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PITTSBURG — Coming off back-to-back eight-win seasons, Pittsburg High School is ready to kick off another season of Purple Dragon football.

PHS is coming off an 8-2 season which included a trip to the regional round of the Class 5A playoffs. The Purple Dragons opened the season with five straight wins before injuries started to take a toll. They beat Spring Hill in the opening round of the postseason before falling to Bishop Miege in the regional round.

“We were hit by the injury bug last season,” said Tom Nickelson, who begins his ninth season as head coach with a 56-23 overall mark in the program. “By game six, we had several senior starters that were out for the remainder of season. We were able to watch our team develop and having new leaders emerge.”

Pittsburg returns seven starters from a year ago, including senior Sam Herring on both the offensive and defensive line. Joining him on the offensive line is junior Matt Cicero.

The defense will include five returning starters. In addition to Herring, other players back in the lineup are seniors Shay Mahnken (line), Aaron Woods (line), Sam Roark (safety/linebacker) and Ethan Wiedert (linebacker).

From there, the Dragons will be looking at other returning players such as seniors Donavin Nelson (running back), Jesse Stover (offensive line), Trevor Stover (tight end) and Dennis Hiekes (wide receiver/defensive back); and junior L.J. Butcher (wide receiver).

“All of our seniors will have to be tremendous leaders this season … no matter their position on the depth chart,” Nickelson said.

The Purple Dragons — who are playing as an independent once again in Class 5A — will face another challenging schedule this season, with five of their eight regular-season contests on the road. That begins on Sept. 6 with a trip to Southeast Kansas League foe Labette County. PHS will play two other SEK foes, including Sept. 13 at home with Chanute and Sept. 27 at Fort Scott.

The remainder of the schedule will include home games with Ulysses (Oct. 4) and Olathe East (Oct. 18), as well as trips to Blue Valley North (Sept. 20), Mill Valley (Oct. 11) and DeSoto (Oct. 25).

“Our expectations are the same as every year … to get better everyday and to play for their community, school and teammates,” Nickelson said. “I expect us to do all the little things correctly, to respect our opponents and to play hard.”

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