The Hannibal football team comes off a winning season but not one up to internal standards. The Pirates look to restore order in 2018.
"Life is about 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent of how you respond.”
Lou Holtz, the legendary college football coach, is known to utter this famous line. The words ring true for the Hannibal football team entering the 2018 season.
The Pirates open the new campaign against Helias on Friday, kicking off a demanding schedule that includes powerhouses Jefferson City and Battle in addition to their North Central Missouri Conference slate.
Hannibal is coming off a 6-5 season that ended with a loss in the Class 4 District 7 semifinals. Last year came on the heels of consecutive appearances in the state quarterfinals.
“We're going to see some adversity,” said Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair. “How do we respond? That's the determining factor on what kind of year we ultimately have.”
This season will prove different than any other for St. Clair, who was inducted in the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in December.
The longtime coach intends for this fall to be his last on the Hannibal sidelines after more than two decades at the helm of the program.
“Maybe I'm a little more excited just knowing that this is it,” he said of his 22nd season in charge. “I tell the seniors I'm graduating with them as they go out. Every time I do something, it's the last time.”
Hannibal returns a wealth of experience to the gridiron, including quarterback Gabe Worthington. The rising senior broke the school record with 17 touchdown passes last year to go along with 1,386 yards through the air.
Will Whitaker returns as his top target after eclipsing the team record with 755 yards receiving last year. He reeled in 10 touchdown catches.
“Will can do things that basically nobody else can do,” senior lineman Chase Kirby said. “He can out-jump anybody, he's one of the quickest guys in the area and has great hands.”
The offense will receive a boost from an exciting newcomer. Dezi Jones, who broke the Hannibal boys basketball season scoring record as a junior last winter, is out for high school football for the first time.
“We look for Dezi to really contribute as a two-way player for us and on special teams,” St. Clair said of the receiver and defensive back who also will serve as the starting place kicker. “He's the type of athlete that it doesn't matter what we ask him to do, he'll be able to do it.”
Out of the backfield, Hannibal will feature a committee led by JaQuez McGruder and Dante Reading, who combined for over 1,030 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in 2017.
Jordan Schafer, known most as a shutdown linebacker, is also expected to get carries for the Pirates.
“We have some depth at the running back position,” St. Clair said. “We want to run the ball and that's where high school games are won, but if we can run the ball, we should be able to throw the ball with success.”
Kirby returns as an anchor the offensive line, where he joins two-year junior starter Braxton Lennox and senior Brad McCollum. Lawson Rickey is back as a starter at tight end.
Schafer and a cast of experienced linebackers return for Hannibal. Schafer posted 38 tackles a year ago and will join Owen Johnson, Rickey and Hunter Gibbons in the middle of the Pirates' defense.
“Jordan Schafer was out for football for the first time last season and showed dramatic improvement throughout the year,” St. Clair said. “He's been a tremendous leader for us throughout the offseason.
“We have four linebackers with a lot of experience back.”
Kadin Morgan and Alec Mundle are among the top group of outside backers, while Whitaker, Preston Bennett and Jones are expected to see time in the secondary.
The defensive line is by committee, including Kirby, Adriec Brumbaugh, McCollum, Vernell Hawkins, Dante Reading and Seth Deters.
“We feel like we have some kids we can rotate in and out of there,” St. Clair said.
Danny Colborn is another player to watch for on defense. Projected as a starting safety, he will go to work alongside returning starter Braden Schlueter, who led the Pirates with 43 tackles last season.
Colborn played all 13 games two years ago but missed last year due to an injury.
“It's a blessing to have Danny back,” Schafer said. “Having him makes a big impact because he's a leader and takes initiative to push everybody else. Everybody looks up to him.”
Hannibal looks to restore its dominance of the NCMC after Moberly won the title last year.
St. Clair believes the Pirates could be a “very good team” come postseason, when they will compete in Class 4 District 4 against St. Louis area schools.
“Everybody wants to talk about Friday night and who carried the ball, who scored or who made the tackle, but what we really need to focus on is the process of how do we get where we want to get,” the Hall of Famer said.