When Pat Richard looked at the Oak Grove’s players this summer, he counted the most Panthers out for football since 2014.
That year? The season that Oak Grove won the Missouri Class 3 state football championship.
Oak Grove returns nine starters each on offense and defense from its 6-2 team last season, and primed for another strong year.
“It was a good year last year for everyone to get a lot of good experience and a winning season, and we feel we can build upon that,” stated Richard, who guided OG to the state crown in 2014.
Among the starters is senior quarterback Hunter Jones, who will be a four-year starter in 2021. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound senior looks to improve upon his season of 437 passing yards and three touchdowns a year ago.
“His biggest gain this year is his strength,” Richard said. “Four years ago, he looked more like a string bean than a quarterback. But he’s strong now and that’s helped him throwing the ball. We can call whatever we need to and he’ll get it in the right place.”
Protecting Jones will be a line of four returning starters, with second-team Class 3 all-state selection Zander Brinegar (5-foot-8, 210) back at tackle. Fellow four-year starter Garrett Hudspeth (5-foot-8, 220) will snap at center, while junior tackle Caleb Groff (6-foot-2, 280) comes back as a force, including finishing second in state wrestling in the heavyweight division. Junior Matthew Brown (6-0, 240) returns at guard while sophomore Will Jennings (5-foot-11, 225) will join the front at tackle.
“The strength these guys have gained in the offseason has been phenomenal,” touted Richard.
If bringing back four linemen wasn’t enough, the Panthers bring back five senior running backs from 2020.
A trio return who each missed time due to injuries in 2020 - Clynton Stewart (6-0, 185) notched 444 yards and three touchdowns, while Adrian Whitehead (5-foot-11, 175) also added 176 yards and five scores. Brendan Griffin (5-foot-10, 165) logged 377 yards and seven scores.
Carson Smith (6-0, 165) added 360 yards and three TDs, and Jamison Kirk (6-foot-1, 180) notched 36 totes for 140 yards and a score.
“With that kind of depth, we can roll out a lot of guys, and keep them fresh on defense,” stated Richard.
On the outside, speedy senior Haiden Armstrong (5-foot-10, 160) will join converted tight end Kaden Weir (6-foot-, 206) at receiver. Andrew Hensley (5-foot-7, 155) elected to come out for football his senior campaign and could snag a few balls as well.
Senior Jacob Shoemaker (6-0, 260) and Aaron Hensley (5-foot-11, 200) come back at tight end.
Defensively, Brinegar, Brown and Groff will line up in the trenches, while Weir also will play at defensive end. Senior Landon Chance, who plays basketball for Oak Grove, also has come out to play at end.
“Landon will add a lot to us, as we bring back all those defensive linemen, and now we add someone as athletic as Chance – that’s a pretty good start,” thought Richard.
Two four-year starters return at linebacker in Stewart and Whitehead, while Smith, Griffin and Kirk all have played in the unit since their freshmen campaigns.
“We have some depth there, and a great sophomore and freshman class so we will be deep at linebacker,” hyped Richard.
Armstrong joins junior Holland Graves at cornerback, as well as junior Colby Alvis at corner.
Smith and Kirk will split time at linebacker and safety, while junior Riley Eddington (6-foot-2, 145) and sophomore Jordan Hall (5-foot-9, 150) also will patrol at safety.
Freshman Diego Perez will come in as kicker, “one of the best young kickers, if not the best, I’ve ever had,” Richard stated
Armstrong and Smith will return kicks and punts. “They are both lightning bolts, and it’s good to have dangerous return guys back there.”