By Troy Treasure
A 9-3 record and berth in the state quarterfinals will be difficult to top.
North Shelby intends to give it a shot.
The Raiders have a scheduled nine-game slate, including Friday’s season opener at home against eight-man newcomer Santa Fe (Alma, Mo.). Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Cale Stoneburner will be the starting quarterback. Now a junior, Stoneburner started the first four games of his freshman season. He logged one start last season, along with spot duty, behind the graduated Dayton Mettes. Stoneburner is 4-1 as the Raiders’ starter.
Beyond Stoneburner’s athletic ability, NS head coach Seth Bass appreciates his instincts and competiveness.
“I could go on and on about what all he brings with his intelligence, football knowledge and football awareness,” Bass said. “The coaches and I have always talked, he’s a gamer. He’s one that when your back is against the wall or when the moment’s big, it’s not too big for him. He always shows up. We’ll rally behind him well.”
Juniors also dominate the other skill positions: Justin Lunsford at running back, backed up by Noah Greenwell; Carson Orr at wing and likely Rob Uhlmeyer at wideout. Kyle Smith and Landon Bender will see time at tight end.
The offensive line is anchored by returning All-State senior center Jackson Lunsford. He will be flanked by a junior and sophomore.
“Dylan McEwen has really progressed as a player and looks outstanding; much, much quicker than he’s been in the past,” Bass said. “Brayton Cook really came on at the end of last year. Those two guys will start. (Junior) Luke Schwanke will rotate at both guards because he loves defense and doesn’t want to come off the field on defense.
“There’s a reason we ran for almost 4,000 yards last year and it was those guys.”
North Shelby will run a 2-3-3 defense.
“D-line, we’re not nearly as deep. We graduated a lot of D-linemen but we’re still really talented. Jackson’s an animal; no one is going to be able to block him,” Bass said. “He’s going to draw double- and triple-teams all year and that’s going to leave Luke Schwanke single-blocked a lot. No one’s going to single-block Luke, either.”
Cook and McEwen will provide breaks to Lunsford and Schwanke when needed.
Smith begins his third season at linebacker to be joined by Bender and Greenwell.
At defensive back, Stoneburner earned All-State status in 2019. He will be joined on the edges by Orr. Justin Lunsford, the Raiders’ second-leading tackler last season behind Smith, likely will be a free safety. Uhlmeyer will also work into the rotation.
“Justin’s going to be kind of almost like a fourth linebacker, of sorts,” Bass said. “He’s going to bring the wood. He’s a heavy-hitter. He’s come a long way with his pass coverage. I’m not going to say that’s his comfort zone yet, but he will be comfortable with that when we see more pass-heavy offenses.
“He’s got to be decisive, physical and instinctual.”
NS has fielded one of Missouri’s best eight-man defenses, statistically, the last two seasons. During the past two offseasons, Bass spoke at coaching clinics in Missouri and out of state to discuss the 2-3-3 alignment.
“I expect us to probably be right there again this year. We’ve got a lot of experience at it and kids that fit the scheme well,” Bass said. “We hear from a lot of opposing coaches, in-state and nationally, that are interested in what we do.”
North Shelby’s district assignment will be determined in September.
“If we can further develop some maturity and stay healthy, I think the sky’s the limit for us. I think we’re a top-5 football team,” Bass said. “This year, especially with corona, you don’t know week to week who you’re going to play and if we’re going to lose games or what.
“I think that will actually help us in focusing week to week on not knowing if the plug might be pulled at any point,” Bass concluded.
NOTES: The name of North Shelby’s conference has been changed to the Central Rivers League … of its nine scheduled opponents this season, NS played six a year ago (Braymer and Orrick twice) … the Raiders went 7-1 … Bass is entering his fifth season as Raiders’ head coach. His win-loss record is 24-20.