West Platte knows how to make quarterback changes.
Starting with an injury-plagued rotation late in 2014, the Bluejays have made shuffles under center work. That continued last season with Brett Shepardson turning into a workhorse runner after converting to a dual role as star middle linebacker and focal point of the offense.
With Shepardson and tailback Justin Rhodes gone and taking nearly 4,000 yards of total offense with them, West Platte will turn to senior Nick Miller and probably change up the offense all over again.
“I’m not going to say we’re not still going to thunder it at ya,” said sixth-year head coach Nate Danneman, who owns a 37-22 record at West Platte. “We’ll still be able to line the ball up and thunder it at you a little bit, especially with the experienced offensive line, but with Nick’s ability to throw the ball and coordinate the offense like he’s shown this summer, it allows us to do a whole lot more finesse stuff.”
The transitions don’t always come easy, but West Platte continues to find ways to play the best at the end of the season.
The Bluejays went back to the Class 1 playoffs last season for the second time in three seasons. They nearly pulled a monumental upset of Hamilton in the quarterfinals — a near mirror image of a 2013 run — before finishing with a 6-7 overall record.
Shepardson earns a lot of the credit for success.
In addition to making the Missouri media Class 1 all-state second team for a second straight year with a team-high 146 tackles (12 for loss) to go with three sacks, three interceptions, two fumbles forced and one fumble recovered, Shepardson also became the main offensive weapon. He wore No. 52 while finishing the 2014 season at quarterback before making the switch permanent as a senior.
Shepardson finished with 1,769 yards rushing and 26 total touchdowns (four passing), while Rhodes racked up postseason honors after putting up 1,305 yards and 18 yards rushing on the ground. Miller knows not to expect the same type of play calling and approach this year, and the questions he needs to answer seem pretty simple.
“Can you fit the offense? Can you run what coach wants to run?” Miller said. “They usually call plays that are best for you.”
Kyle Tabaka, a senior, added 800 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing but will remain at fullback, leaving sophomore Gavin Davis and junior Brayan Rodriguez as the likely tailbacks. That duo accounted for just 151 yards last season.
The rest of the experience coming back sits on the lines and at wide receiver and defensive back.
Cameron Johnson earned third team all-state honors from the Missouri Football Coaches Association as a defensive end after recording a team-high five sacks. He leads an offensive line that lost all-state performer Dalton Larison plus Michael Devers and Mitch Moppin.
Cole Whalen (junior) and Brett Jameson (senior) will play a bigger part on the lines, while junior wide receiver Grant Eagen (seven catches, three touchdowns) and senior Alec Carson (six catches, 101 yards) provide capable targets for Miller, who will likely be called on to pass more than Shepardson.
Danneman compared Miller to an Alabama University quarterback who waited for three years for one chance to start who will use his smarts to produce.
“We’re trying to fit the offense to what we can do,” Tabaka said.
West Platte opens with Central Academy of Excellence, a Class 3 school that offers the chance for a needed early win along with critical district points. The Bluejays could use the success early with all the new faces on offense, but they’ve shown in the past the ability to develop over the season, even if they struggle in KCI Conference play.
Last year, West Platte went just 2-5 in the KCI before winning three straight in the postseason to earn a second matchup with Hamilton. The game ended with West Platte on the 1-yard line going in for the winning touchdown but unable to run another play before time expired.