WRIGHT CITY – Jeff Sargent can’t wait until Aug. 30. And the fifth-year Wright City head football coach isn’t alone.
The Wildcats have been hankering for August’s final Friday since the first one of summer rolled through nearly 2 1/2 months ago. The date signals the start of a new season as they host the Winfield Warriors to kick off the 2019 campaign.
Sargent said his team’s offseason progress has helped add fuel to the excitement.
Wright City appears to have strength in numbers.
“The kids have bought in since Day 1 of the offseason,” he said. “This is the first year I’ve had 30-plus players in the weight room or at summer practice every single day. And we’re obviously able to get a lot more accomplished when we have that.”
In addition to lifting, summer activities for the Wildcats have included a number of camps. A 7-on-7 at Mizzou and a trip Southwest for a team camp at Missouri State University, Sargent’s alma mater, were on the docket in June.
“Sometimes organizing those types of things can be a hassle, but it’s worth it because the kids love it,” Sargent said. “They got to meet and take pictures with (Mizzou and former Clemson quarterback) Kelly Bryant and talk with (Missouri State Head Coach) Dave Steckel. And overall, they received instruction from a lot of quality coaches.”
Sargent has a few new additions to his own coaching staff. Jake Wallace moves up from the middle school program and will work with the quarterbacks and running backs, while Tyler Rickard comes aboard from Kearney where he spent the last two years as an assistant for the Bulldogs, who finished 8-3 last season.
“(Rickard) fits as a phenomenal piece to our puzzle with the defensive backs,” Sargent said. “He and coach (Ken) Brown have got the defense looking good and we’re going to be adding a lot of new stuff in the next couple of days.”
While the Wildcats spent last year’s offseason searching for a quarterback to replace Sean McDonald, the program’s all-time passing leader, they now have one firmly entrenched in the role in 6-foot-3 cannon-armed sophomore Hayden Beck, who played nearly every snap and passed for 1,725 yards to land all-district honors as a freshman.
Beck’s top-two targets return in seniors Will Janowski and Jeremy Cundiff, who each had over 700 yards receiving with Janowksi earning first team all-state honors as a kick returner.
Both man the secondary on defense, which should be a strength with all-conference defensive back JJ McRoberts joining the duo and leading tackler Shane Vehige back in the fold at linebacker.
But a few players who didn’t contribute as heavily or weren’t even on last year’s team have also caught the coaching staff’s attention.
“I’m really excited about (Montgomery County transfer linebacker) Timmy Daniels coming in,” Sargent said. “He’s been nothing but awesome. And the guy that’s probably made the most progress from last year is Xavier Caffey at linebacker. He’s been really solid and a leader for us.”
With an experienced core in place, the Wildcats are expecting a bounce back from the 2-8 record they posted in 2018. Their first official practice is Aug. 12.
“Winning two games, I felt like we really underachieved last year,” Sargent said. “We should’ve been at least a .500 team, if not better. But we’ve cleaned up a lot of the stuff that hurt us and I think we have just as much potential as the team that went to the district championship my first year here in 2015.
“Of course, potential doesn’t mean anything if you don’t actually perform. So we have to make sure we perform at a championship level and we’re competing every single play, every single practice.”
While still extremely early, it’s been a good start so far.