It was somewhat of a nightmare.
This past April, Cory Snyder accepted the head coaching job at Francis Howell, one of the best football programs in the state of Missouri. Snyder had been the Westminster Wildcats head coach since 2011 and his record speaks for itself at 44-17; three straight district championships, a state semifinal appearance,and a Metro League conference championship this past season.
This left a gigantic void in the Westminster football program for Snyder had built one of the best football programs in the area during his five-year tenure. The announcement came with 130 days to go until the Missouri football season kicked off, but the powers that be at WCA, perhaps made the best possible choice, which was swift and simple.
For a program that had a great head coach, plus a shipshape coaching staff, Westminster stayed home and selected the offensive coordinator, Chris Pederson.
“I was ready professionally to step up. I was very honored to be next in line,” Pederson said. “There’s a lot to build on and a lot to be excited about.”
This will be Pederson’s rookie year as head coach, but he’s been around in the coaching business for much longer. Pederson has been coaching football for 15 seasons and for the last 14 he’s been at Westminster.
The new role Pederson has, is a role that a boat load of coaches would love to be at for a program like Westminster.
“You can do a lot with consistency. We have a lot of it with staff, the kids, the families, and the program. A lot of that is attributable to Cory and what he did.”
Since he’s taken over the reigns, Pederson has been satisfied with his players work ethic in the off-season.
“We’ve had good work in the weight room and we made most of the contact days and 7-on-7’s. It’s always a challenge to get kids where you need them and when you need them to be there, but for the most part we had a good buy in.”
On the field, the Wildcats will be among one of the best teams in the area, not just for small schools, and a heavy contender to get to their first ever state championship in Class 4.
“We have solid kids and good families. It’s a good core group of kids to build off of. There’s been a solid foundation in the past and I think we can build on that.”
The Wildcats return a hefty amount from their offense that averaged 40 points in 2015.
Headlining it is Steve Webb, a 2nd Team All-State honoree, as well as First Team All-District and All-Conference (Metro League). Webb rushed for 1,874 yards, 23 touchdowns, and obtained over 2,000 all-purpose yards.
“He’s a great player and a great kid, Pederson said.
The six-foot, one-inch, 185-pound senior is arguably among the best running backs in the St. Louis area.
For the last four seasons, the Wildcats have had the luxury of a splendid signal caller with the likes of Brett Bond, Brendan Bognar, and Evan Johnson. Now it’s the Chad Briden era and the dual-threat quarterback has potential.
“Chad’s (6’2”, 180 Ibs) definitely another solid, dependable kid who works hard, and knows our system well. We can expect a lot out of Chad. Mentally and physically he’s getting good reps and I’m excited about what he’ll be able to do for sure,” Pederson said
Briden has a well-rounded attack force at his disposal. This is where Westminster’s offense can be scary good. The Wildcats return leading receiver, Dylan Conway, who caught 13 touchdowns and 790 yards. Logan Sells was the fourth receiver last season, but he made the most of his reps with 5 touchdowns and 465 yards with just 23 catches. Newcomer, Jeremiah Thompson will be added into the mix.
If this offense has any learning curves then it is their offensive line, who graduated virtually all of their starters that helped pave the way for Webb and gave enough time for Johnson to air it out, but things are looking optimistic.
“A green, young offensive line who are looking to establish themselves early and play hard,” Pederson said. “They need to make the most of reps right now and they’re doing it. We’ve got mainly a couple seniors that’ll step in and a lot young guys that didn’t get many reps last year.”
The Wildcats roughly bring back half of the defense from a season ago.Key returners are Josh Pottebaum, who Pederson labeled as their leader. Austin Greene, Jimmy Thomas, and Webb all return at the linebacker corps. New cornerbacks will step up and the defensive line, at the moment will be by committee.
Westminster is the first team not named John Burroughs to claim the Metro League outright conference championship for the first time since MICDS did it in 2011.
“I love our league. It’s competitive and if nothing else it preps you for a big postseason run. You can’t sleep on anybody. There’s not a weak link in our conference.”
On their day this team will be one of the hardest to beat in St. Louis with their skill and hard work mentality. It won’t be a surprise if Webb rushes for over 200 yards and Briden throws for over 200 yards on a nightly basis, or if one or the other takes the load. Briden could also sling the ball to Conway and let him run past and embarrass some defenders while he’s at it. The offensive line will certainly be tested in the Metro League with the likes of Burroughs, Lutheran North and South returning the majority of their lines. However, knowing Westminster, chances are and game by game they’ll do alright. On the other side of the ball, one may assume that if the offense will be near their best then the defense just needs to do enough, but they have the potential to do more than enough to get by.
“There’s a lot to build on and a lot to be excited about,” Pederson said.
This has the makings to be a memorable year for Westminster football and a Class 4 state championship may well be in the equation.