Renovations are going on at Parkway North High School.
Parking lots, new roofs, and adding on to the music department is among the areas getting new makeovers. The same can be said for the Vikings football team for the 2017 season and onwards because they have an influx of athletes, which head coach Bob Bunton and the rest of the coaching staff want to exploit. Exploit perhaps the most rapid squad he’s ever had.
“One of the fastest, no question. High school coaches keep records of strength and conditioning, on paper this is our fastest team we’ve ever had,” Bunton said. “We were running out of tight-ends in our program, and we saw this the last couple of years. We’re not second-guessing it yet.”
For years and years, North ran a run-heavy offense that was successful over time all the way up to last season, which saw the Vikings go 11-3, and fell one game short for a date in the MSHSAA Class 4 State Championship at Missouri State University. This season they have the same goal, but now the Vikings know what it feels like to come close, but not come through.
“That’s kind of our motto is to finish. We really thought going to Kansas City (Harrisonville) that we can win that. We were one game short of our goal, and that certainly is a goal this year,” Bunton said. “It’s a new team new chemistry. We got to convince the kids we have to, but it’s not easy with high school kids from year-to-year.”
North joins a load of schools across the country that are slowly switching over to the spread offense. Perhaps it is a change of the times and football is evolving? Maybe. However, the Vikings reason appears to be opportunistic, and they have every reason to feel that this change will yield success with what they have at their disposal.
At quarterback is Jalani Williams who is known for his bone crushing hits at free safety and his all-around athletic ability. He replaces three-year starter Luke Hertzler who threw 33 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards in his career. This isn’t the first time Williams has been the signal caller. After Hertzler had suffered a season-ending injury in week four of the 2015 season, Williams a freshman at the time took over the offense for six-and-a-half games and did reasonably well for being thrown into the fire. Williams stands at 6-2, 175 lbs and runs a 4.57 40-yard dash.
“We’re trying to maximize his skill on both sides of the ball. He can run, he’s a good athlete. He plays very aggressively, a wonderful kid, great student, and a leader.”
Williams is being recruited for his talents on defense and has 15 Division 1 offers so far.
After being a backup for the last two seasons, Jekeel Suber will take over the reigns at running back. In 2016 he ran for 409 yards and two touchdowns on 72 carries. Bunton regards Suber as, “one of the fastest kids in the state.” He has evidence to back it up with his performances in track and field last semester.
The receiver corps has speed going every which way.
Jason Hawkins is back for his third year as a starter; he led the team in catches receiving yards in 2016. C.J. Boone, a transfer from Chaminade who sat out last season will be a key part of the offense. Boone, a tall receiver stands at 6-3 and was part of the Parkway North track team that finished second in state along with Williams, Hawkins, and Suber.
An under the radar player that hasn’t featured yet, but will get action is senior Jacob Abell. He is the career leader in stolen bases for the Vikings baseball team and ran a 4.40 40-yard this summer. Anthony Wilson will be another impact receiver as well, who has been a three-year starter at cornerback previously. He has two offers from Indiana State and Dayton as of now.
The Vikings aren’t immune to having some speed, but they’re accustomed to brute strength. The player who stands out in that regard is senior defensive tackle and the No. 37th ranked player in the country (scout.com), Michael Thompson. The 6-4, 275 lbs beast will anchor an already impressive defensive line.
“Michael Thompson is probably the most decorated kid college scholarship wise we’ve ever had. He can go anywhere in the country,” Bunton said. “Michael is great about it. We don’t talk about it much. It’ll be exciting to see where he chooses, but it’s about right now this year, and the kids know that. Michael’s played every down since his freshman year. We’re very pleased to have him back for a fourth year.”
Another big recruit on campus is Tyson Collins, a 6-3, 275 lbs offensive guard and Thompson will be accompanying him in a physical offensive line.
“Tyson is every bit as good as Michael. Those two have been next to each other for four years. You don’t get that in college much,” Bunton said. “Those kids have grown up in front of us and really, really proud and excited for them because they’ll be the anchors of a line that could be pretty good.”
Collins holds eight offers and counting as of now.
The Vikings had one of the best defenses in the state but will be looking to fill some voids at linebacker. Nonetheless the secondary and defensive front are strong.
“We have aces in spaces. We got some very good kids returning. Caleb Joyce on the outside had a great year, really an underrated player,” Bunton said. “We have to replace the inside backs in our 3-4 scheme.”
Wesley Lane is another player who will step in at linebacker. A quick player with good strength, he recently received his first offer from Robert Morris University.
North has an impressive looking team overall but will rely on underclassmen in the reserve areas, and if injuries come up, they’ll have to step in. However, Bunton is confident.
“These guys are a very competitive group. I don’t want to compare to last year. What kids don’t understand is that now you’re the target. That’s not always easy to play from. We got kids coming up that maybe by name aren’t familiar to a lot of people, but we feel it’s time for them to step. I don’t think we’re great yet on defense. We gotta develop, it could be a whole season thing, but we think we’ll be okay on defense.”
The Vikings will be one of the favorites, if not the flat out favorites to win a state championship this season in Class 4 coming out of St. Louis. It helps that the Suburban XII South Division has mostly Class 5 schools and Kirkwood, the reigning Class 6 championship. The conference prepares the schools for the playoffs and also forces everyone to be ready to play every night. One of the games Bunton recalls last season was Ritenour upsetting North 35-34.
“You always want to be ready each week, but Ritenour taught our kids a lesson last year. We weren’t ready to play them, and they blitzed us. They were up 34-6 at halftime. We scored 28 points in the third quarter, but they blitzed us. In our conference, we keep telling them if you’re not ready to go you’ll have it handed to you right away.”
North opens their season on the road to longtime rivals, Parkway Central. The Vikings proved to be double-trouble for the Colts knocking them off in week 1 (21-9) and then in the district championship (37-7). Again it’s a new year, and Bunton adds in the rivalry factor to the equation.
“I don’t care if we beat them twice last year, it’s always a toss-up,” Bunton said. “They do a great job over there.”
So, what is the overall team goal? A state championship? Sure, but that goes without saying even though the Vikings have a target on their back. But what is the key element that they can control every day?
“Quite honestly I’m kind of old school. I told the kids we just want to keep developing,” Bunton said. “Everybody says get better each day, and that’s true, but we have to develop as a team in leadership and chemistry that’s so important. We’re working on being together hopefully to Thanksgiving. That’s a heck of a long journey. You’re going to have ups and downs. Girlfriend problems, teacher problems. We have to take it day-by-day.”