Helias striving to achieve ultimate goal (with PODCAST)

Helias quarterback Wyatt Porter throws a pass during a preseason scrimmage at Helias Field. Porter, a senior, is returning for his second season as the Crusaders’ starting quarterback.

Helias quarterback Wyatt Porter throws a pass during a preseason scrimmage at Helias Field. Porter, a senior, is returning for his second season as the Crusaders’ starting quarterback. Photo by News Tribune.

Audio clip

Helias Football Podcast

The numbers tell the story.

The Helias Crusaders have been to the football state championship game five times in the past 15 seasons, including three of the last five. Last year’s loss to Webb City in the Class 4 title game was the sixth straight season Helias has had its season ended by the eventual state champion.

Those are signs of a good program, a very good program.

But that’s not what the Crusaders are striving for.

“I think it’s recognized around the state Helias is a good program,” Helias coach Phil Pitts said. “But we want to take that next step, the step to being a great program. And for that to happen, we have to win a state championship and seal the deal.

“We’ve been to the state championship game, we know what it takes to get there. We just need to take that next step and win one because we want to be great.”

The pieces appear to be in place for the Crusaders, who return eight starters on offense and nine on defense, to make another run to the Edward Jones Dome in late November.

But that’s potentially months away. Pitts said the Crusaders are taking the 2013 season one game at a time, starting with Friday night’s season-opener against Harrisonville at Adkins Stadium.

“We’re not afforded the opportunity to look ahead,” he said “Our schedule makes us remain focused on each and every opponent. Any possible trip back to the state title game is nowhere near being on our minds right now. We’re not talking about going back to St. Louis or playing someone like Webb City. We’re worried about Harrisonville in our opener and we’ll take it from there.”

III

ON THE OFFENSIVE side, senior Wyatt Porter returns for a second season as Helias’ starting quarterback.

It was an outstanding junior season for Porter, who set multiple regular-season school passing records on his way to earning all-state honors by the Missouri High School Football Coaches Association.

“I don’t like the term ‘gamer,’ but when the lights come on, Wyatt’s ready to play,” Pitts said.

Having a veteran quarterback is a definite plus for the Crusaders’ spread offense and will allow the team to run a more complex attack this season.

“He knows the offense,” Pitts said. “He knows every answer. When he made a mistake last year, sometimes he had to ask why it was a mistake. This year, he knows why. He knows what everybody else is doing.”

And after a successful 2012 season, when the Crusaders averaged nearly 30 points per game, Porter has confidence heading into this year.

“If he made a bad throw last year, sometimes he may have doubted himself,” Pitts said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen this year. He’s good, we know he’s good, he’s just going to go back out there on the next series.”

Alex Faddoul, a sophomore, will back up Porter.

“He’s going to get a great year of learning by watching Wyatt and playing on the junior varsity,” Pitts said. “There would be years Alex would be the varsity starter right now.”

It was a case of “who’s next” at running back last season for Helias. Starting with summer camp, several running backs were felled by injuries.

Finally, out of desperation, Helias turned to junior varsity quarterback Garrett Buschjost to fill the spot late in the season. Buschjost took the ball and literally ran with it, finishing with 863 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground on his way to earning all-district honors.

“It’s probably our fault for not getting Garrett in there sooner and playing the wrong position,” Pitts said. “He’s a special running back.”

Buschjost averaged nearly six yards a carry last season.

“Garrett’s the type of running back who can run the ball 20-25 times per game and run it hard 20-25 times per game,” Pitts said. “He’s not a burner, but he’s going to do things right and we’re lucky to have him.”

Brock Gerstner, slated to be Helias’ starter last year before being injured in preseason camp and missing the entire season, is back for his senior season.

“People are going to be shocked when they see Brock this year, he can really play football,” Pitts said.

Dustin Tomblinson, who saw time in the first two varsity games last season before getting injured, and Nik McCurren, who led the Helias JV in rushing last year, should also see action.

“We are blessed with great depth at running back and we know injuries can happen,” Pitts said.

Up front, Helias returns three full-time starters, two others who started at times and a sixth player who saw a lot of time as a reserve.

“It’s a group that could really have a big season for us,” Pitts said.

Will Fife, a senior, returns after earning first-team all-state honors in 2012.

“He’s a special football talent,” Pitts said. “He’s a great leader and does everything we ask of him.”

Fife will start at left guard. Trystan Bax, a senior, will get the nod at left tackle. Blake Wilbers, a junior, will start at center, while junior Brody Buschjost will go at right guard and senior Merlin Phelps will start at right tackle. Colton Ferguson, another senior, will be the primary backup at all five positions.

