It does not take much observation to see that the Marceline Tigers are going to have a radically different core group in 2019.
The Tigers, coming off of another fine season that ended with a disappointing district championship loss, will not return very many pieces.
Second-year head coach Mark Ross said that this season still has a chance to be another remarkable one.
"I never like the term rebuilding, because hopefully you're always building for the future with great off-seasons and important junior varsity game time," Ross said. "Honestly, I like to think that this is a year that we reload and find a way to get over the hump. Last season ended in a disappointing fashion for so many of our seniors, and we've got a great group of now upperclassmen who learned from those guys.
"We missed a great opportunity with a deep roster last year, but that's in the past, and although all of our guys have a chip on their shoulders, so to speak, we've moved past it."
Alex McCauslin and Cullen Bruner -- both incoming seniors -- are the only two rostered Tigers who caught a varsity pass from quarterback Chase Billups last season. Billups, like so many of his 2018 teammates, was a member of the class of 2019.
Fortunately for the Tigers, Bruner is coming off of a spectacular season. The dynamic, wrestling-strength running back eclipsed four-figures, rushing for 1006 yards in the 2018 season. He caught 16 passes for an additional 280 yards. McCauslin finished with 227 all-purpose yards, and beyond that, incoming sophomores Hunter Nelson and Wyatt Molloy will be forced to pick up major roles at the offensive skill positions.
On the other side of the ball, Marceline lost 14 seniors from last year's team who recorded at least one tackle. Senior Colby Sims will provide some serious size up front for the Tigers. Sims led the team with a whopping 107 tackles in 2018, including 15 for loss. Bruner was third on the team with 66 tackles, and 15 of them also resulted in the ball moving the wrong way for the opposing team.
McCauslin, the only returning starter on defense alongside Sims and Bruner, finished with 36 tackles and a team-high five interceptions.
Unless the opportunity appears in the postseason, unlike 2017, Marceline will not have a chance to avenge its district loss. The Tigers fell to Penney, 31-26, at home on Nov. 9 of last year to bring their season to a close. The Tigers' only other loss was a 14-9 defeat in Fayette in the fourth week of the season.
Marceline again opens versus Scotland County, this time on the road, on Aug. 30. This year's Bell Game will be played in Brookfield on Sept. 13. Marceline's home games include Knox County in week two, back-to-back home games versus Fayette and Paris on Sept. 20 and Sept. 27, and Salisbury on Oct. 11.
"Scheme has been a lot easier in year two," Ross said. "Our terminology is all the same on every side of the ball. We've tweaked things that benefit the strength of the team this year, which we are very excited about. We've missed a lot of opportunities this year due to all the rain in the early part of the summer, but it's really starting to show how much further along we are now. We still have some question marks, but the extra week of practice is going to be huge for us. We have kids stepping into leadership roles, and that's exciting to see."