ALTAMONT — Injuries seemed to take a toll on the Labette County Grizzlies a year ago. Despite opening up the season at 3-1, they suffered losses in four of their final five games to close out the campaign at 4-5 overall.
Although LCHS made a third consecutive trip to the postseason, it has some questions to answer this season, including how it will replace leader and current Iowa State University player Easton Dean.
“We had a lot of injuries and had some young players step up at the varsity level,” said Sean Price, who enters his fifth season as head coach at Labette County. “Creating depth is crucial. Players must be ready physically, no matter the grade level. If you can play, age doesn’t matter.”
The Grizzlies lost some key leadership a year ago to graduation but still has plenty of talent to make a push in the Southeast Kansas League. LCHS returns nine total starters this season, including five on defense and four on offense. That includes senior defensive end Caleb Haggard, a First Team All-SEK and Honorable Mention All-Class 4A performer that recorded 54 tackles (15.5 for loss); as well as junior strong safety Trent Brock, All-SEK Honorable Mention with 37 tackles last season.
Also returning on the defensive side of the ball are three other seniors in free safety Ethan Jameson, defensive back Nathan Smith and linebacker Brayden Lewis. James returns after recording 60 tackles and three interceptions a year ago.
Offensively, the Grizzlies have four starters back. Smith returns at wide receiver after posting 34 catches for 634 yards and four touchdowns last season. Joining him will be senior Evan Baima at tackle, junior Chase Evans at running back and sophomore Mitchell House at guard.
Price has other individuals that could step into key roles this season, such as seniors Austin Jones at quarterback and Kainen Campmier at wide receiver/defensive back; and juniors Noah Yeoman at wide receiver and Andrew Jameson at linebacker.
“Our willingness to work is always key at Labette County,” Price said. “We have great character kids that aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. We have to get stronger and more physical on both sides of the ball. We have some great young players coming up, but they need to grow up quick.”
That is definitely the case with a home matchup against state power Pittsburg set for Sept. 6 to kick off the 2019 campaign. Following that is a three-game road trip that include visits to Independence on Sept. 13, Coffeyville Sept. 20 and Winfield on Sept. 27.
Three of the final four games will be at home, starting with an Oct. 4 matchup against defending SEK champion Fort Scott. Wellington makes the trip to Altamont on Oct. 11 before Labette County makes its longest trip in school history on Oct. 18 way out west to Ulysses. The Grizzlies close out the regular season on Oct. 25 at home against Chanute.