SEASON PREVIEW: Versailles football hopeful for full season with crop of newcomers
There is plenty for any new head coach to focus on the first season in charge of their program.
Versailles coach Kirk Hannah was not planning on a pandemic being one of them so the opportunity to play a full season itself would be a success in 2020.
“God forbid, but if somebody comes in and tells us we have to quit playing for the season I told my wife the other day I will shed tears,” said Hannah who replaced Broc Silvers after serving as the special teams coordinator when he joined the Tigers last season. “These kids have been so enjoyable. Bringing in some new ideas, new philosophies, new this and new that, trying different things, they have just bought in and have been so awesome and worked hard.
“For us, I think just going out and competing every week and putting forth the best effort we can,” he added to his idea of a successful season. “If it is good enough, we’ll be on the plus side and if it is not, we can at least say we gave everything we had and it was just not good enough that day if someone is better than us.”
Well, putting forth the best effort is not a message Hannah or his staff feel will be difficult to emphasize with COVID-19 and the potential for a cancelled season still present. That especially rings true for a squad that returns just four offensive and defensive starters after the departure of a large senior class. The good news is that another big batch of upperclassmen are eager to fill those shoes.
The Tigers finished 3-8 in 2019, losing to a talented Fair Grove team in the district semifinals.
“We have a lot of juniors and seniors that get to play and it looks like we have a lot playing. The thing is, they did not get a lot of snaps last year because we had 13 or 14 seniors and they carried a big part of the load,” Hannah remarked. “Some of these kids did get to play, but a lot didn’t and they are just hungry to go play. The kids know that at any point someone could come in and say we are not playing anymore so they are going us everything they have every day because they know it could be their last and it is a fact… It is easy to get them going because they love it and want to play.”
Offensively, Versailles will look to utilize the spread option and emphasize the running game as they seek to control the clock. The team will need some newcomers to step up if they are to improve upon the average of 340.9 yards and 30 points per game the squad put up in 2019.
The Tigers do have two returning seniors on the offensive line that will be counted upon to lead the effort in Mason Hibdon and Nathan Palmorez. Should Versailles need to go to the air, two returning wide receivers in senior Michael Bell and junior Kannen Wilson could be reliable targets. Bell finished with the third most catches in 2019 with 20 that went for 286 yards and a touchdown.
Junior Adam Radcliff will be the new signal caller at quarterback, replacing an athletic Coby Williams who broke quite a few school records before his career wrapped up. In limited action a season ago, Radcliff completed four of his six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Look for senior Max Coleman and junior Cole Wilson to split some time at running back and sophomores Theo Stevenson and Gavin Brantley to shore up the offensive line.
On the defensive side, Versailles will line up in a 4-3 formation and Hannah is looking for an aggressive mindset for this unit to shore up on the 430.9 yards and 42.8 points per outing the defense gave up in 2019.
The experience in this defense will come from the front seven with Hibdon, Palmorez and junior Gabe Lehman on the defensive line and Radcliff at linebacker. Bell, who also plays defensive back, is the team’s leading returning tackler with 32 in 2019 and he also intercepted two passes and forced and recovered a fumble. Sophomore defensive lineman Michael Masters, senior linebacker Tres Powers and junior defensive back Kole Viebrock will also be key figures for the defense this season.
Knob Noster (8-3 in 2019) is a familiar foe for Versailles in the season opener and the Tigers will open up on the road Friday night at 7 p.m. Hannah said special teams would be a key focus this week, remembering how the Tigers fumbled the opening kickoff of the season last year en route to a 50-20 defeat. The coach also said on top of the opportunity to play, the results of recent outcomes with the Panthers should be additional motivation.
“We are still a young team and we have work to do,” he pointed out. “I think Knob Noster has owned us the past couple of years so it is not going to be a hard motivation. I can put the scores from the last two years up there and it is not very good so don’t think we have the world solved. We have to go in there, get ready for this week and get going.
“I never predict, but I know we are going to go compete next week and give every ounce we have.”