What a time to be a fan of Missouri Western football.
Fresh off of an impressive 9-3 season, the Griffons are going to be coming back for more. Like all teams, Missouri Western is losing some big players. However, the players that are returning, as well as the players that are coming next year, leaves the Griffons in a position to be good for years to come.
With quarterback Wyatt Steigerwald graduating, there is a big hole that the Griffons will look to fill. The obvious choice seems to be Anthony Vespo, a redshirt freshman. Vespo filled in for Steigerwald against Lincoln when Steigerwald was out with an injury, winning 71-8.
A wild card candidate for the job may be a player who has not stepped foot on campus yet. Reagan Jones from Wichita, Kansas, is the only quarterback in the incoming freshmen class. The dual-threat quarterback threw for 31 touchdowns versus five interceptions his senior year while also rushing for 1,393 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Vespo will need some receivers to throw to as well. Luckily for him, only one wide receiver from last year’s team is graduating. That player is Damen Wheeler Jr., who recorded 366 receiving yards and a trio of touchdowns. That leaves some room for others to step up.
St. Joseph resident Cooper Burton seems to be a player who can fit that bill. The redshirt freshman put up 277 yards and three touchdowns of his own last year and seems poised to have a bigger role in the offense next year. Others like Cole Kruse, Devon Holmes and tight end Cam Grandy had big moments last year and will certainly have a more integral place in the offense going forward.
One of the biggest losses that the Griffons have to deal with is that of Markel Smith, who rushed for 1,058 yards and 14 touchdowns. Head coach Matt Williamson will have to find a way to make up for the 156 carries Smith produced last season.
This paves the way for Shamar Griffith to carry the load. Griffith, a junior, had an outstanding season last year, rushing for 826 yards and four touchdowns while also adding 186 receiving yards and a touchdown. Players like Travon Harris and Jared Scott both got a good bit of game action last year and will also likely have an increased role.
The Griffons will also have a lot of protection returning, as out of their 19 offensive linemen on the roster last year, 14 will be returning next season. On the defensive line, only two of the 15 on the roster are graduating. That’s a lot of reinforcements coming back.
On the defensive side of things, the returners are highlighted by two players: Sam Webb and Trey Vaval. Both players were All-Americans — Webb in the secondary and Vaval as a returner. Webb, a junior, is coming off a season where he recorded three interceptions, forced a fumble and recovered another.
Vaval became just the second true freshman to earn All-American status in Griffon history. On defense he recorded 29 tackles. As a kickoff return man, he averaged 34 yards a return, scoring two touchdowns.
These two will lead a young but capable defense.
One area that Missouri Western really upped their game in was recruiting. A total of 57 players were recruited from 14 different states. Williamson is on record saying that this is the best recruiting class he’s been a part of assembling.
Several of the players rejected minor Division I offers to come to Missouri Western. That should be a nice indicator of how people are viewing Missouri Western football. Griffon football is on the rise, and it is going to be fun to watch.