One year ago, the Parsons Vikings’ turnaround campaign that ended in the quarterfinals of the 3A playoffs started with a dominant win over the Iola Mustangs.
Kicking off the 2019 season at Marvel Park, the Vikings once again face the Mustangs on Friday night in another litmus test of how much sustainable progress the program has made under head coach Kurt Friess.
“If we can get off to a fast start against Iola and handle adversity,” Friess said, “we have a chance to have a successful season. I think the deck is stacked against us on Friday night. They’ve got more returning starters than us and our guys haven’t had to face a lot of adversity. So that’s my concern.”
Parsons graduated 15 seniors from a year ago and also lost superstar DaQuan Johnson to a season-ending injury during the summer. So a new-look Vikings roster helmed by quarterback Ethan Houk will look to keep the Vikings trending upward.
“Ethan really throws the ball well,” Friess said. “It was nice to see him do it as the starter in the jamboree. He didn’t have a single bad throw and he executed our zone read very well. He’s very valuable to our team and his health is very valuable. He can play winning football and he’s stepping up as our leader.”
Looking at Iola, the Mustangs return six starters on offense and seven on defense. Casen Barker, the Mustangs quarterback, and Isaac Badders at running back, will be the primary initiators for Iola.
“They’re much more explosive and dynamic this year,” Friess said. “Everybody for them can make plays and their line owns the line of scrimmage. They’re much better prepared this year compared to last year.”
Defensively, the bulk of Iola’s experience comes in the box, only highlighting Friess’ goal of establishing a power running game on the back of running back Yusef Kendrick.
“They run an odd front that have disruptive kids on the defensive line,” Friess said. “They run to the football and hit with bad intentions. They’re also faster this year compared to last year. They did very well in their scrimmage. I’m concerned about our ability to move the ball against them.”
Coming off a jamboree at Fredonia last week, Friess’ primary concern was how the Vikings ran the ball while remaining optimistic about his team’s big play potential with Dariq Williams and Julius Smith-Reece on the edge.
“We’re hoping to clean up the running game a little bit,” Friess said. “Hopefully we’re able to capitalize on some big plays with our great athletes on the edge. But we’ve got to be able to run the ball to be successful.”
Iola went 3-6 a year ago but looks to jostle for playoff positioning in 2019.
Friday night will also see Parsons celebrate Don Barcus Night.
Barcus, a longtime former coach for the Vikings who served as an assistant last year, is currently battling pancreatic cancer. The Parsons players will wear “DB” stickers on the back of their helmets in his honor.
Parsons (@FootballParsons) will wear "DB" stickers to honor former coach Don Barcus during Friday night's season opener against Iola.Barcus is currently battling pancreatic cancer. pic.twitter.com/d7oknEieen— Sean Frye (@SeanEFrye) September 4, 2019
“Don has come and talked to our team a couple times and provided a powerful message,” Friess said. “40 years of Viking football have all heard his greatest hits. In the area, you see how opposing coaches hold him in such high respect.”
Friess, himself a graduate of Parsons, played under Barcus when he was a linebacker for the Vikings.
“He has treated every kid with dignity and pushed every kid hard on the football,” Friess said. “When I was playing, we stole more wins with Don Barcus’ defense.”
The added motivation of playing for a Parsons football icon puts even more emphasis on Friday’s season opener in front of a home crowd.
“I hope we’re able to give him a victory,” Friess said. “He was the coach here for a long time. His grandson is on the team. His son is our athletic director. Don Barcus is Viking football.”