"The conference is wide open. Any team can win it this year. I think it's going to be much tighter than it has been in the past."
That's the politically correct quote you get from almost every high school football coach around this time. I think most say it for two reasons. One is to make their own team look better. If the conference is supposed to be wide open, any blowout win over a conference adversary looks more impressive to the common fan.
A second reason is to keep off the other team's bulletin board. Opposing camps don't like hearing or seeing a coach pat himself or his team on the back too much. It makes for good motivation come game time. This year, I think every coach is using those textbook lines for a different reason. They actually believe it. And I actually believe them when they say it.
The SEMO North Conference is a perfect example. No longer is it a two-team race between Jackson and Poplar Bluff. Cape Central and Sikeston enter the fray with teams capable of sweeping the division.
In fact, I think Cape Central will be the best team in the area. Three years ago, Lawrence Brookins was the laughing stock of local football. But after putting out back-to-back playoff teams, he's the one laughing now as his program is ready to take it to the next level.
All-state tackle Chris Smith, lineman Justin Wells and running back Marcus Klund are gone, but everybody else returns. Monroe Hicks, Jeremiah Dukes, Seth Hudson, Adrian Wren, Chris Conrad, Mitch Craft, Darren Neels.
Offense, defense and special teams. The Tigers are loaded. If anybody is going to keep Cape away from the conference title, it's going to be Sikeston. The Bulldogs lose eight guys off the offensive and defensive lines -- 1,945 pounds in all. But they will more than make up for it in the skill department.
With Lavar Morgan at tailback, Sikeston has big-play potential on offense. And with linebackers Jacob Priday, Nathan Eaves and Blake DeWitt, and defensive backs Michael Colon and Tori Rose, the Bulldogs might have the top defense in the area.
Of course Jackson is always a threat. The Indians lost their entire secondary, all four linebackers, both tight ends and all of its backfield, including all-everything tailback Mario Whitney. But you know the Indians will play fundamentally-sound football. Jackson may have somewhat of a need for speed, but they won't be embarrassed in any game, regardless of the opponent. With linemen Justin Rollet, Colby Lohman, Matt McComas, Chris Peart and Tyler McNeely all returning, the Indians could repeat as conference champs, provided they can find a Super Mario replacement.
Then you've got Poplar Bluff. New coach, whole new team. It looks like a rebuilding year, but that's usually when the Mules start exceeding expectations. They've got a stable of good, young athletes and a proven system now run by former offensive coordinator Mike Dormady. Winning the conference is a stretch, but not out of the question.