And the Waynesville Tigers thought the playoffs ended when they raised that state championship trophy last November.
To be sure, tonight’s 2008 season-opener for the Waynesville High School football squad is going to have a post-season feel to it. The defending Missouri Class 5 state champions will host a Class 4 state power in Jefferson City Helias to begin the new campaign.
Kickoff at Slaughter Field is slated for 7 p.m.
Waynesville is coming off a 12-1 season during which it captured its first-ever state title. The Helias Crusaders finished the 2007 regular season 10-0 and then fell to eventual Class 4 state champion Lees Summit West 20-0 in sectionals.
“Just mention Helias…every sport they have a solid program,” said Rick Vernon, entering his 27th season as WHS head coach. “And it’s been that way for many, many years.
“They had a great season last year. They lost some good kids but have some very good skill people back. They’re probably bigger than they were last year. I think they’re 6-6, 6-6, 6-5 and 6-5 on the offensive and defensive line.”
One of the returners for the Helias Crusaders is all-state running back Brad Lorang (6-0, 201). Lorang rushed for 1,042 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 21 passes for 334 yards and four more scores in 2007.
Also back for the Crusaders is senior quarterback Jay Shimmens (6-1, 191). Shimmens hit on 81-of-142 passes for 1,270 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions a year ago. He was also the team’s second-leading rusher with 673 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Shimmens is also the team’s punter.
Helias averaged 275 yards on the ground, 115 yard through the air and 33 points per game last season.
Vernon is correct about the Crusaders’ size…they are big. The offensive line includes center Joey Kramer (6-6, 260); Brent Wildhaber (6-5, 199) and Christian Baker (6-2, 232) at guard, and Stephen Backes (6-6, 265) and Aaron Carter (6-3, 268) at tackle.
“They run a lot out of the shotgun,” Vernon said. “Shot with one back, shot with two backs. They like to run the speed option and have a really good passer.”
On defense Helias’ 4-3 formation includes Austin Bernskoetter (6-3, 210), Wildhaber, Carter and Baker on the front line. The Crusaders leading tackler returning is senior linebacker Cody Scheuler (5-9, 172) with 48 while Lorang, a safety, had 47 tackles and three interceptions.
Much of the offensive and defensive numbers from the Tigers’ outstanding 2007 have graduated. However, the cupboard is far from bare for WHS.
Senior B.J. Ray will be utilized all over the field by WHS offensive coordinator Brian Vernon. Ray can play at wide receiver, slot back, running back, quarterback and as a return man. He caught 27 passes last season and scored eight touchdowns on either receptions or returns. On defense Ray, a free safety, was an all-state selection and named as the Missouri Football Coaches Association’s Class 5 Defensive Player of the Year.
Del’Von Franklin, a 230-pound senior, will try to carry the tradition of all-state WHS running backs. Franklin takes the spot vacated by two-time all-stater L.J. Fort, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last year.
Replacing all-state Lyle Cox at quarterback for WHS is junior Kevin Vereen, who has displayed a strong arm and elusiveness at the position.
“We’ve added a lot of new things,” Rick Vernon said. “We’re excited about the things we’ve added and the kids have worked hard. We feel we’re as ready as anybody else.”
The Tigers will be the target of every regular-season opponent, as everyone will be working to knock off the state champs.
“All those things are true going in,” Vernon said. “Those are things coaches use to get their players motivated. But as soon as it’s kicked off…all that stuff is forgotten. Then the players just play football.”
And on Slaughter Field tonight it will be championship-style football.