The Pittsburg Purple Dragon football team record its first losing season in a decade with a 4-5 record last season.
With a larger returning group of seniors and the hopes of a healthier season ahead, head coach Tom Nickelson is optimistic for the 2020 season.
“We had a small, but tough, group of seniors that battled through injuries all season,” commented Tom Nickelson, who is entering his 10th year as the Purple Dragons head coach.
“They prepared well and played hard and helped a lot of underclassmen get valuable Friday night experience.”
Pittsburg returns six starters on offense, including three offensive linemen.
Returning up front for Pittsburg is seniors Matt Cicero, 6′ 240lbs., Logan Kunkler, 6’2″ 245 lbs., and Blake Harrison, 6′ 260 lbs.
The Purple Dragons have a trio of skills players returning with plenty of Friday night experience.
Junior quarterback Cooper Hayden, 6’1″ 175lbs., will be the signal-caller this year.
Hayden recorded 820 passing yards and 4 touchdowns as well as 85 yards rushing with 4 touchdowns.
The receiving duties belong to 6’5″ 165 lbs. senior Haiden McCoy and 5’11” 170 lbs. senior L.J. Butcher.
The duo recorded 27 receptions with 317 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.
Junior Caiden Barber will handle the carrying duties throughout the season at the running back position.
In his sophomore campaign, Barber had 356 yards on 35 carries and 6 touchdowns.
“We hope to be much improved and faster on offense,” commented Nickelson.
“We have an experienced quarterback [returning] and a very explosive running back in the backfield.”
In addition to moving up to 5A, another challenge Pittsburg faces this season is a lack of experience on the defensive line.
“We graduated a dominate defensive line from last season. Replacing those players upfront will be a challenge,” said the Purple Dragons head coach.
This year, having their chance at the starting role will be seniors Xander Drenick, Caleb Redd, and Zane Decker. The four upperclassmen all combine for 870 lbs. up front and will provide a much-needed push to get to the backfield.
Junior Grant Roelfs, 5’10” 200 lbs., brings his experience once again in the linebackers group.
Moving up to 5A brings its own host of challenges on the schedule for Pittsburg.
On the east side is returning state champion Mill Valley, along with De Soto, long time rival St. Thomas Aquinas, Emporia and others.
Independent from the SEK League in football will allow Pittsburg to fill its schedule with the likes of Washburn Rural, Wichita South, and across state lines with Bolivar, MO.
The Purple Dragons season starts at home for week 1 against former SEK League rival the Labette County Grizzlies.