The biggest question mark on offense is at receiver. Helias lost 113 receptions and nearly 1,750 yards with the graduation of all-staters Cole Distler and Anthony Woodruff.

“Inside of a talented program, you always have guys waiting in the wings and I think we have that in our receiver group this year,” Pitts said.

One receiver the Crusaders know they have is Hale Hentges. Hentges, who was one of two Missouri players to be ranked among the top 300 juniors in the country during the summer, finished with 43 catches for 427 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

“He’s superstar good, there is no other way to say it,” Pitts said. “Not only that, Hale’s a great leader, a great student and he does things the right way.

“It’s a blessing to have him on our side. His role is going to grow in his junior season.”

Ryan Tannehill returns as a starter after catching 18 passes as a junior. Other receivers include seniors Trent Dudenhoeffer and Christian Hake, along with sophomore Josh Woodruff.

“We’re going to get good things out of that group,” Pitts said. “I think by committee, we can get the job done. If we can do the basic things like catch the football, run good routes, block, there’s enough talent there that we can have a good group of receivers.”

III

THE CRUSADERS HAVE made a formation change on the defensive side, shifting to a 3-4 front.

“It does a better job against the opponents we have and it also suits our personnel,” Pitts said.

Starting up front for the Crusaders are Wilbers, Fife and Brody Buschjost. They will be spelled by Phelps and fellow seniors Chandler Becker and Ben Davis.

Another reason for the formation change is a group of talented linebackers.

Hentges will move from defensive end to outside linebacker after finishing with 62 tackles and seven sacks last season.

“He’s going to have a greater effect on the game at linebacker,” Pitts said. “He’s still going to be rushing the passer a lot, he’s going to be getting into the opposing backfield a lot. But he now he can jam the tight ends up at the line, he can get back into coverage.

“We can move him around and it allows us to maximize his talents.”

Pat Ward, who stepped into the starting lineup midway through last season as a junior, will start at the other outside spot.

“When we put him in against Rock Bridge, he flat made plays and he made plays the rest of the season,” Pitts said. “He’s been one of the best players we’ve seen in the preseason and having him and Hale on the outside is going to be real challenging for opposing offenses.”

Michael Tannehill, who was second on the team in tackles last season, returns as a starter and will man one of the inside spots along with fellow senior Jon Wildhaber.

Shane Colonius, a senior who was fourth on the team in tackles in 2012, will be the main reserve at all the linebacker spots. Also figuring to see playing time is junior Collin Lavery, last season’s JV defensive player of the year.

“We feel like we’re deeper in our front seven than we’ve ever been,” Pitts said.

The Crusaders return four players who started at least part-time last year in the secondary.

Dudenhoeffer and senior Nick Haslag are back at the cornerback spots. John Rhea, a senior, and Josh Woodruff are the backup corners.

J.C. Szumigala, a senior, and junior Todd Buschjost will start at safeties. Jared Rackers and Andrew Schaumberg, both seniors, are the reserves.

“It was a very solid group last year and with their experience, they are only going to get better,” Pitts said.

III

HELIAS HAS HAD a great run of special team players in recent seasons and is looking to continue that tradition.

Szumigala, who stepped in after an injury to all-stater Anthony Woodruff and went 30-of-30 on extra points, will be the primary placekicker.

“We have to be 100 percent on kicks inside of 30 yards and we believe J.C. can and will do the job,” Pitts said.

Tomblinson is the backup and will share kickoff duties with Szumigala.

Szumigala will also handle the punting chores after averaging better than 34 yards a kick last season.

Wildhaber returns as the deep snapper, while Garrett Buschjost will be the holder.

Gerstner and Josh Woodruff will be the primary kickoff returners, while Dudenhoeffer will handle the punt return duties again.

“We have to win on special teams and we have the talent to do that,” Pitts said.

III

THE CRUSADERS FINISHED the 2012 regular season with a 5-4 record before rattling off five straight victories to advance to the state title game.

Three of those losses were to Class 6 state-ranked teams in C.B.C., Rock Bridge and Hickman. The other was in the opener, an overtime loss at Harrisonville.

One of Helias’ season goals is improve on that 5-4 mark.

“We have to play great every week because of who we play,” Pitts said. “I guess there can be a good loss with the schedule we play, but our kids want to have a better regular season.

“We want people to see from the very start of the season that we’re a good football team.”

Helias has two new coaches on the varsity staff.

Mike Cook, who started for two years as an offensive lineman at Missouri and was a team captain for Tigers, will help with the offensive line. Jed Leeper, a longtime defensive coordinator at South Callaway, has joined the defensive staff.

Team captains this season are Porter, Michael Tannehill, Fife, Gerstner and Hentges.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Please review our Policies and Procedures before registering or commenting

News Tribune - comments