Team has a year's worth of experience with spread offense.

A lot less teaching is required in Salem High School football preseason practice this year.

After using the wishbone offense for three decades the Tigers did a 180 in offensive philosophy a year ago, switching to the spread.

As one would expect, it took the squad a while to adjust.

This season the spread is back and the players are much more comfortable with it, according to second-year head coach Brian McNamee.

“Things have gone a lot smoother,” said McNamee, whose squad finished 5-6 overall and 2-5 in South-Central Association (SCA) play. “Last year we focused so much the first two weeks on installing the offense, we didn’t focus as much on defense. This year we return eight (starters) on both sides of the ball and they already know the terminology and know what they’re supposed to do.

“We went 4-0 in the Missouri Valley Team Camp this summer and are pretty excited. The passing game worked and the running game worked. And in the Sullivan Team Camp we threw the ball well. And now we’ve added a few new passing plays and a couple more running plays.”

Indeed, the Tigers have eight offensive and eight defensive starters returning.

One big change is at quarterback, where sophomore Zak Eplin (5-11, 158) takes over at the starter while last year’s starter, junior Dylan Wisdom (6-0, 170), is the backup. Wisdom passed for 762 yards and rushed for 300 in his first year as the Tiger QB last season.

“Eplin throws very well on the run and has dangerous speed, with :04.55 40 (yard dash) speed,” McNamee said. “He’s a dual threat. What he’s lacking is 11 games of experience. And the fact is we can put Dylan in the game and not miss a beat. But Dylan is very important to us on defense (at free safety).”

Key receivers in the Tiger spread are junior Triston DuBois (6-0, 175) and senior Paul McClain (5-8, 157) at wideout and senior Jacob Plank (6-1, 180) and junior Aaron Hodges (5-8, 170) at the slot receiver spots. When the team goes with a tight end formation, it’s sophomore Jon Arzt (6-0, 215).

Salem has a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Big, senior Zayne Kyser (6-0, 230) is back as the starter and junior Derek McClain (6-0, 170) comes in and gives a more slashing style.

The two combined for nearly 2,000 rushing yards last season, as Kyser, an all-district performer, rushed for 1,432 yards and 18 touchdowns while D. McClain ran for 514 yards and four TDs.

The offensive line figures to include senior left tackle Austin Reed (6-4, 265), freshman left guard Tyler Partyka (6-1, 265), senior center Tyus Leslie (5-10, 215), junior right guard Max Knnack (6-1, 245) and junior right tackle Jason Piatt (6-3, 250).

“Our offensive line really understands the concept of closing out blocks and getting to the next level,” McNamee said.

Players in the Tigers’ 3-4 defensive formation include Arzt and all-conference Leslie at tackle; junior Dominic Deleon (5-10, 290) at noseguard; DuBois and Plank at outside linebacker; Kyser and junior Jacob Greenwood (5-10, 185) at inside linebacker; Hodges at rover; all-district sophomore Eli Floyd (6-1, 155) and D. McClain at cornerback, and Wisdom at free safety.

P. McClain figures to handle the punting.

“Our passing defense will be strong,” McNamee said. “We return all of our linebackers and secondary. Up front we have three new down guys who have never started.”

TIGER NOTES: Salem will again compete in the Sullivan Jamboree, to be held on Aug. 15.

The Tigers will open the season with a home Saturday afternoon game, hosting Kirksville at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 23.

Salem will begin South-Central Association (SCA) action by hosting Houston at 7 p.m. Sept. 5. The Tigers open with three straight home games and plays on their home turf four times in the first five weeks.

Here is the Salem 2014 schedule:
Aug. 23...Kirksville, 1:30 p.m.
Aug. 29...Reeds Springs, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5...Houston, 7 p.m.
Sept. Thayer, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19...Ava, 7 p.m.
Sept. Willow Springs, 7 p.m.
Oct. Mtn. Grove, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10...Mtn. View Liberty, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17...Cabool, 7 p.m.
Oct. 24...1st rd of district (tba)