Pirates look to build off last year's success in 2021
The Boonville Pirates football team can’t help but think what if in 2020.
What would had happened had they won games at home against both Southern Boone and California, both of which the Pirates were favored in. Also, what would have happened had the Pirates been in a different district not with the likes of state-ranked Blair Oaks.
The good news is that Boonville got to avenge one of the losses by knocking off the California Pintos in the opening round of the district playoffs. However, in the semifinal round, the Pirates fell at the hands of Blair Oaks like so many teams during the season to closeout the 2020 campaign at 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the Tri-County Conference.
This season with excitement surrounding the entire program from top to bottom, the Pirates are ready to take the next step in Greg Hough’s fourth year at the helm.
“All of our athletes from top to bottom have had a great opportunity to learn and grow not only as athletes but leaders of our school and community over the last three months,” Hough said. “We hope through everything we have done we are prepared for the upcoming season. We hope to have success at all levels on the field. Rather it be Monday Night JV, Tuesday through Thursday or Friday Night Lights, we want to play with great attitude, effort and discipline. We feel if everyone does their job and handles everything we can control, we will earn success in all phases.”
With 60 players suited out for the 2021 season, five of which are returning on the offensive side of the football and five back on defense, Hough said until someone beats Blair Oaks, they are king in the Tri-County Conference. He said they are the defending conference, district and state champions.
“We want to compete at a championship level and know Blair Oaks and others stand in the way,” Hough said. “Coach LePage is one of the best to ever do it. He’s had success throughout his career and is very respected by his peers. They will be fundamental, prepared and explosive in all phases of the game. They return some great talent from last year’s championship.”
After that, Hough said the Boonville and Southern Boone game could have gone either way the last three years. He said 2-3 plays in the Pirates favor and they wouldn’t be sitting 0-3 versus them the past three years. “Could’ve, would’ve and should’ve doesn’t count in football and we must focus on each rep and it’s important versus a good team like Southern Boone.”
As for other teams in the TCC, Hough said Hallsville came in and hit Boonville in the mouth two years ago and that has created a nice rivalry between the two schools. He said Coach Conyers and staff do a great job and their kids compete and will play hard. “We will see them early in the year at jamboree and will finish with them at the end of the season,” Hough said. “I predict both teams will show improvement from the jamboree to Week 9. California and Osage are teams that have experienced some success but are going through coaching changes. Osage has some nice athletes, highlighted by their quarterback. California beat us last year during a three game losing streak that changed our season last year. The playoff game versus California last year is some of the best, most inspired football I have seen the Pirates play. We remember those feelings and the look that was in each other eyes during that game. No love lost between California players and Boonville players and I expect both games with California and Osage led by new head coaches to be very interesting.
“Versailles is going through a coaching change and I haven’t heard much about them. We will see them later in the year so time will tell. Eldon didn’t want to play us last year and they probably won’t want to this year. I hope they make the trip to Boonville this year.”
If you look at last year’s film and watch the Pirates this season, Hough said will once again Boonville will be a spread offense with multiple tempos. While averaging 29, 32 and 33 points a game the last three seasons, Hough said scoring points for average over a season hasn’t been the problem. He said the Pirates must learn to compete and succeed at that level. “Games we’ve lost versus California, Hallsville, Hogan Prep and Southern Boone the last three years we’ve turned the ball over, made too many critical mistakes in situations to win those tame,” Hough said. “We will score points and do it a variety of different ways with different players this year. Like each year before, I look for our points per game average to increase.”
In short, Hough said the offense will take advantage of their abilities versus the defenses weakness. He said if that’s a player scheme, he cannot predict. The goal, he said, is to put the young men in the best situation with the ball in their hand to score points. Run or pass, we don’t care, he said. Boonville touchdown, Boonville wins is the goal.
