New look, same traditions as Camdenton prepares for 2017

Some changes have taken place at Camdenton.

There is new turf, a new scoreboard, new helmet designs and new jerseys. However, there will be plenty of familiar faces on the field eager to carry on the traditions that have made the program successful year in and year out.

In order to do so, it helps to have some experience and that is exactly what the Lakers will bring to the table after finishing 6-4 a season ago. Overall, Camdenton will be returning 25 total lettermen and 15 starters including six on offense and nine on defense. Their experience could prove vital to whether the Lakers will have many successful Friday nights.

“We have a large number of seniors and anytime you have a large number of seniors that have played a lot of ball, it is just a maturity factor,” Camdenton coach Jeff Shore stated. “The difference between a sophomore and senior sometimes as far as the maturity factor and growth is pretty drastic so having a bunch of seniors like that really helps you and we have a really nice mix of juniors and sophomores to spread around there too.

“We have some guys in there that will help contribute this year and just keep rolling throughout,” Shore added.

According to the Laker head man, the summer has been productive with players grasping their roles and responsibilities and the players certainly did not mind being fed after every Tuesday night practice over the past couple of months.

“We had Tuesday night football every night this summer and two weeks of camp with really good attendance,” Shore noted. “It was a really good summer and we broke it up enough that you felt like you had a summer, but at the same time we got some good work in. With only 17 days to prepare before your first game, it is critical that you get some stuff done.”

The “Purple Haze” defense will be the most experienced unit and will look to cut down on the 28.3 points per game the Lakers gave up a season ago. The good news is that there will be multiple returning starters at every level anxious to wreak havoc in the Robber style defense.

The secondary will be headlined by junior Gabe Kurtz who had a nose for the ball in 2016 with 42 tackles and an interception. Joining him will be senior safety Jake Hill (nine tackles) and fellow senior defensive back Jay Griffin (16 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and two forced fumbles).

The linebacking unit will feature three hard-hitters led by the team’s leading returning tackler and 2nd Team All Conference linebacker in senior Todd Simpson (59 total tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble). Senior Jackson Ezard (29 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception) and junior Luke Rasmussen (23 total tackles, one tackle for a loss and one interception) will look to make some noise as well.

In the trenches to hunt down ball carriers in the backfield will be senior defensive end Bo Shore (25 total tackles, two tackles for a loss and two sacks) and senior Grant Norton (eight total tackles, one tackle for a loss and 1.5 sacks). Last but not least, senior athlete Seth Harris will also look to do some damage and build upon his 42 total tackles, three tackles for a loss, three sacks and two interceptions.

“Defensively I think our team speed will hopefully show up. This is one of our real strengths so I am hoping to utilize that speed and the combination of skill guys to make us quick to fly around to the football,” Shore noted.

The offensive returners look to be pretty quick on their feet as well and feature some players that will not take long to find the end zone if they see daylight in Camdenton’s traditional Power-I formation offense that averaged 36.3 points per contest.

On the ground are a duo of punishing runners in First Team All-Conference senior running back Jay Griffin (1,372 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns and 41 receiving yards) and Simpson at fullback who dashed for 421 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns and 36 receiving yards.

Through the air, Camdenton will have its leading returning receiver back in senior wide receiver Jake Hill (210 receiving yards, one touchdown reception, and 57 rushing yards) and another player to watch for is the towering 6-foot-8 Norton who will pose a big receiving threat at tight end for senior quarterback Isaiah Lumley who saw some action in 2016 (333 yards and four touchdowns) and will be taking over as the starting signal caller.

“I think we probably have more speed than we’ve had in several years as far as the number of guys that can run,” Shore remarked. “We have a lot of different guys that can contribute and carry the ball, which should help us out and spread the wealth a little bit and make it harder for other teams to stop us.

“There is no better guy to run behind than Grant and he is a good threat to catch the ball with his height and size advantage. He also runs well so it is a nice dual combination,” the coach added.

Among the “Hogs” on the offensive line will be two veterans in seniors Josh Semau and Harrison Brownell who helped the offense run like a fine-tuned machine that saw the Lakers put up more than 2,200 rushing yards and 30 rushing touchdowns to go with 1,300 passing yards and 17 touchdown receptions respectively. However, Shore noted that this year’s offense still has quite a bit of work to get done, including the offensive line, to be ready for week one.

“We have the guys, but we have a little inexperience there so that is just going to come with work over these next few weeks and getting them going so I feel real positive about it,” Shore said of his offensive line. “It is not for a lack of guys who can play, but for lack of experience so we have to get that experience quick and get them ready to go.”

Overall, Shore said it is hard to not be excited about what 2017 can offer. For starters, the Lakers will play three of their first four games at home with the lone road game being at Lebanon. The home opener will feature the honoring of the 1977 team (first state title game) and 1987 team (first state championship). Last but not least, among all the new looks will be a sticker on the helmet to honor longtime Camdenton coach Carl Hunter who recently passed away earlier this year.

“There are a lot of traditions out there and these kids were born in 1999 when we won a state championship so they’ve grown up with Laker football and some of their dads played here,” Shore said.

“I know those are all external things and they don’t win ballgames for you,” Shore said of all the changes taking place this season, “But it sure creates some excitement and hopefully we can play up to that excitement.”

As with any season, the coach said staying healthy will be of the utmost importance. However, the one thing that can be controlled is desire and Camdenton should have plenty of it after bowing out in district play by a single point to Ozark Conference foe West Plains last season.

“We are hungry. We did not like the way it ended and I felt like we got the raw end of the stick on it,” Shore said of the season-ending loss. “We would really like to come out and prove that we can be better.”

Camdenton will soon have a chance to begin doing so when the Lakes open up at home against Hillcrest on August 18 at 7 p.m.