A year ago, Staley High School in North Kansas City, Mo., came within a minute of playing for the state championship. Lee's Summit West scored with 52 seconds remaining to send the Titans into the state finals -- a game Royce Boehm's squad won.
But, if you think the 2011 squad's sole goal is standing victorious in the Ed Jones Dome the weekend after Thanksgiving, think again.
"We really try to minimize that talk around our football team," Staley head coach Fred Bouchard said.
It's not that the Falcons aren't hoping for a state title. It's that Bouchard tries to instill a teacher's mindset into his football team.
"Can we have an excellent season and grow as a team? Absolutely," Bouchard said. "At the end of the day, we're still in the education business."
Still, despite keeping his players grounded, there's plenty for Bouchard to be excited about. The Falcons return 13 starters -- six on offense, seven on defense. Gone is tailback Evan Campbell, but in his place emerges Missouri commitment Morgan Steward and a slew of other rushers to share the burden in Bouchard's backfield.
A year ago, Steward mainly played fullback and ended the year with nearly 1,700 yards of total offense. In 2011, Steward will step back as Staley's tailback, a position he began to play during Campbell's four-game absence because of injury in 2010.
"The last two games (of Campbell's injury), we got smart enough to move him (Steward) back there," Bouchard said.
Steward will play running back once he arrives in Columbia, but Bouchard said Steward has already made the transition.
"I'm expecting him to have a great year, but I don't want him to feel like he has to carry the burden," Bouchard said.
In addition to Steward, Staley's backfield will consist of senior fullback Scott Douglas and junior tailback Trey Childs. Bouchard said he's expecting both players to emerge as threats this year, as the entire backfield moves away from Campbell's shadow -- a shadow that 4,000 career rushing yards creates.
Bouchard's offense runs multiple sets and can't be bogged down by terms like "spread" or "option" or "pro-style." Staley will run a little bit of everything, and for that reason, the quarterbacks -- led by 2013 recruit Trent Hosick -- and receivers will play equally important roles in the Falcons' success.
But, for Missouri fans, all eyes will be on Steward. He committed to Missouri in March, and even though his college destination is settled, Bouchard said Steward hasn't slowed down in self-improement.
"He's a rugged, athletic kid," Bouchard said."His speed has improved. He does a lot of work there."
Bouchard explained that the biggest improvement he's noticed in his senior tailback is his ability to cut without losing quickness, while still gaining positive yards.
As a leader, Steward is also stepping up his game.
"I think all our seniors are evolving into that, and Morgan is right there with them," Bouchard said.
On defense, Bouchard is once again hesitant to talk about individual players, but college scholarship offers shine the spotlight brightly on defensive lineman Nathanael Lohn. Steward also plays defense, lining up as a cornerback.
"As a skill defender, oh, he's outstanding," Bouchard said of Steward, the cornerback. "Just like you'd expect out of a real athletic player."
If Staley is to advance deep into the playoffs this year, it will be due to a team effort, Bouchard says. But, along the way, he wants to make sure of one thing:
"I really want our guys to enjoy the journey," Bouchard said.
Staley begins its season at 7 PM on Aug. 26, at Raytown.
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