September 6, 2011Great American Football Classic - St. Louis
When the organizers of the Great American Football Classic started planning last spring for the 2011 event at Edward Jones Dome they were hoping to put together a solid field of teams from both the Illinois and Missouri sides of the Mississippi River.
Little did they know that their 12 team entry list in the first Great American Football Classic would be a powerhouse display that boasts several top rated teams in the two states. For instance:
- A pre-season state ranked poll in Missouri Class 6 shows that four teams (DeSmet, CBC, Eureka and McCluer North) hold down spots in the top 10. And Francis Howell Central has received top 10 votes.
- A pre-season ranking of the powerful Southwestern Conference in Illinois lists O’Fallon, Belleville East and Belleville West in the top four pre-season spots in the conference.
- And there are more glorious statements and rankings about other members from the two-day, six-game, 12-team Great American Football Classic.
Here is a team-by-team glance of our 12 teams.
The defending conference champion kicks off the new league slate with tonight’s battle against Belleville West. The Panthers were 8-2 overall and 7-0 in conference play in 2010. They lost to Belleville East in a first-round Class 7A playoff game.
Coach Brandon Joggerst returns five offensive and seven defensive starters for his fifth campaign at O’Fallon. Top returning players are Indiana University linebacker recruit Mike Cotton and 6-2, 250-pound defensive lineman Nick Barnett. Offensively, the Panthers return senior Ejay Johnson, a first-team conference selection who rushed for more than 1,400 yards and caught another 386 yards in passing. Junior quarterback Todd Porter had a solid sophomore season.
How does O’Fallon feel about playing at Edward Jones Dome?
“It’s something the kids can be very excited about,” Joggerst said. “We had to give up a home game, but in the long run, it’s the experience that matters and it’s going to be a very positive one for us.”
First-year coach Cameron Pettus is bringing a new look to the Maroon offense. The Maroons will drop the triple option offense for a more balanced pro-style offense. This moved playmaker Deonte McCarvey from quarterback to tailback and free safety and moved senior Kyle Leadlove into the starting quarterback slot. Leadlove has the size – 6-3, 200-pounds – and skills to be a big time contributor. His backfield mates will be McCarvey, Jeremy Hill, Keith Harris and freshman Antoine Davis. A big key for the offense will be the play of senior wide receiver Ray Scott.
The defense returns four starters from last year’s Maroons team that finished 7-4 overall, 4-3 in the conference and lost to rival Belleville East in the Class 7A playoffs.
The young defense will be led by junior linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker and sophomore linebacker Tori Millender. Additional underclassmen on the defensive side of the ball are junior defensive end Donnie Foster, junior linebacker Tremont Davis and junior lineman Marquis Cherry, a solid 275-pound junior.
There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. Yes, that was a line by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz but it also the feeling of coach Carl Luehmann, who enters his second season as the head coach of the Warriors. Granite City plays six home games this year and the battle tonight with Belleville East is only one of three “road” games.
“Playing in the Edward Jones Dome is something special,” the coach said. “Many of players have never even been to the Dome.”
Luehmann also believes he is on the brink of some good things at Granite City. The Warriors pushed up their record to 3-6 last season and return nine starters. One of those returning players is junior running back Kaprix Sloan, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore. Quarterback Perry Grimes completed 46 percent of his passes as a sophomore, while rangy 6-5, 170-pound receive Marcus Mason is a state high jump contender.
“I think we can be a playoff contender,” Luehmann said.
It certainly appears that strong only get stronger. The Lancers went 10-3 last year and reached the semifinals of the Class 7A playoffs for the first time.
Now, guess what? Coach Tim Funk welcomes back 12 starters – eight on offense – for the 2011 season.
The team will be anchored by a powerful offensive line that returns all of its starters, including 6-3, 288-pound Matt Yurescko, who is leaning toward an Ivy League school or Washington University in St. Louis. The quarterback duties will fall to Davis Carter and Alex Bochewitz, a pair of seniors.
“We will be able to throw a little better this year and that will keep the defense off balance,” said Funk.
The defense lost a pair of all-state performers and needs some retooling. But linebacker Chase Allen and defensive back Austin Bartle will be worthy anchors.
They say that the game is often won in the trenches. If that is the case, look out for McCluer North. The Stars are expected to be one of the best in the Suburban North Conference and that is based on their solid offensive and defense lines.
Of course, winning is no stranger at McCluer North. The Stars have won district titles in 11 of the last 12 years. Coach Jim Schottmueller returns for his 28th year at McCluer North and dialed in a 7-3 mark last season. Two-way performers returning on the offensive and defensive lines are Keith Jones (6-2, 280), John Austin (6-0, 295), Jason Allen (6-2, 260), Demecho Crawford (6-2, 220) and Jordan Harrold (6-3, 240). Oh, and there is 300-pounder Myles McIntyre who also hits both side of the line.
Schottmueller promises the Stars will “spread it out a little more on offense.” That means that quarterback Galen Brown could be shifted to wide receiver to make room for Brian Herd. Senior Peter Jackson will be a key at receiver and in the defensive backfield.
