Metea Valley is coming off a transition year.
The Mustangs, though, believe they are now ready for a winning one.
Last spring, coach Ben Kleinhans wasn’t hired until April, so it gave the program very little time to learn his system. This fall, with several starters returning on offense, the Mustangs are optimistic they can improve on last year’s 2-7 mark.
“Last year, our motto was you’re never out of the fight, so keep fighting,” senior quarterback Blaise Bell said. “This year we’re trying to win. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”
At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Bell brings size, athleticism and leadership onto the field. He’s also got a couple of standout returnees at wide receivers in junior Nick Dodson and senior Peyton Mitchell.
“On offense we’ve got probably five to seven returners and we started three sophomores (Dodson, Brett Boddy, Matt Fitzgerald) last year on offense,” Kleinhans said. “With having Blaise back and Peyton Mitchell, a three-year starter, along with some running backs who saw time last year, we’re feeling pretty confident.”
Jay Parker and Christian Wilcox are expected to split time at running back as they try to fill the void left by Christian’s brother, Cameron, moving on to Northwest Missouri State. The elder Wilcox rushed for 1,280 yards and 15 TDs in 2012.
“We’re so talented this year so if we can fulfill our talent, we’ll be in good shape,” Bell said. “I think we’re going to be totally different as far as confidence goes and being comfortable under this system.”
Since the program at Metea Valley is still in its infancy, the Mustangs will likely count on Fitzgerald, Mitchell, Parker and Wilcox on offense and defense.
“On any given Friday night, three to five guys are going to be getting reps on both sides of the balls,” Kleinhans said. “But we’ve been practicing a lot of guys just to prepare a backup if something happens. We want to have our best 22 always available.”
Defensively, Kleinhans noted the lineup will be senior-heavy, but inexperienced.
“We’ve got a couple guys returning so we’ll be young on defense,” he said. “So we’re going to lean on the offense a bit. But we’re happy with where the defense is right now and it’ll continue to get better.”
Last year, the Mustangs had games where the two teams combined for 91 and 109 points. Perhaps some high-scoring affairs lie ahead this fall.
“We just hope to win games — if we have to score 35 to win or if we have to score 14,” Kleinhans said. We want to be solid on both sides.”
Matching up with the bigger teams iin the Upstate Eight Valley has plagued the Mustangs in their brief history.
“Playing the big three (Bartlett, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley), that’s big linemen and smashing,” Kleinhans said. “We just couldn’t match up with that last year. We feel we have the linemen and depth to hopefully go toe-to-toe a little bit more and not get so wore down in the trenches.”