The flashy parts of Park Hill’s offense return, but improving in the Class 6 postseason will likely come down to development at less-heralded positions.
After a series of successful runs in Class 5, the Trojans moved up in conference play and postseason assignment in 2016. They ended up going 6-4 overall before losing in overtime to Rockhurst in the first round of an extremely competitive eight-team District 4 field.
A large senior class that contributed to a lot of success included three-time all-state defensive end/linebacker Chester Graves, three-time all-state kicker Parker Sampson and two-time all-state linebacker Seven Wilson.
“Being moved into a new division last season, Park Hill was faced with a lot of unknowns but was still able to gain valuable experience,” Park Hill coach Josh Hood said. “Last year was our first year transitioning to the Class 6 level. Our senior class had some nice pieces individually, but we learned a lot last year about how to compete every day and create the depth necessary to win in our league.”
Park Hill overcame some early season injuries in 2016, and after alternating wins and losses for the first seven weeks, the Trojans entered the postseason on a three-game winning streak.
The offense put up 24 or more points in eight games behind returning senior quarterback Billy Maples (178 for 259, 2,148 yards and 21 touchdowns). His 68.7 percent completion percentage — and just five interceptions — came while throwing to targets that included just one senior.
Quinton Harris led Park Hill in receptions, yards and touchdowns a year ago, but the return of seniors Ronnie Bell (53 catches, 639 yards, six touchdowns) and DJ Johnson (41 catches, 408 yards, six touchdowns plus 412 rushing yards) and junior Joe Webb (24 catches, 193 yards) gives Maples a trio of experienced pass catchers. In addition, running back Dorian Clayton, a senior, led the Trojans in rushing with 1,029 yards and six touchdowns as a junior despite missing the first four games with a jaw injury.
Clayton has accounted for nearly 2,000 yards rushing in his first two seasons for Park Hill, which also brings back senior offensive linemen Brett Hooten and Delon Morrow plus junior Cory Reiter. The development of that unit could pay huge dividends for a potentially high-powered offense.
“Our size perhaps did not match up to some of our adversaries,” Hood said. “However, we learned to utilize our speed and athleticism to our advantage on offense and in the special teams, but our dynamic playmakers continued to develop.”
The defense carries more question marks with just two of the top 10 tacklers from a year ago back.
Graves and Wilson combined to make more than 250 tackles — 51 for a loss. Jarrett Ross, a senior, was the third linebacker in tackles with 92. Devin Haney, a third-year starter at cornerback, goes into his senior year after leading the Trojans with five interceptions.
Hood expects DJ Johnson and junior Kolby Heinerikson to fill out the defensive secondary while senior Jeremiah Gibbs and junior Haden Wallace will take on a bigger role with the linebackers. Johnny Wilson, a sophomore, and senior Randen Plattner both received starting time on the defensive line a year ago.
“We are learning every day what it means to do business at a championship level,” Hood said. “If this senior group can make the daily commitment to being great, the sky will be the limit for this team.”