Central region

Missouri High School Football Team Previews (South Central Region): New coach takes charge of Ava’s squad fresh out of the quarterfinals

By Chris Geinosky | Photo courtesy of the Missouri Helmet Project

Over the next few weeks, SBLive Missouri will be breaking down various high school football teams across the state in preparation for the upcoming 2022 season. Here’s our look at the Ava Bears.


Casey Merrifield, 1st season (0-0)


6 attack, 5 defense


General assessment: 11-1

League records: 7-0, 1st in South Central Association

Playoffs: Lost 35-14 to eventual Class 2 runner-up Lamar in state quarterfinals


OL/LB Carter Mahan, 6-0, 200, Sr.

During last year’s dominant campaign where Ava outscored opponents by an average margin of 40-12, Mahan led the defense with 115 total tackles and 11 sacks and was named to the first team defense of all lectures by South Central Association coaches. He will also start on the offensive line to help the team.

FB/LB Hunter Adams, 5-11, 195, So.

Adams put together arguably the most productive season of any freshman in the entire state last year, rushing for a team-leading 1,174 yards and 25 touchdowns. With the team’s next three leading runners departing toward graduation, he will be relied upon even more as the lone returner in the backfield.

OL/DL Kegan Evans, 6-2, 230, Sr.

A ground-and-pound team that rushed the ball for nearly 4,000 yards (298 per game) last year, Ava depends on her offensive line to win at the point of attack. Evans, who is described as a “big badass” by the coaching staff, will anchor the forward both offensively and defensively.

RB/DB Grady Goss, 5-9, 150, Sr.

The team’s hardest-working player, Goss is expected to lead the defense from a safe position, where he racked up 94 total tackles a season ago. With the loss of so many background pieces from last year, he will rely on a bigger attacking piece.

WR/LB Ashton Stout, 5-10, 150, Sr.

Stout could be the player with the most impact on the Bears’ season fate. A key contributor on both sides of the ball as a receiver and linebacker for Ava last year, it looks like he’ll move into quarterback for his senior season.


K Jeremiah Blakely, 5-11, 205, Sr.; OL/DL Luke Little, 6-2, 225, Sr.; RB/DE Tyson Tidwell, 5-7, 160, Jr.; OL/DL Junior Cazares, 5-11, 280, Jr.; OL/DL Erick Haro, 5-9, 280, Sr.


RB/DB Rylin Dickson, 5-10, 145, Jr.; OL/DL Kaden Davis, 6-0, 210, Jr.; WR/DE Jacob McGinnis, 6-0, 165, father; RB/DB Thomas Merritt, 5-8, 135, So. ; RB/DB Andy Albritton, 5-8, 130, So. ; OL/DL Matthew Lakey, 5-8, 185, Jr.; OL/DL Brandt Snelson, 5-11, 220, Jr.; OL/DL Braydon Loertcher, 6-2, 245, Sr.; RB/DE Brayden Thorburn, 5-10, 145, Jr.; RB/DB Hunter Hall, 5-11, 150, Sr.; RB/LB Wyatt Johnson, 5-9, 165, Sr.


It’s not often that a football team coming off an impressive 11-1 season embarks on a new campaign with a new head coach. But that’s exactly the situation for Ava, who lost former chef Dan Swofford, the 2021 SCA Coach of the Year who accepted the next-level challenge as an assistant coach at Evangel University in Springfield. .

Casey Merrifield, assistant at Ava for the past 11 years, will now take over. And he has a load of experienced players on his side with 19 return letters, eight of whom have started regularly.

A program that appeared in a state championship game in 2019, Ava endured an injury-depleted season during the COVID year in 2020.

However, the Bears turned things around last season, winning the team’s fourth SCA title in the past five years and winning a district title before falling to perennial powerhouse Lamar State in the quarterfinals. class 2 final.

The team lost six players from all conferences for the first time, including Spencer Skyles and Jacob Lakey, but there’s still plenty of talent in the closet. Hunter Adams returns as the team’s leader a year ago, and Kegan Evans will anchor the offensive line.

Carter Mahan and Grady Goss will lead the defense.


“We have a great mix of experience and newcomers who will lead the way this year. We have a lot of turnover in our backfield both offensively and defensively. I will also be a first-time head coach, and Garrett Baird will be a defensive coordinator for the first time We expect a few bumps in the road, but we expect the 11 players we put on the field at all times to work hard and commit to doing the little things right We expect to be a better team than the week before every time we step onto the pitch.” -Casey Merrifield