Kearney head football coach Greg Jones prefers to keep things simple when discussing his goals and expectations for the Bulldogs at the beginning of each football season.
As is the case for most football programs that are used to moving on once the regular season has come to a close, Jones expects his teams to participate in the postseason mix.
“Making the playoffs,” Jones replied without hesitation when asked what would have to happen for him to consider the 2009 season a success. “We want to play in game 11. Once you make it in (the playoffs) anything can happen. Last season we didn’t finish the task, so we want to get there again and make another run.”
The task Jones was referring to was winning the 2008 Class 4 state football title. The Bulldogs nearly qualified for the state’s championship game at St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome in Missouri’s third-largest classification.
Webb City defensive back Boo Rodgers blocked Matt Slenker’s field goal attempt with 20 seconds remaining in the first half to swing the momentum back in his team’s favor, allowing the Cardinals to rally from a 7-0 halftime deficit for a 14-7 triumph on their way to last season’s state title.
Slenker also had a field goal blocked by Rodgers in the second half.
“Little things make a big difference in big games,” Jones said in reference to Kearney’s second straight season-ending loss to an eventual state champion. “When we got into the red zone, we didn’t score. Had we made that first field goal and gone up 10-0 at halftime – that would have been huge. It was just one of those games.”
With a strong nucleus of players returning from last season’s late season run, Jones has his eyes set on returning the Bulldogs to the premier level of Kearney’s state championship teams of 2002 and 2003.
Following those two seasons, Kearney compiled a 17-13 mark collectively from 2004-2006, but failed to qualify for the postseason. Then in 2007, the Bulldogs dropped a 35-7 decision to eventual Class 4 champion Lee’s Summit West in the Class 4 quarterfinals.
Plenty of talent returns up front for Jones’ flexbone offense in 2009. Associated Press first team all-state selection Dillon Starzl, a senior, anchors an offensive line that Jones calls one of the strengths of the team.
Also back up front is junior honorable mention all-conference selection Greg Harris. Junior Caleb Benner and seniors Jacob Beckett, Cody Kolb, Jordan Cavage and Dillon Leach are also in the running to earn starting roles on the Bulldog O-line.
Back to catch balls from quarterbacks Shane Hartzler and Stephen Juergens are senior wide receivers Tyler Funk (28 catches, 493 yards) and Taylor Woolf (21 catches, 361 yards), who earned first team all-conference honors a year ago.
Hartzler and Juergens will battle for the right to replace 1,900-yard passer Conrad Schottel, who completed his eligibility a year ago.
Senior running back Ashton Hiatt, an honorable mention all-conference selection from last season, will step in as the favorite to get plenty of carries this season after running the ball 49 times for 389 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.
Aaron Henrichs, Dillon Brink and Anthony Knese, all seniors, will get plenty of carries as well after combining for 241 yards and nine scores on 50 carries in 2008.
Back up front on the stop side of the ball is senior first team all-state honoree Joe Windsor, who was also tabbed as a first team all-conference and first team all-district selection.
Joining Windsor as starters on the D-line are senior second team all-conference lineman Jacob Beckett and senior Cody Kolb.
Jones, who is 29-7 in three seasons at Kearney, will put a linebacking unit on the field that consists of first team all-conference selection Juergens and fellow senior Jacob Squires. Junior Colton Michael will fill in as the third linebacker on Kearney’s 3-3 defense.
Hartzler and senior R.J. Traverson return as Jones’ safeties, while Funk, senior Trent Ballenger and junior Damen Williams are listed as cornerbacks for the upcoming season.
Former Orrick defensive end/tight end Matt Odell is transferring in from the two-time Class 1 state champion Bearcats for his senior season.
As his opposition has come to expect, Jones said he would put an aggressive team on the field again this season.
“We are going to make mistakes this season,” Jones said. “That’s a known fact. But we are going to make them going 100 miles per hour. We like to blitz a lot, and sometimes you get burned doing that. But that’s the way we play the game.”