Don’t expect West Platte’s returning players to accept last year’s results. As a matter of fact, they don’t seem to know a lot about it.
“Last year? I don’t even remember last year,” West Platte senior wide receiver Grant Eagen said.
West Platte went through a 1-9 season in 2016, equal parts struggle on the field and with injuries.
After a season-opening win against Kansas City Central, the Bluejays lost nine straight including all seven KCI Conference games and a Class 1 District 7 opener to Plattsburg. Eagen tore his ACL early in the year, and leading rusher Kyle Tabaka and top offensive lineman Cameron Johnson both missed time due to injuries.
Only two of the losses — vs. North Platte and at Mid-Buchanan — were by two scores or less, but this year’s group already expects to be better and win more games.
“We don’t want to go 1-9 again or whatever it was,” Eagen said. “We’re planning on winning three or four games, maybe even more. There’s a lot more games we should win, and we can be competitive with this team.”
In addition to losing Tabaka and Johnson, Quinn Johnson (TE/LB), Nick Miller (QB/DB), Jonah Vandal (OL/DL) and Alec Carson (WR/DB) were lost to graduation.
Noah Johnson, a starter at linebacker last year, will take over at quarterback and likely run the familiar option offense used under coach Nate Danneman, killed this past April in a tragic car accident. Paul Thomas, a veteran coach with more than 30 years of experience, runs a similar style and plans to build on what Danneman did in his four years.
Thomas and Danneman coached together during Thomas’ stint as head coach at Marshall (2000-2009).
“The coaches and players have had as good of summer as can be expected with adjusting to a new head football coach,” Thomas said. “I am really proud of the way they have handled all the changes. I attribute this to coach Danneman and the kind of coach he was.”
West Platte junior Gavin Davis and senior Brayan Rodriguez return in the backfield after splitting tailback duties behind Tabaka at fullback. The line features seniors Cole Whalen and Dillon Mosier, along with junior Thomas Tharp. Eagen and senior Gavin Raney provide experienced options at wide receiver.
Davis, Raney, Whalen, Eagen and Rodriguez were all two-way starters last year, while senior Dylan Lock could pick up additional duties after playing at defensive enda year ago.
“We’ve got a lot of guys fighting for positions this year, especially on the offensive line,” Eagen said. “It’s going to be a matter of who wants it more.”
West Platte will be starting over in a lot of ways, having won fewer than five games for the only time in Danneman’s four-year tenure. The Bluejays made the playoffs in 2013 and 2015 but were unable to regroup last season in Miller’s lone season at starting quarterback.
Noah Johnson will give West Platte its fourth new starter under center in the past four seasons.
In addition, KC Central is off the schedule with the Bluejays opening at home against Lincoln Prep on Friday, Aug. 18 at new Rudolph Eskridge Stadium in Weston, Mo. The nonconference schedule also includes a trip to Wellington-Napoleon before closing the regular season with seven straight KCI games.
The players also know they will miss Danneman’s presence on the sideline in wake of the still fresh tragedy.
“It’s gonna be tough because coach always brought a lot of energy from the sideline,” Eagen said. “That was always fun to watch. It’s just going to be difficult.”