Boonville junior quarterback Colby Caton has also turned the page from last year. While starting all 10 games as a sophomore, Caton completed 73 of 132 passes for 1,115 yards with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Caton also rushed for 436 yards on 127 carries and six touchdowns while leading the team in scoring with 44 points.
Hough said Caton improved as the season progressed. “Through the ups and downs as a first year starter, Colby’s leadership, work ethic and commitment to his teammates was never hindered,” Caton said. “Colby will give us everything he has and wants to excel.”
Of course Hough has other players waiting in the wings in case of injury to Caton. Back ups at the quarterback position are junior Jackson Johns, sophomore Tyson White and freshman Evan Bishop.
The running back position has also been a position that Boonville has excelled in over the years, going all the way back to the 1987 season when Allen Banks wrecked havoc on teams in the MRVC to Kellen Kempf, Michael Malone, Wes Davis, Brandon Perry and recently Avian Thomas.
This year is no different. Hough may have found a diamond in the rough in senior DaWan Lomax, who played receiver last year. With 220 yards receiving and 213 rushing, Lomax was also the only player for Boonville to be selected at three different positions in the TCC. Hough said the more touches Lomax gets in practice at running back, the better he looks. “Everyone involved in Boonville Pirate Football is excited to see what DaWan can do this year,” Hough said.
Other players that will see playing time at running back this season are senior Travis Dell and sophomores Rhodes Leonard and Xavier Flippin.
At wide receiver, seniors D.J. Wesolak and Jamesian McKee return after earning all-conference honors in 2020. McKee led the team with 16 catches for 290 yards and two touchdowns, while Wesolak finished with 20 catches for 256 yards and two scores. Hough said like Lomax, Wesolak’s and McKee’s have the tools physically and ability to make them very good weapons on the offensive side of the ball. “You will see them all get the ball through a variety of different ways,” Hough said. “When they get it, they have the potential to do something special every time they touch it. Look for Dakota Troost, Luke Green, Jackson Johns, Will Stock, Blake Griffin, Connor Acton and Ethan Watson to see time at wide receiver as well. We feel each one of these guys listed can provide us with something on offense.”
The biggest question mark going into the season for the Boonville Pirates football team is the offensive line. With only one starter returning from last year in senior Peyton Hahn at center, Hough said the Pirates also lost a player they thought would step in that’s been with the program the last couple of years to a move. However, Boonville also picked up a player from Battle High School that has stepped in and not only filled a role as a player but is a solid young man. Hough said he is looking for seniors Cameron Ridgeway, Chandler Stonecipher and Daireus Brady to play big for the Pirates.
“Peyton (Hahn) will anchor the offensive line and in my opinion is one of the best interior line players in the conference,” Hough said. “Peyton is vital to our line’s brotherhood and team success.”
Other players providing depth at O Line U is Drake Cottrell, Jake Pickens, Kennedy Griffy, Gage Hodges and Trent Maxwell. Hough said these are all players who haven’t seen much varsity time but have grown over the year and have taken many successful reps this fall.
“Our line will play hard and last year’s unit and their growth has established a foundation of brotherhood at the O line,” Hough said. “Our kids will work to improve and their growth will be vital for our success. I’m confident they will improve each week and lead our team and help us be successful.”
When the Pirates were good on defense last year, they were really good. Of course Boonville also had some bad losses during the course of the season, both at home, against the Southern Boone Eagles and California Pintos. Boonville would come back to avenge the loss to California in the district playoffs. However, the loss to Southern Boone left many scratching their heads as to how the Pirates could lose to the Eagles for the third year in a row.
We may never know that answer.
The good news is that Boonville once again has plenty of weapons on the defensive side of the ball this season with Wesolak, Hahn, Ellison, McKee, Lomax and Troost.
