Big and small take the field

Stephen Bubalo/PrepsKC

By Stephen Bubalo PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: August 21, 2015 - 7:58 PM

The champs are back and they look like they’re ready to roll.

Oak Grove, the defending Class 3 state champs, hosted a Jamboree with Warrensburg, Marshall and Lafayette County and looked like a well-oiled machine, scoring at will in each scrimmage.

"We looked smooth,” Panthers’ head coach Pat Richard said. "We did a great job. We usually play this like a practice but tonight I challenged the guys. They needed a game. They needed to get after it. That’s what I wanted out of it. And I was proud of the freshmen. They scored a couple of times.”

The Panthers bring back five starters on each side of the ball and have some holes to fill, with the biggest being former standout running back Aaron Graham.

But there is still some experience in the backfield with Landon Cairer and Kenton Wilhoit set to be the feature backs in the three-back scheme. Both players had some nice runs throughout the night, including on the team’s first offensive possession.

"It’s helps big time,” Richard said of having that experience in the backfield. "Plus we have three offensive linemen back. They all looked fantastic.”

While the Panthers have been no stranger to success the last several years, coming off a state title will provide a new challenge that Richard knows his team is ready to accept.

"We’ve been on a nice run for four or five years now but the target got bigger this year. People are gunning for us,” he said. "That’s good. It gets us ready for the playoffs. The kids have a great mindset.”

Warrensburg is coming off a 3-7 campaign but head coach Scott Grinde feels good about his squad coming into the season.

"I’ve been telling the kids and anyone who asks, we’re a year older but we’re also a year better,” Grinde said.

Friday night was all about one thing for Grinde.

"I was pleased with the effort. They played hard. That’s all I ask,” he said. "All I want to see is great effort. We don’t scout these teams, there’s no game plan. … We found out some answers about a couple of guys. You want to see who will come out here and play hard."

Grinde hopes experience will translate to wins and a shot at a West Central Conference title in 2015, as they open the season against Excelsior Springs next Friday night.

Lafayette County is coming off another successful season, as they reached the 11-win mark for the fourth straight year.

While Grinde and his Tigers have experience, Huskers head coach Steve Cook saw a lot of fresh faces on the field Friday night.

"We played a ton of kids,” Cook said. "We executed our schemes. We have a lot of young kids in big roles, and tonight was their first taste of varsity action.

"We just want to see our guys against a different opponent. They were just hustling and flying around. It was just elementary stuff we wanted to see out here.”

The Huskers open the season next Friday night at Concordia.

A separate Jamboree took place earlier in the evening with Wellington-Napoleon taking the field.

After having winning seasons of 12, 12 and 11 from 2010-2012, the Tigers have combined for just 12 wins the last two seasons, although head coach Quenton Bainbridge hopes those days are behind the program.

"We’re pretty set,” he said. "We were young the last two years. We’re strong now. We have a lot of experience. We’re set in our positions, so now we’re making sure we have some depth.”

Bainbridge was especially glad to see his team score three times against fellow conference foe Crest Ridge in the first scrimmage of the night, as the teams spread offense works on its running game.

"We’re trying to develop more of a run game. We’re tightening up our spread, going with more wings and backs,” he said. "Our offense has looked to the quarterback as the first run option in recent years, but the last two years they’ve gotten concussions the last game of the year. The guys around him have done awesome so far.”

The Tigers will begin the season next Friday night at Lone Jack.