HANNIBAL – The uneasiness has turned into eagerness for Dante Reading.
The Hannibal football team underwent a change this offseason with the retirement of veteran coach Mark St. Clair, and the hiring of Quentin Hamner as his successor. That brought changes and new ideas to the Pirates on both sides of the football, and things the program hadn’t seen before.
But with practices under way and the season opener against Jefferson City Helias this Friday, the players are ready to begin this new era of Pirate football.
"I’m ready to see what coach has for us," said Reading, a senior defensive lineman. "It’s something new. The change was hard at first, but we’re all used to it now."
Hamner is just as ready to get the season going.
"I think at this point it just means a lot to be here," Hamner said. "This is going to be my last coaching stop, so this will be how my coaching career is defined. It’s no different approach than what I’ve done in the past, but I definitely want to get these guys in the best position they can for Friday."
Several returning starters on both sides of the football from a team that went 9-4 and won a Class 4 district title help make Hamner’s job easier. Most of those come on defense.
Reading, who was a second-team all-state pick last fall, returns after making 50 tackles. Twenty of those went for loss while recording six sacks. He, along with Da’Rell Perry, will anchor the Pirates’ defensive line.
The Pirates also return defensive backs like senior Preston Bennett and junior Hunter Parker, while sophomores John Clubine and Kaiser Greenwell will also start in the secondary.
"I think (Reading) needs to be the example on Friday nights for us," Hamner said. "He needs to be the 100 percent this is how we do things and how we close out games. There’s going to be adversity in these games that they haven’t seen yet."
Hannibal also returns its top running back from a year ago in junior Damien French. He burst onto the scene last fall and rushed for 1,374 yards and 21 touchdowns on 186 carries. Junior Daylan Reading also returns after churning 550 yards and 14 touchdowns on 92 attempts.
Those two backs will make life easier for sophomore Courtland Watson, who will start at quarterback in the opener. He’ll have Bennett, Parker and Gabe Mueller as his primary targets in Hannibal’s new run-pass option offense.
That kind of offense is what helped Staley win a Class 5 state title in 2017 while Hamner was an assistant coach on staff.
"We’re just trying to open up the field a little more, while in the past they’ve been in between the tackles a lot," Hamner said. "We’re going to keep a lot of that, but we want to utilize formations. We want to be very, very multiple on both sides of the ball."
It’s all coming to a head for Friday night, where the Pirates want to open the new era under Hamner with a victory. The Pirates want that winning to continue throughout the season.
"It’d be great to set the tone," Watson said. "It’d be a great way to start that new era."
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 30 at Helias 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 Jefferson City 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Bolivar 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 Mexico 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Kirksville 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 Fulton 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Moberly 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 Marshall 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Battle 7 p.m.