Behind Martinez, Tigers hope to keep momentum going in 2014.
After a tough start the Waynesville High School football team finished strong last season, and now the Tigers have their opponents’ full attention heading into the 2014 campaign.
While dealing with flooding issues that cost the team its practice facilities during the preseason, the Tigers lost their first game by a point and their second game by a touchdown on their way to a 0-4 start to 2013.
However, the team made a change at quarterback and went on a 5-3 run to end the campaign, including a four-game winning streak to end the regular season and advance to the district championship game, where it was finally eliminated by Camdenton.
Waynesville finished with a 5-7 overall record, including a 3-6 Ozark Conference mark.
Overall the Tigers have nine offensive and six defensive starters returning.
“We’ve had a great offseason and in the weight room,” said Rick Vernon, entering his 33rd season as Waynesville head coach and 39th overall as a head coach. “In the summer we changed some things around and hopefully all of those things will pan out.”
On the field the Tigers, “aren’t changing anything,” as far as their spread offense. And leading the charge for the Waynesville offense is the player who sparked its turnaround last year - senior QB Varon Martinez (5-9, 160).
After moving Martinez from receiver to QB the Tigers took off last season. And this season he begins the campaign as the team’s signal-caller. Martinez finished with 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing and 910 yards and four TDs passing last year.
“We’ll play to his strengths,” Vernon said of Martinez. “And we have three returning tailbacks capable of doing good things for us and several capable receivers who have improved in the summer. We return four starters on the offensive line and we feel they’re very strong; they have some quickness and size and have been there a full year.”
The Tiger senior tailbacks returning are Jalen Thomas (5-10, 195) (820 yards, five touchdowns rushing last year), Jason Smith (6-0, 215) and Willie Parker (6-0, 205) (455 yards, 4 TDs rushing).
Top receivers back are junior Seth Hedrick (6-2, 175) (685 receiving yards, 5 TDs) and senior Zac Melvin (5-10, 180).
Starting linemen back include seniors Austin Anderson (6-4, 280) at tackle, Darren Garcia (6-0, 285) at guard, Matt Oliphant (5-10, 260) at center and William Finch (6-1, 250) at tackle. Other linemen expected to play key roles are senior Trevor Sexton (6-1, 245) and senior Brandon Bliss (6-3, 250).
Waynesville will again use a 3-5-3 base defense, although last season the Tigers went to more of a four-man front much of the time due to personnel and opponent considerations.
“Our defensive backs will be much better because of experience,” Vernon said. “Our defensive line, we feel, is solid. Breaking in the linebackers is the area we’ve needed to work on and continue to work on.”
Returning starters on defense include seniors Jason Smith and Tony Smith (6-0, 180) and junior Cedric Williams (6-3, 210) at linebacker; senior Chaz Stribling (6-4, 230) and junior Sam Roberts (6-5, 245) at end, and senior Nigel Farmer (5-9, 150) at safety.
Other defensive personnel in the Waynesville rotation are seniors Deion McCathern (6-0, 275) and Zach Leach (6-0, 245) at tackle; senior end James Congdon (6-0, 195); senior Jackson Headt (5-11, 195) and juniors Shane Andrews (6-2, 190) and Jacob Kleinholz (5-10, 205) at linebacker, and senior Kareen Isaac in the secondary.
A former soccer player - Sam Roberts - figures to handle the punting and place-kicking duties.
Waynesville varsity schedule
All Game Times 7 p.m.
Aug. 22 West Plains
Aug. 29 at Lebanon
Sept. 5 Springfield Hillcrest
Sept. 12 at Springfield Parkview
Sept. 19 Rolla
Sept. 26 Joplin
Oct. 3 at Camdenton
Oct. 10 Springfield Glendale
Oct. 17 at Springfield Kickapoo
Oct. 24 1st round of district (tba)