When you think about tough situations think about the one the Pirates are going through this season. They have no home games. That’s right, all nine games are on the road as the old stadium has been torn down and a new one is being built for the 2012 season. But no one is crying at Pattonville, including coach Steve Smith.
“This year will be a year to remember,” said Smith. “But it doesn’t matter. We just want to play football. We will have a chance as a coaching staff to see young men grow right before our eyes. We will find out about our character as a team and how well we can handle adversity and dealing with situations other teams don’t have to worry about every week. Yes, it’s going to be a challenge but we will take this challenge head on."
The Pirates also lost 22 seniors, but they return leadership in lineman Dylan Hogan and defensive standout Jeremiah Wilkins.
The last time a Suburban West team that made it to the state playoffs finals was in 2007 when Mehlville appeared in the Edward Jones Dome.
Eureka may end that drought.
The Wildcats appear loaded, returning 13 starters from last year’s 9-2 entry that finished 7-1 in Suburban West play. Coach Farrell Shelton has a roster of over 90 sophomores, juniors and seniors and will look to numerous veterans for a good showing today. The lineup includes wide receiver/free safety Aaron Schnurbusch, running back/linebacker Spencer Stein, guard Connor Fairfax, tight end Nate Echard, linebacker Kyle Spratt, defensive lineman Mike Weitzel and linebacker Ben Southards.
Even though the Warriors might run a spread formation, look for the ground game led by Stein to be the key.
The big, BIG question at Marquette is how fast can the Mustangs reload. Coach Ryan Thornhill’s Mustangs shared the Suburban West title last year with Eureka and Lindbergh and rolled to an 8-3 record, but graduation hit the Marquette group hard. Only four starters – just one on offense – return in 2011.
Thornhill admits there may be some growing pains, but he also expects growth. Junior Daniel Slattery takes over the starting quarterback role. Last year’s backup at quarterback, Anthony Dudley, moves into the running back position. As a quarterback in 2011, Dudley rushed for six touchdowns and over 200 yards.
The Mustang defense will look toward linemen Nick Thomas-Smith and Ryan Kincade, linebacker Justin Bedell and secondary personnel Dudley and Slattery.
“Everyone involved with our football program is very excited to be a part of the Great American Football Classic,” Thornhill said. “This is a great opportunity for our students, players, coaches and fans. The tradition being instilled here is something we are proud and home to continue.”
This is a new season in many ways for the Indians. And it starts with the head man.
New Holt coach Ken Moore will bring his impressive resume to Class 5 and the GAC South as he takes over at Holt. Last season, Moore guided Warrenton to the Class 4 championship. The Indians finished 6-5 and lost to Kirkwood in the Class 5 playoffs.
Moore greets five offensive and five defensive starters back at Holt. Tray Mitchell averaged over six yards per game as a backup and linebacker Travion Vaughn was among the top tacklers for the Indians. He participated in several national football combines this summer. A key spot will be the quarterback slot.
-FRANCIS HOWELL CENTRAL
Here’s a team that is raring to get the new season started. The Spartans bowed out at 4-6 in 2010, but bring back 12 starters (six offense, six defense) for 2011.
Veteran Chip Miller returns for his third season as starting quarterback. He passed for almost 900 yards as a junior. And the Spartans have dangerous receiver Jayden Lumpa returning. Lumpa had seven touchdown catches and averaged almost 25 yards per reception. Josh Wade and Desmond Young will handle the running attack in the Spartan triple option attack.
Look out for the Cadets. Last year’s team finished 10-2, won the Metro Catholic Conference and advanced to the Class 6 quarterfinals.
It may only get better this season. Coach Scott Pingel returns seven starters from his offense. Leading that offense is senior quarterback Dalton Demos, who passed for a whopping 2,038 yards last season. He also fired 12 touchdown passes. And the running back duo of Antonio Brown and Johnathan Parker tacked on another 2,000 yards in rushing. Big Sean Holloran (6-4, 270) heads an experienced offensive line.
Another Cadet weapon is field goal kicker John Moldthan, who booted four field goals as a junior.
The defense? “Super young,” said Pinkel.
There are a lot of folks in Missouri that are expecting big things from the Spartans this season. Last year, DeSmet finished 8-5, but the Spartans advanced to the Class 6 semifinals for the second straight year. Many are saying that those chapters are only the beginning of a run for DeSmet. The Spartans are consistently ranked as among the Class 6 title contenders in 2011.
And why not? Coach Paul Mahoney returns six offensive and five defensive starters. And standing out in the class of veterans is wide receiver/running back/quarterback/ defensive back Durron Neal, who is ticketed for the University of Oklahoma. Call Durron a playmaker. He is ranked No. 32 in the nation by one service after he piled up almost 2,000 total yards in offense as a junior.
Other key contributors for the Spartans are running back/linebacker Jamie Placht, tight end/linebacker KeVonn Mabon, sophomore lineman Andy Bauer (6-4, 290), junior lineman Nick Wunderli (6-4, 295) and quarterback Conner Harrison. Mabon, Bauer and Wunderli are being looked at by Division I programs.