Guy Ellis

The Afton Eagles look set to continue their winning ways in 2009 but with one twist.

“We’ve won in the past but we haven’t won the big games,” said third year head coach Zach Gardner. “That’s our goal this year: to get over the hump against teams like Salina and Commerce and our playoff games.

“We have winning seasons but we want to win the big games,” Gardner added.

The Eagles finished their regular season at 8-2 last year but fell to eventual Class A state champion Morrison in the first round of the playoffs.

“If we’re going to be the team we want to be then it has to start between the tackles,” Gardner said. “Those guys are going to be the ones that make or break our season.”

AHS returns six linemen this season. Brooks Victor, a junior, will reside at left tackle. Russell Andrews will slot in at left guard with senior Tyler Blount at center. Senior Tyler Mackey will be at strong tackle and Caleb Wheeler, a junior, at tight end.

“We have five linemen that were starters last year so we feel comfortable up front,” Gardner said. “We’re a little thin at the skill positions. We have a lot of talent there but not much experience.”

Brennon Fuser, a junior, will be the signal caller for the Eagle offense. The running game will revolve around seniors Tye Turley and Thomas Mantooth.

The wide receiver corps consists of Sam Shepard, Shorty Bensley, Jacob Mustain, and Cecil Jones.

“We have some speed but when it comes down to it we need to be a physical team as well,” Gardner said.

Afton hosts Joplin-McAuley tonight at 7:30 p.m. Last season the Eagles took a 27-14 win over the Warriors. From there the Eagles host Okay and Hulbert before traveling to Quapaw in week four.

“We try not to overlook anybody since we’re in a 10 team district but our schedule really starts getting tough at game four,” Gardner said. “The first three games could be a good set-up for us.”

Besides the strong student turn out for the football program the team benefits from the citizens of Afton.

“Our community does a lot for us,” Gardner said. “They’re here for us on a weekly basis and that helps a lot.”