High school football preview: Guardians ready for changes

Cody Thorn
Special to The Examiner
These returning players are expected to lead the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic football team this fall. Pictured, from left to right, are: Noland Boyer; Ellis Edwards, Caleb Berry, John Morris, Sumyl Hayes-Dunnell and Nicholas Haggerty.

There will be a lot of changes around St. Michael the Archangel’s football program this fall and that starts with a new coach.

After three years under the guidance of Kevin Page, the Guardians will be coached by Andrew Pitts, the defensive coordinator last year. Pitts brings a lofty pedigree in terms of programs he has coached since his playing days at Truman State – both football and baseball – ended

He coached from 2007 to 2014 at Jefferson City Helias, the last four years as the defensive coordinator. Then, he moved to the college ranks with three stops from 2015 to 2018.

Pitts was a cornerbacks coach at St. Thomas, a Division III team in Minnesota that went 14-1 and reached the championship game but lost to Mount Union. He won a championship the next year as a graduate assistant for defensive coordinator Rich Wright at Northwest Missouri State. He stayed in Division II for the next two years, coaching at Lincoln in Jefferson City, serving as special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Given his background in defense, a big change will be him switching to offense, where he will have 10 returning starters back.

“I never coached offense before but I felt more decisions are made on offense with time-management and who the quarterback is,” said Pitts, who has 50 players out this fall. “I felt like I had to come over and I’m excited for it. When you are the coordinator on one side you learn quite a bit about the other side because that is your enemy.”

The offensive line returns four starters, headlined by senior Caleb Berry, an all-district pick. Also back is all-district running back Ellis Edwards, a junior, and sophomore kicker Max Ellis is back after earning all-district honors.

Pitts is expected to run a spread offense with multiple looks, adding that the Guardians can go with two running backs and double tight ends at times, but also only the quarterback in the backfield with four wide receivers.

“Coach Pitts brings a totally different mindset and totally different attitude running the offense,” said senior tight end Nicholas Haggerty, an Independence resident. “We are running really smooth and we should have a really diverse offense.”

Other key targets will be seniors Ethan Smith, Michael Stufflebean, John Morris and junior Michael Haggerty.

Perhaps the biggest question is who will be the quarterback for the offense. Last fall, sophomore Keaton Egerton started the final four games and helped the team pick up a 31-12 win against Clinton.

He is battling juniors Dominick Ruby and Dillon Zaun, a transfer from Lee’s Summit West, for the starting spot. MSHSAA recently ruled Zaun would be eligible to play this season.

The defense, due to injuries last year, will have 12 returning starters for 11 spots this fall. That will be a good problem to have for new defensive coordinator Kenny Wachter. Three players are back on the defensive front, two in the linebacking corps and four in the secondary – two full-time starters.

Berry, who plays defensive tackle, will anchor the line for the Guardians, who finished 3-7 last year. St. Michael is 7-22 in its first three years and this year’s senior class – with 12 total – will look to guide the team to the first winning record in the program’s young history.

“I think we have come a long way from leadership to knowing football to being in this together building as a community,” said Berry, who resides in Blue Springs. “We have come a long way.”

Another new facet will be a totally revamped schedule and possibly a move down in classification. Without the multiplier in place, the Guardians likely won’t have to play in Class 3 anymore.

St. Michael only plays three teams this year that it did last year: Summit Christian Academy, St. Pius X and Kansas City Southeast – one of the three wins last year.

New to the schedule is Pembroke Hill, Hogan Prep, Kansas City Central, Tipton, Clever and Diamond. Gone from the schedule are games against Cass-Midway, Fair Grove, Center, Clinton, Lone Jack and Pierce City.

Home games are at either Lee’s Summit or Lee’s Summit North, depending on if North is home or on the road.

Pitts expects his team to be better this year and perhaps have a chance to up the win total from last year. The program record for wins is four.

“We have a long way to go to get where I think we can be but we will focus more on the process,” Pitts said. “I learned that, especially at Northwest. They don’t stress winning, which is weird, but not weird. They stress the process that makes you be good at football, which turns into winning. They don’t talk about winning. They say stuff like, we’ve got to work hard, show up on time, get this many lifts, improve our attendance. It’s all a process.”

Guardians at a glance

Head coach: Andy Pitts, first year, 0-0 at St. Michael and overall.

Assistant coaches: Tim Pepple, Jerry Price, Michael Briggs, Kenny Wachter, Jim Gulick, Travis Corbin, Matt Infranca, Tony Darling.

Returning letter winners: 22

Returning offensive starters: Ethan Smith, 5-10, 145, sr., WR; Larry Smith, 5-10, 263, jr., OL; Michael Stufflebean, 6-0, 192, sr., WR; Sebastian Swingle, 6-1, 233, sr., OL; Caleb Berry, 6-2, 245, sr., OL; Noland Boyer, 6-1, 177, sr., RB; Ellis Edwards, 5-9, 162, jr., RB; Keaton Egerton, 6-1, 199, soph., QB: Max Ellis, 6-1, 165, so., K; Colby Hendrick, 5-11, 300, jr., OL.

Returning defensive starters: Caleb Berry, 6-2, 245, sr., DL; Noland Boyer, 6-1, 177, sr., LB; Ellis Edwards, 5-9, 162, jr., DB; Nicholas Haggerty, 6-4, 207, sr., DE; Sumyl Hayes-Dunnell, 5-11, 153, sr., DB; Joseph Kimbrough, 5-8, 146, sr., LB; John Morris, 6-1, 158, sr., DB; John Paul Murphy, 5-10, 141, sr., DB; Larry Smith, 5-10, 263, jr., DL; Max Ellis, 6-1, 165, soph., P.

Others to watch: Dillon Zaun, 5-10, 160, jr., QB; Justin Cupp, 6-2, 195; sr., TE/DE: Jacob Edmundson, 5-8, 157, sr., FB/LB; Dominick Ruby, 5-11, 154, jr., QB/DB; Michael Haggerty, 6-4, 191, jr., WR/LB.