Wesolak, who is being looked at from about every Division I school in the country including the “Big Boys” such as Alabama, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Clemson, Georgia, North Carolina and Auburn, will return at defensive end for the Pirates. Wesolak finished fourth on the team in tackles last year with 59 along with 19 tackles for loss, eight sacks and one fumble recovery. Ellison will play opposite of Wesolak at the other defensive end position with Hahn sandwiched in the middle at noseguard. Hahn also had a knack for getting to the ball in 2020 while finishing with 44 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, three sacks, one fumble recovery and one blocked punt.
Hough said multiple guys have been getting reps at the fourth defensive line position. “It may be a position by committee and we ask for minimal reps at maximum effort out of 3-4 guys,” Hough said. “We’ll see what happens but our D-line will be respected and will cause some teams issues this year like last.”
At linebacker, which probably has the most change of any position on defense, McKee has moved to outside backer along with seniors Travis Dell and Zane Watring. He said juniors Connor Acton and Ethan Watson have also taken varsity reps at practice and will see action.
While playing cornerback for the Pirates last season, McKee finished with 18 tackles, two tackles for loss and forced one fumble.
Hough said senior Nash Mackenzie, the voice, energy and leader of the defense, will return to inside linebacker after suffering a knee injury in the Osage game, which resulted in ACL repair. Max Eckerle, who was Nash’s replacement last year, is recovering from a shoulder injury/surgery from this spring in baseball. “We hope Max can return by district play,” Hough said. “Even though he can’t suit up, Max has been a great leader for us everyday at practice. Xavier Flippin will get some early action and has been instructed to give it hell. He’s a young guy that will make mistakes but with reps, guidance and leadership from Nash and coaches, I believe he will have a nose for the football. Both inside linebackers are undersized but they will play hard in the box and will be fast sideline to sideline.”
The defensive back position will also see plenty of change this season. Hough said sophomores Dakota Troost and Rhodes Leonard have taken most of the first team reps at corner. He said both are great athletes with good abilities in the pass and run. “Troost has played snaps and guarded some of the best players in Class 3 football last year as a freshman,” Hough said. “We hope with some added size and growth mentally he is prepared for the ups and downs of playing corner versus everyone’s best. I predict he’ll make some nice plays this year and change the tempo of the game. Lomax will play safety and will be one of the fastest, most athletic defensive backs in the league. Like others, he has grown physically and mentally and we hope he can be a physical presence versus the run game. He’ll get his on the back end with his natural ability and ball skills.”
Lomax returns after leading the secondary in tackles last year with 27. He also had one tackle for a loss.
The Pirates will also be in good hands on special teams with all-conference kicker Ross Brackman returning to handle kick offs and PATs. Brackman finished 17 of 22 on PATs in 2020.
Hough said Brackman will also compete for the punting duties along with McKee. “Both are very good high school kickers/punters,” Hough said. “We feel like we will have weapons in the return game. If teams kick it deep, we will look to make a play. How often will that happen, we don’t know.”
Like every coach that starts the season, Hough said the goals are to do everything with great attitude and effort. He said if they perform at a great level in those areas and everyone does their job, they will be successful.
With a season motto of “Be great, on the field, off the field, in the hallways and at home”, the Pirates surely can’t go wrong this season. However, in the season opener Friday night on the road against Pleasant Hill, Hough said he expects Justin Hamilton’s team to come out and play hard and execute their scheme. “It’s been a good game the last two years,” Hough said of Boonville and Pleasant Hill. “They will be in their second season under Hamilton. However, we will worry more about us as opposed to Pleasant Hill over the next week. We will prepare for them with limited film from their jamboree. I see the first couple of weeks dealing with potential heat, which makes quality depth that much more important.”
2021 Boonville Football Schedule
August 27-at Pleasant Hill, 7
Sept. 3-at Holden, 7
Sept. 10-at Southern Boone, 7
Sept. 17-BLAIR OAKS, 7
Sept. 24, at California, 7
Oct. 1, OSAGE, 7
Oct. 8, VERSAILLES, 7
Oct. 15, at Eldon, 7
Oct. 22, HALLSVILLE, 7
Note: Home games in caps.