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Falcons fighting for spot in starting backfield

Falcons fighting for spot in starting backfield

August 13th, 2017 by Greg Jackson in Sports

Jared Lootens of Blair Oaks runs with the football against Warsaw during the 2016 season at Falcon Athletic Complex in Wardsville.

Photo by News Tribune /News Tribune.

WARDSVILLE, Mo. — Blair Oaks coach Terry Walker already has his starting quarterback locked in for Friday's season opener against the Kirksville Tigers.

His starter at running back? Well, that's still up for grabs, but Walker will have plenty of options.

As many as five players are in the mix to replace Jake Van Ronzelen, who set the school's single-season rushing record with 1,732 yards and earned all-state honors, despite missing one game and parts of two others due to injury.

"Jake had a great year, but I can promise you we don't have a single coach right now that's worried about how we are going to replace Jake," Walker said. "Kids come and go, and your job is to develop the kids you have. We had some good fortune last year, that we found a good fit for Jake.

"This year, it's going to be a work in progress, but we've known that all along."

Van Ronzelen accounted for more than 65 percent of Blair Oaks' rushing yards in 2016, yet he only touched the ball on 38 percent of their rushing attempts.

By the time Blair Oaks had most of their victories sealed in the fourth quarter last season, Van Ronzelen's hopeful successors got their turn in the backfield.

"It's incredibly valuable for those kids," Walker said. "Each week that you can buy at the end of the year, in which you're extending your season with another playoff game, that gives those kids another week to develop. We have really been fortunate in the sense that we've been able to go two or three weeks after the regular season is over, and that has been invaluable practice for some of those young kids. It shows as we transition into the next year."

Jared Lootens, a senior this fall, had 32 carries last season and scored a touchdown in the third quarter against Hallsville, leading all returning running backs with 117 yards on the ground.

Riley Lentz also had some second-half rushes last year as a freshman. He led all Blair Oaks rushers at Friday's Jamboree with six carries, gaining 40 yards.

"He's explosive," Walker said. "He needs to work on reading his blocks here and there a little bit, but he's a sophomore and hasn't had a ton of varsity action."

Junior Braydan Pritchett started last season at wide receiver and was one of three players to have at least 600 yards receiving. This season, he'll see a few more handoffs in the backfield, transitioning in a hybrid role on offense, a role held by Cody Alexander last season.

"We really ask Braydan to do a lot, offensively and defensively," Walker said. "We do that because he's that type of player.

"We're going to ask him to run the football out of the backfield some, we're going to ask him to block on the edge some, we're going to ask him to catch footballs. There's a lot on his shoulders, but Braydan, he is a hard-nosed kid. He's pretty much up for any challenge."

Kamron Morriss was listed at quarterback last year, but the sophomore will factor in some at running back this year.

"He's a kid that has bulked up a little bit," Walker said. "He's 175, 180 (pounds) and he moves pretty good for his size. Kamron's a tough competitor, so we feel confident he'll be able to do some different things."

Jayden Purdy, only a freshman, is someone Walker would like to see in the backfield at some point this season.

"He shows some explosiveness," Walker said. "We're just trying to give him a little bit of time just to mature. We're not trying to push him too hard, but he has shown some flashes in practice."

A year ago, the Falcons made significant changes within their offense, adjusting to a wishbone formation. This year, Walker said they'll continue to expand the offense to play to the strengths of this year's roster.

Then again, they've been working on those strengths for years.

"What we've also tried to do is instill in some of the lower programs, in the Junior Falcon Program, some of those things that we're doing schematically so we're not constantly in this cycle where we're trying to chase the skills of the kids," Walker said. "Now we're developing those skills at a much younger level, so that when they get to us at the high school level, they're already suited for that style of play."