O-Zone Kickoff Week: New coach looking to continue winning tradition in Mountain Grove

MOUNTAIN GROVE, Mo. – Mountain Grove first fielded a football team 100 years ago in 1912.  This season Panthers 1st year head coach Rich Johnson has the task of building on last year’s winning season.

HEAD COACH – Rich Johnson, 1st Season

2011 RECORD – (6-5)

RETURNING STARTERS – 5 Offense, 4 Defense

PLAYERS TO WATCH – Brett Johnson (LB), Logan Russ (OL), Ethan Johnson (OL), Tyler Collins (RB)

The Mountain Grove Panthers advanced to the Class 3 playoffs in 2011, but were eliminated in the first round by Springfield Catholic.  The Panthers return a pair of all conference performers, offensive lineman Ethan Johns and running back Tyler Collins. 

Rich Johnson came to Mountain Grove from Holden where he had been the head coach for 7 years.  The biggest challenge Johnson has faced in his first preseason in Mountain Grove has been installing new coaching philosophies.

“We're bringing in a new offensive system with a lot of the same defensive system but new terminology,” said Rich Johnson.  “We intend to improve as the season goes on."

Mountain Grove opens the season Friday night hosting the Class 3 defending state champion Rogersville Wildcats for the “KSPR Game of the Week”.

"To be the best, you've got to beat the best and we get our chance right out of the gate.  They did lose a lot off last year's team, but they are defending state champions and I'm sure they're going to have the attitude of a state champion,” said Johnson. “We better come out and ready to play to make it competitive.”

The Panthers are celebrating the 100th anniversary of football at Mountain Grove High School. 

"Mountain Grove football has a great tradition", said Johnson.  “I knew about the tradition when I was in Kansas City. You look at the facilities and the support of the community and it is awesome.  There's a reason why there's been football here for 100 years and it's because they love their football and hopefully we can put a team together that they can be proud of and want to support.”

Running back Tyler Collins is expected to lead the Panthers rushing attack.  Last year as a junior Collins led the team in rushing with 6 touchdowns on 563 yards.