ALTAMONT — The herculean task of upsetting the Pittsburg Purple Dragons was made even harder this week for the Labette County Grizzlies as starting quarterback Austin Jones will be sidelined with an injury he suffered during the team’s jamboree.
Replacing Jones, who was already replacing Easton Dean who’s now at Iowa State, will be sophomore John Kohler.
“John wants to do it,” Labette County head coach Sean Price said. “He’s ready to go and has a lot of confidence. That brings a lot to the table. He’s been playing quarterback through the summer for us. We were hoping he’d lead the JV. But now his experience will be a little more fast-paced this year.”
Kooper Peake will serve as John’s primary backup. Both Kohler and Peake took reps at quarterback in last week’s jamboree after Austin went down.
“John’s our backup,” Price said. “We’ve also moved Kooper Peake back there and he’s getting some reps there as well. They both could play Friday night. We’ll just see how it goes.”
With two inexperienced quarterbacks helming the offense, wideout Nathan Smith’s role in the passing game is even more magnified as he’ll be relied on to make plays.
“Nathan is a great receiver and can go get a ball,” Price said. “John just needs to get it to his area and he’ll come down with it.”
Ultimately, Labette County’s reprieve on offense will likely come from its backfield of running backs Chase Evans and Trent Brock.
“We’re really going to rely on our power running game,” Price said. “We’ll look vertical as well. We feel like we have some good receivers that can stretch the field.”
Looking at Pittsburg, the Purple Dragons are coming off an 8-2 season and return 18 lettermen from last fall.
“They’re physical and can move the football around in a lot of ways,” Pittsburg said. “They’ve got cats all around and their offensive line is big. They’ve got size, which is a thing we don’t have.”
The Purple Dragons return only four starters on offense and three more on defense, but the traditional powerhouse in the region is still expected to fare well this season.
Pittsburg will have the unquestioned size advantage in the trenches, giving Labette County even more fits in its goal to power the ball forward.
“The frontline of Pittsburg is no joke,” Price said. “That makes it tough. On the running game, if we can get five yards, we’ll be happy with that. When you’re smaller and inexperienced, you have to play perfectly.”
Defensively, Price hopes his unit can finish off plays when the opportunity presents itself.
“We’ve got to be gap sound,” Price said. “We’ve got to make tackles when we get the opportunity and play smart.”
The Purple Dragons will be heavy favorites on Friday night, but the schedule eases up for Labette County after Week 1. That puts emphasis on other benchmarks the Grizzlies are trying to clean up from a year ago.
“We’ve got to do the little things better than we did last year,” Price said. “Penalties and controlling the ball. Converting third-and-mediums as well.”
The Grizzlies get the luxury of opening the season at home on Friday against the Purple Dragons with kickoff set for 7 p.m.