With only two returning starters on offense and defense, lack of experience may be the biggest obstacle facing the Macksville Mustangs, and head coach Jeff Kuckelman, after last season's 10-1 finish.
"We will need to establish some type of identity after graduating an outstanding group of seniors," Kuckelman said.
Kuckelman has a 17-4 record in his third year as head coach for the Mustangs. He spent eight years as assistant coach under Dan Grizzell. Todd Grizzell is in his third year as assistant coach with the Mustangs.
Returning starters for the Mustangs include 5'10" 150-lb Tanner Tranbarger, who will be filling the spot behind center as the team's quarterback.
Tranbarger had a great season at the end of last year according to Kuckelman. As a sophomore he accumulated 109 yards rushing on 18 carries with 4 touchdowns to his credit. Through the air he completed five of seven passes for 88 yards and one TD. On defense he will fill a defensive back role.
Clayton Wood is the second returning starter. Listed as 6' 1" and 230-lbs on the roster, Wood will fill the spot in the center of the offensive line, a position he has held for the past two seasons. Wood was picked as an honorable mention by KPREPS in the District 5 offensive line. In defense Wood will fill a hole in the defensive line.
"We will have to find him (Wood) some help up front, and they may be pretty young" Kuckelman said. "Our Junior high had a good season last fall and we may need to look to some freshman in certain spots."
While Tranbarger and Wood are the only two returning starters, backup players on the squad received some quality time on the field with some of the Mustangs lopsided wins.
Jordan Welch and Simon Miller will round out the backfield after getting some good yardage in back up roles.
Welch is a 6' 1" junior fullback weighing in at 155 lbs. Miller is 160 lb junior standing 6'1 and will be handling the running back position for the offense.
Other top newcomers for the Mustangs include Adolfo Ibarra. At 6'2" and 185-lbs, this senior end will be counted on heavily in the team's passing game according to Kuckelman.
"Adolfo had several nice catches last season," Kuckelman said.
Andy Wendland a 6'2" junior tipping the scales at 165 will take up the other end position along with Peter Penner a 5' 11" senior weighing in at 165 lbs.
"We may not have a lot of size up so we will need to utilize some of our athleticism and use a lot of our spread formations," Kuckelman said.
"Defensively we return our leading tackler in Tanner Tranbarer. He supported the run well and had 132 tackles with one for a loss from his safety position. Wood returns as our top defensive lineman. Teams ran away from Claytn's side of the line last season, but he still had 42 tackles with seven for a loss. We will need some people to step up and some of those may be Welch at linebacker and Miller in a defensive back role. Both played significant minutes last season."
Offensively the Mustangs are a "multiple formation team" meaning on a given night they may field up to 20 different formations. On defense the Mustangs primarily use a three-man front running a 3-5 flex, or a 4-2 in certain situations.
Last year the Mustangs allowed only 26.2 points per game with 75 passing yards and 214 rushing.
"Losing seven seniors to graduation, it will be tough to compete against some of the teams in our league and district," Kuckelman said. "Our graduated seniors did a great job of leading the underclassman, and we hope that translates to good attendance in the weight room and workouts. We look forward to seeing how the underclassmen respond to their opportunities and rise to the occasion. A lack of experience could cause us problems early in the season."
Kuckelman predicts Fairfield and St. John to be tough in the district with Ness City and Central Plains being the league contenders.
The Mustangs play their first game on Aug. 31 when they host Victoria. Game times are 7 p.m.
Editor's Note - During the time that this article was originally published, Simon Miller has suffered a knee injury that will put him on the injured reserve list in Friday's game against Victoria. How long he will be out is yet to be determined.