STE. GENEVIEVE – Although the Ste. Genevieve football team made significant strides last season, plenty of work remains for the Dragons to catch their toughest rivals.
This season offers a chance to narrow the distance from MAFC White Division powers Valle Catholic and Central, both of which earned top-five state rankings in Class 3.
Ste. Genevieve brings back a wealth of talent on defense, along with an older and stronger offensive line that should ease the burden on new starters at quarterback and running back.
“We don’t have to go back and re-teach a lot of scheme,” third-year head coach Jay Pope said. “I think we have 10 guys who have started at least one game on the defensive side. We can do some things that are more in-depth because those guys already understand the basics.”
The same nine opponents await the Dragons following an 8-3 campaign that started with a promising flurry and was only derailed by the cross-town Warriors and district champion Rebels.
The Dragons negated a few defensive leaks last fall with superior offensive performances while giving up 34 or more points in six different contests.
Pope and his coaching staff are seeking a greater level of resistance, and have analyzed statistical trends to gain a better understanding of success and failure rates.
“Limiting explosive plays is the big new stat at every level of football. If you can limit the number of plays over 12 yards, there is a high correlation with win percentage,” Pope said. “Causing havoc is something else we like to emphasize, taking an offense out of rhythm or its traditional series.”
Ste. Genevieve strives to avoid exhaustion for linemen by placing fewer in a two-way capacity. The move can help with stamina in fourth quarters while reducing overall risk of injury.
A primary objective in the early season is to fill the void left behind by tall and disruptive defensive end Will Vaughn. A similar force may manifest from an interior position along the front four.
Ayden White leads the line with a knack for getting to the quarterback, and a welcomed surprise has arrived from the track and field team.
Paul Taylor decided to join the football program after setting the school javelin record and earning a state shot put medal as a freshman. He brings raw athleticism at defensive end.
The most dynamic level continues to be the secondary, however, as several returners possess ample speed with the ability to elevate when needed.
Devin Flye, Aiden Meyer, Mason Nix and Wyatt Springkamper figure into the mix as defensive backs and receivers with full seasons of varsity experience.
That crew will encounter its share of dangerous deep threats from the likes of Central, Valle Catholic and Festus as further magnified by balanced attacks.
“It’s tough when a team has explosive players like that, and even tougher when you consider that those schools also have really good run games. It really stretches you from a defensive standpoint,” Pope said. “I think the key is to mix up what you’re doing, and more importantly, make sure that your guys in the secondary have the confidence to go against some of those playmakers.”
Ste. Genevieve is working to develop permanent fixtures at linebacker, including Tucker Reed and Gabe Willett. Justin Schwent holds the crucial role in the middle after a gradual increase in playing time last season.
Pope places more value in season openers than some coaches feel inclined. His squad responded with an impressive 2022 debut, a 50-35 victory over Festus that sparked an encouraging 4-0 start.
“The first game is always a big one in my mind. It’s almost a must win,” he said. “It sets the tone for the entire season. We have a good Festus team with a great coach, and it’s a good gauge to show what we have on our team. We really enjoy that challenge, because it’s a tall order to beat them.”
The Dragons will have a new quarterback for the first time in three years following the graduation of three-sport standout and dual threat Aiden Boyer.
Sophomore Luke Ferranto takes over after impressing the coaches with his demeanor and skill set. He brings a strong throwing arm, and started at shortstop for the baseball team as a freshman.
“Luke proved to us by the end of June that he’s ready,” Pope said. “He’s a very stoic player who doesn’t get too high or too low. That’s what you want in a leader. He doesn’t let setbacks disrupt his game, and is able to keep the team composed.”
Ste. Genevieve will protect Ferranto with a line that also shined in terms of run blocking. Three starters are back after ushering teammates to about 9 yards per carry for the second straight year.
Left tackle Dalton McBride highlights the group, and fellow three-year starter Nathan Johnson is among several possible options at center. Jacob Schweigert looks to follow up a solid sophomore campaign while Wyatt Kemper and Jacob Warren have also secured key roles.
Jack Farlow filled in admirably when all-state halfback Ayden Butcher suffered a concussion, and will start there with patient sophomore Justin Schweigert serving as his back-up.
Springkamper has been plagued with injuries in each of the past two years, but presents an excellent target over the middle with multiple double-digit reception games on his résumé.
Flye and Reed also caught their share of touchdown passes last fall. Meyer may be the most physically imposing receiver the Dragons have.
Ste. Genevieve rarely elects to attempt field goals once nearing the red zone, but senior Bryant Schwent has the ability to connect from beyond 40 yards.
The Dragons have established a foundation for future stability. The current sophomore class contains 20 athletes, several of whom can start now if called upon.
Although Pope knows the thrill of winning it all as a former assistant at Valle Catholic and Jackson, his immediate aspirations with Ste. Genevieve extend beyond a postseason run.
“From my experience of going deep into the playoffs and winning some state titles, long-term goals are different in my mind. We put more emphasis on preparing kids for stuff after high school. A kid gets 60 games at maximum to play football. If we only prepare them for those 60 nights, and not for the next 60 years of their lives, then we’re failing as coaches.”
Aug. 25 – at Festus
Sept. 1 – at Affton
Sept. 8 – Orchard Farm
Sept. 15 – at Fredericktown*
Sept. 22 – Central*
Sept. 29 – at Potosi*
Oct. 6 – Valle Catholic*
Oct. 13 – Jefferson
Oct. 20 – at Kelly