By Chris Parker
Strafford’s defense is going to lead the way in 2021 with 10 starters returning on that side of the ball.
“Our defensive strength will also be our linebackers and defensive backs. They’re the same group who play skill position of the offensive side, so they’re all coming back,” Strafford head coach Tim Hester said. “Any time you can return a core group of players who gained a year of experience it’s a positive. We’ll also have some talent on the back end of our defense as well. We’ll bring back three defensive starters in the secondary, so we hope to be strong there as well and be able to take the ball away.”
The linebacking corps will be made up of Dakota Ames, Caleb Wells, Isaac Berg, Jon Watt and Amren King. Cody Fisher moved in from Texas and will see time at linebacker as well.
Ames broke his collarbone against Ava in Week 2 last year and was out until the final game of the season. He will be a key piece of the defense. He had 29 total tackles in his limited action last year.
“Dakota moved into a starting role on the defensive side of the ball as a sophomore last year. He’s athletic, strong, and works hard. He’ll help lead the linebacking group this season, and we’re excited about his potential with the experience he gained last year,” Hester said.
The secondary will be a big strength for Strafford as well led by Mason Denning. Denning was a first-team all-conference selection last year as a defensive back. He pulled down 68 total tackles with six tackles for a loss last year. He will be at safety this year.
“He (Denning) is another great kid who works hard on and off the field. He has great hands, and we’ll look for him to take a big step forward offensively and defensively for us this season,” Hester said.
Silas Morton will be at cornerback. He had three interceptions last season.
“Silas is a hard worker and fierce competitor, but one thing we love the most about him is his mind,” Hester said. “He’s always thinking, making suggestions, and he knows where everyone is supposed to be on every play.”
Ayden House will compete for time starting at the other corner.
Ozark transfer Avery Voysey will make an immediate impact on both sides of the ball in the secondary on defense and at receiver on offense.
“He (Voysey) is going to make a big explosion when it comes to offense and defense,” Hester said.
The defensive line will feature Gabe Core and freshman Preston Ames, who stands at 6’2, 265 pounds. Eli Treat will also find time on the defensive line.
Offensively, Strafford will have a different look after graduating quarterback Vance Mullins and most of the offensive line.
Denning will be the top returning player on offense. He earned second-team all-conference honors at running back last year. He carried the ball 88 times for 528 yards and 6 touchdowns while catching 40 balls for 536 yards and 6 touchdowns. He moved into the backfield after Wells went down with an injury last season.
“We’re going to see a lot from him (Denning) at the running back position, but the way we run our spread offense, we can easily put him in a wide receiver position,” Hester said. “He’s got that determination that it’s going to get done. When you put him on the field he is just going to get after it. He just has that natural ability. He is just an unbelievable athlete and team leader.”
Wells does return as well after turning 47 carries into 210 yards and a touchdown last season.
For the fourth year in a row, Strafford will have a first-year quarterback. Morton is looking to take over that spot this year, but freshman Jourdyn Edelstein will also compete for time at the spot.
The offensive line does return Core, who earned second-team all-conference honors. He is the only returning lineman, so his leadership will be key in developing a new line.
Watt will move from running back to the offensive line this year to help the team.
“The first thing he (Watt) said whatever I can do to help the team. That doesn’t happen very often. John Watt is unselfish and wants to help out the team,” Hester said.
Treat is another skill player who moved from wide receiver to the offensive line. Sophomores JJ Adam and Kingston Campbell along with Preston Ames will help on the offensive line as well.
“We want to create an environment of consistent competition. We want to compete in the weight room, practice, and let it translate onto the field,” Hester said. “Our goal is to spread the ball around and let playmakers be playmakers.”
Strafford will jamboree at Hillcrest on Aug. 20 before opening the regular season at home on Aug. 27 against Liberty.