Marceline has a rich tradition and lots of young kids coming up who are excited to take the field in the black-and-gold,” he says.