Overstreet is money for Penney

Todd Nugent/Special to PrepsKC

By Nick McCabe PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: August 27, 2014 - 11:40 AM

Hamilton, Missouri, is a one-stoplight town of 1,800 people about 60 miles northeast of Kansas City near Chillicothe. It is most well known for being the hometown of businessman James Cash Penney, but in recent years Hamilton’s Penney High School, named after the J.C. Penney founder, has been famous for a tremendously successful football program.

The Hornets first of three state titles in a four-year stretch came in 2009. The next year they became the first team in Missouri history to win back-to-back championships despite moving up a class, capturing the Class 2 hardware.

Back in Class 1, Penney again won it all in 2012. Sophomore running back Kellen Overstreet had a breakout performance in the title game, running for 130 yards and racking up 169 receiving yards and four total touchdowns. He finished his second year of varsity football with an impressive 1,070 rushing yards, but that was just a taste of what was to come.

Last year, Overstreet had one of the great running back seasons in state history. He blew past the 1,000-yard mark Oct. 4 and finished with 3,327 rushing yards in 14 games, second-best ever in Missouri*. Add in his receiving and return totals, and he was the first player in the state to eclipse 3,500 all-purpose yards: He finished with 4,118. Overstreet’s 53 rushing touchdowns and 63 scores overall also obliterated the previous state single-season records.

*Holden’s Max Mickey set the state record and won the Fontana Award with 3,382 yards in 2012. So the two best rushing seasons in Missouri high school football history have been posted by area running backs the last two years.

All these numbers add up to one fact: Overstreet had a sensational junior campaign. If you were to assert it was the best overall season ever for a running back in Missouri, the stats would back you up.

“Individually, I thought I did pretty well,” said Overstreet. “But I still really wanted to go to state and try to win the big one. That’s always the main goal.”

Overstreet’s great season was not enough to overcome an uncharacteristically porous Penney defense that allowed 24.5 points per game. The Hornets still made it all the way to the state semifinals but lost to Marceline 42-22.

“We were lousy on defense last year,” said long-time Penney coach Dave Fairchild, living up to his reputation as a blunt truth-teller.

The defense was actually one of several factors in Overstreet putting up such monster numbers, according to Fairchild.

“We were forced to outscore people, and with an offense like ours he was getting a lot of carries,” he said. “We’ve also been a little more balanced in the past, but we had some injuries last year that made us rely a little more on him.”

Following up a record-setting season is always a challenge, but Overstreet is off to a flying start. In Friday’s opener against South Harrison, a team that started the year just outside Class 1’s pre-season top 10, Overstreet ran for a personal best 437 yards. He scored all five touchdowns in the third-ranked Hornets 35-28 win, including a 62-yard score on Penney’s opening offensive snap.

“We did a sweep off the left side and scored on the first play,” Overstreet said. “It was a pretty nice way to get the guys going and get the fans pumped up.”

Overstreet carried the ball 40 times, out of 49 Penney snaps, and accounted for all but nine of the Hornets 446 yards of offense.

“You want to get the ball in your best player’s hands, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Fairchild said.

Perhaps scariest for Penney opponents this year is off-season news that Overstreet had an abdominal injury that limited his preparation going into last season and bothered him throughout the year. He enters this season 100-percent healthy.

“His weight’s down a little bit. He’s in better physical shape than he was last year,” Fairchild said.

Overstreet also genuinely seems unconcerned about trying to replicate his junior year numbers, which may help him do just that. Rather than running against the ghost of last season, he can just relax and focus on helping his team.

“I’m really not even worried about my stats this year,” Overstreet said. “I just want to make it back to state. I’d rather go to state any day than have an amazing year.”

His mind is also free from the stress and anxiety many high-profile senior football players face: recruiting. Overstreet solidified his college decision this summer with a commitment to play at Wyoming for new head coach Craig Bohl.

“In April, I took an unofficial visit up there for their junior day, and they offered me (a scholarship),” Overstreet explained. “I thought and prayed about it for a couple of months and in July I made my decision. I felt like that was the place I needed to be. I think it was a really good decision. It’s been pretty nice to just go out and play football.”

The offense under Bohl is expected to move to a power running game, a perfect fit for Overstreet.

“They like him because he’s got size and speed,” Fairchild said. “They’re more of an I-Formation team now, so he fits their profile of what they’re trying to do.”

“The coaches, with the new staff, they brought a lot of energy and excitement,” Overstreet said. “The offense will be nice to be in since I’ve been running it since I was in junior high.”

With his college decision behind him, Overstreet has been able to focus on his senior season. One week into the season, he has more than 7,800 career all-purpose yards and has a great chance to set the state record in that category. He will likely enter the top 10 in career rushing yards next month and second all-time is about 2,200 yards away, well within reach if last year is any indication. He may care about all that a lot later in life, but he knows now it will never mean as much without a senior year state title. And yet he approaches even his desire for a trophy in a mature way, knowing there is no hardware for the Hornets to win in August.

“It’s our ultimate team goal, but right now we’re just taking it one game at a time and not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” Overstreet said.