The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 29, 2013

Position battles heat up for Joplin football

By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer

— The summer has gone by fast so far for Joplin football coach Chris Shields, and he knows it’s not going to slow down anytime soon.

Especially with the amount of competition and open starting positions the Eagles have.

“We have a lot of new faces for this fall and a lot of open spots,” Shields said on Saturday. “We only have a few spots that I would say are locked down. Everything else is wide open.”

So far, outside of routine workouts and weights, the Eagles have had a week of team camp and weekly 7-on-7 games to kick-start the positional competition.

Three weeks ago the Eagles split their week-long camp between home and Northwest Missouri State, attending the Bearcats’ team camp for three days.

“This is where the work is and that’s what I keep telling the kids,” Shields said. “If you want to get to work and get better and have a chance to compete, this is where you do it.”

Joplin hosts a weekly 7-on-7 league at Junge Field and has attended games at Kickapoo. Last week the Eagles went 5-1 at Ozark’s 7-on-7 tournament.

That could be a good sign for a team that has four players competing for its starting quarterback job.

Senior Tristan Ash, juniors Skyler Duley and Austin Zengel and sophomore Colby Cornett all have a shot at the position, Shields said.

“I like all four of them. They’re all four good kids who work hard,” Shields said. “I’ve seen good things from each of them. The job is absolutely up for grabs. It’s wide open, and I feel confident we’ll have a good quarterback to lead us, whoever wins.”

Ideally, Shields said he would name a starter following the team’s scrimmage at the end of the first week of practice in August. But he also said he wouldn’t rush to name one if he wasn’t ready.

“The thing is, we have two weeks of practice and then we’re into game week,” Shields said. “Hopefully we’ll have a starter named before that second week, but if we don’t, we won’t force it.

“For me, it’s exciting to have kids compete like this. I’m not in a hurry to name a starter right now. This is essentially our training camp.”

The Eagles have a large number of open starting spots outside of the quarterback position. Joplin lost its starting running back, tight end and all but one of its offensive linemen.

Ash is the lone full-time returning starter on defense.

“I really like the competition we have right now,” Shields said. “I just sit back and observe. The kids are competing well.”

Shields, who is preparing for his third season at Joplin, said the Eagles had approximately 100 players, freshmen through seniors, for the team camp earlier in the month.

“We’re not where we should be in terms of numbers, but we’re getting better,” he said. “Every year we have more kids. And we had a lot more freshmen this year than in the past.

“I’m excited about the future of football in Joplin and I’m excited for this year.”