Some coaches are fortunate to have a state championship caliber team returning back. For Blue Springs head football coach Kelly Donohoe, it seems to happen every 3-4 years.
Such is the case ahead in 2017 for Blue Springs, as the Wildcats return eight starters on offense and six on defense from a team that fell shy in the Missouri Class 6 title game last November.
For Donohoe, the same scenario happened just four years ago, when the Wildcats won the Class 6 title in 2013, then ran the table in 2014 for another state crown.
"We've probably had 5-6 teams in my years that have brought back so much experience," said Donohoe, who has amassed a 165-41 record with four state titles in his tenure at BSHS. "They played as sophomore and took their lumps, but got better as the year went along, then had a great season last year. Obviously this is the year everyone's talked about, and for good reason."
Blue Springs (11-3) returns a slew of talented running backs - perhaps too many if there's such a thing on a team.
Senior Jaylen Ivey (5-foot-10, 205) returns after a promising but roller coaster ride of a junior year with injuries and other items. Ivey finished with 1,125 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, both team highs. But won't return until at least Week 3 after recovering from an ACL injury in the postseason.
Fellow senior Michael Warmack (5-foot-7) also ripped off 933 yards and 13 touchdowns, but also was in and out of service with injuries.
Junior Nick Wood (5-foot-9, 170) returns after a dislocated hip in Week 10 last year. Junior Aveion Bailey (5-foot-11, 200) racked up 135 rushing yards and two scores against Park Hill - but broke his anke.
Mix in Cade Musser, a transfer from St. Joseph Central a year ago, and that brings the total in the backfield to five. Well, then again, there's still Caleb Marquez, who rushed for 301 yards and five scores when needed.
"Our problem is how in the world are we going to keep those guys thinking team and be unselfish," pondered Donohoe. "The big issue is, can our guys keep rallying around each other. We preach they may get eight carries, then 12 carries, then six, then 14 in a game. I've never had that problem before and it's a great problem to have. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out this fall."
Senior Chase Donohoe, Kelly's son, has developed and looks to return after an injury which kept him out of the playoffs last year. In eight games, Chase completed 83 of 143 attempts with 1,173 passing yards and 13 touchdowns.
"I'm excited to have him back after missing Week 8 onwards last year," coach Donohoe recalled. "He's done a nice job and has a real good feel for what we do and has a real nice savvy too."
Chase's top targets with be senior Tre Wheaton (6-foot-1, 180), who snared 462 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. Musser also will play outside at received. Plus with Marquez (6-foot-2, 235) at tight end, who hauled in 323 yards and four touchdowns, there's weapons aplenty with the backfield targets too.
Up front, Daniel Parker Jr. returns, a Mizzou commit and No. 19 in the country at defensive end per RIvals. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior will predominantly play offensively on the line in his third year as a starter.
"He became a very dominant player at the end of last year," Donohoe recounted. "He's leaned up, but is strong physically. He's one of the few guys we'll let play on both sides of the ball. He's so athletic for a lineman - he plays post in basketball. He's very smart and understands the game of football."
Also returning as starters are juniors in tackler Conrad Rowley (6-foot-4, 255) and guard Jack Johnson (6-0, 265).
Joining the trio will be center Jacob Keltner and right guard Taron Still (6-foot-3, 210).
Defensively, senior Khristian Boyd (6-foot-4, 305) anchors the line at nose guard. "He can move and is very powerful. He's very difficult for teams to do much in the A gap."
Senior Steven Chism (5-foot-11, 235) starts at one defensive end, while Parker Jr will see time in packages and situations at the other end. When DPJ isn't in, junior Nikko Manning (5-foot-10, 220) or senior Zach Ellis will log time.
Another season-long injured Wildcat in 2016 returns, as senior inside linebacker Hayden Holloway (6-foot-2, 220) was injured for the year in Week 2.Fellow senior Drake Foreman (6-0, 200) also returns.
On the outside, senior Dustyn Shipman (5-foot-11, 175) and Bailey will start for most of the year. Junior Ethan Zipsie (6-foot-1, 180) also will see time.
Two starters return in the secondary, in senior cornerback Nick Hessefort (6-foot-3, 180) , who "may be the most athletic guy on our team. He's a freakish runner and jumper", and senior safety Azaiah Bello (6-foot-2, 195). Senior safety Ramond Brown (5-foot-10, 165) and senior cornerback Xavier Hall also round out the secondary.
"Ten of our 11 starters will be seniors, and that's probably the first time that's ever happened," Donohoe said. "We return a lot of key returning players that understand football very well."
Blue Springs feels great about its special teams, in two-year kicker, senior Sam Knowlton and punter Josh Dodge.
"We'll put him up against anyone, he has that Ray Guy kind of leg," Donohoe touted.
Even with the talent returning, there are pitfalls ahead that Donohoe and the staff will continue to try to steer the Wildcats to avoid.
"We tell them that talent gets beat by players who want it more," Donohoe stated. "But I thought our guys had a great offseason and we had a record number of summer attendance rate. All signs are positive and if they continue to buy into that it's 'not about me', we're going to be special."