Guy Ellis

The Grove Ridgerunners open their 2009-10 season tonight with a road trip to Anderson, MO and a date with the McDonald County HS Mustangs.

The Ridgerunners are coming off a 12-1 campaign from last season, complete with a trip to the 4A semi-finals, but tonight marks the beginning of a new expedition for the squad. The team graduated 12 starters this past May.

“The leaders of yesterday and last year aren’t here and the kids have to fill in and know what their roles and assignments are as far as the team aspect,” said GHS Football Head Coach Dennis Millican. “They’ve done an admirable job of that so far.”

Sophomore Adam Steffenson will get the call as the starting quarterback tonight, according to the GHS coaches, after a three-way competition for the spot was held in the pre-season.

“Adam is going to get the chance to play there first,” said offensive coordinator Bret Bouher. “We had a pretty good competition (in the pre-season).”

Junior Buck Maples and senior Casey Bartley will headline the Ridgerunner rushing attack.

Last season Maples was injured in week three at Miami but has looked strong running the ball in the Ridgerunner pre-season scrimmages. Maples was also one of the players contending for the QB spot.

“We moved Buck to running back because we feel that’s the best thing for our team,” Bouher said.

Opening up holes and offering protection will be an offensive line that features a brace of veterans along with some new faces.

“The hardest thing to have gel is the line play,” Millican explained. “It takes a lot of meshing and a lot of continuity of trying to get the guys to do exactly what we want them to do. Especially the offensive line.”

For a younger player the learning curve can be steep according to the head coach.

“A young guy has a lot to learn,” he said. “What the assignment is, who to look for, how teams change from game to game and sometimes even from one play to the next. It’s a lot to learn.”

The Ridgerunner line will feature seniors Weston Culvey, Sean Hayward, and Carter Londagin. All three players saw extensive playing time last season. The trio will be joined by sophomore transfer student Blake Clodfelter at center.

“We’re solid,” Millican said of the line. “We have some guys there that are inexperienced but with every snap they’ll get better.”

Inexperienced players getting their shot at significant playing time is a theme for the Ridgerunners this season.

“That’s why kids wait around, practice hard and wait their turn,” Millican said of the situation. “They’ve responded well and their focus has been good (in practices). The team has the intensity of practicing well and knowing that it’s important.”

The Ridgerunner offense will be going up against an unconventional MCHS defensive scheme.

“Defensively they line up a little differently than what we normally see,” Bouher said. “They run a 3-3 and 3-4 type of defense with four secondary people so we’ll make adjustments there.

“They’re solid,” Bouher said of the Mustang defense. “If we do things they way we’re supposed to then we’ll be successful. If not, then we’ll make them look better.”

“They have an adequate defense,” Millican said of his team’s opponent. “They look faster than last year.”

The Mustangs have already opened their season, dropping a 32-12 contest at home to Monett.

Studying film from that game the Ridgerunners expect to see a passing team tonight but weather conditions could play a factor in the MCHS scheme.

“They’re throwing the ball a lot,” Millican said. “They got behind early and started throwing it quite a bit last week.

“It’s projected to be rainy (Friday) so I don’t know how that will affect what they do,” he added.

First year starting quarterback Cameron Farmer, a senior, leads the Mustangs offensively. The receiving corps consists of returning starters Garrett Wilson and Lance Gooder.

The Mustang air attack will face off with a strong Ridgerunner defensive line and linebacker troops.

“On defense our strength is up front, and with the linebackers,” Millican said. “The back end is fresh guys. They aren’t young, just inexperienced.”

GHS enters the game with a #7 ranking in the pre-season selections.