On the heels of leading Kirkwood to a 9-4 season, and a berth in the 2010 Class 5 semifinals, head coach Matt Irvin enters his second season with the Pioneers.
Before everything plays out under the lights as the leaves begin to turn brown and the weather cools, Kirkwood could again be making noise in the Suburban South Conference race and the Class 5 playoffs.
“It will be a tall order, but we feel like we can be more consistent and get better as the season moves on,” Irvin said.
Kirkwood has seven starters back, and there is perhaps no more important piece to the puzzle than senior quarterback B.J. Buckner.
Offense: The key to Kirkwood’s ability to light the scoreboard up will rest almost squarely upon the shoulders of Buckner, one the area’s most electrifying performers last year. He threw for 1,535 yards and 20 touchdowns, and rushed for another 398 yards and nine touchdowns.
The ball figures to be in his hands quite a bit this season “B.J. really came on well for us late in the year and did some good things,” Irvin said. “We need him to be more consistent this year and have less bad plays and more good plays, but we feel very comfortable with him at quarterback.”
Other key returners on offense for the Pioneers include junior running back Ramon Alton and senior star receiver Mike McHugh, who is verbally committed to play college football at Northwestern in the 2012 season. McHugh will get plenty of balls thrown his way as he collected 614 yards receiving with nine TD catches in 2010.
Along the offensive line, junior Matt Berry, senior Matt Seeley and junior Terrell Burrage are expected to help provide protection and running lanes for the Pioneers. The Pioneers’ formation will allow them to run or pass depending on the defensive front shown.
“We’ll run a spread formation, usually out of the shotgun and try to be balanced with our attack,” Irvin said.
Defense: With only two starters back from a group that graduated nine players, the Pioneers figure to be a bit hard-pressed to hold teams to 15 points per game like last year’s unit did.
Senior defensive end Antonio Jackson and senior defensive lineman Max Kramer are expected to be the core of the Pioneers’ stop crew. The defensive line will be in a state of flux until the start of the season.
“There will be a cast of characters there, and it will likely be more of a line-by-committee type of situation,” Irvin said.
At the linebacker position, senior Jamal Hicks and Berry will be counted on for run support and blitz pressure as needed. In the defensive backfield, senior Marquis Terry and junior Ed Richey will man the cornerback spots and junior Jordan Bishop will patrol the deep middle of the field at strong safety.
Kirkwood prefers to run a mix of 4-3 and 4-2 packages that allow run stopping and better-than-average pressure on the quarterback in passing situations.
2011 Outlook: Aside from getting back to the playoffs, the biggest goal for Kirkwood is moving into the top three of the Suburban South Conference. Kirkwood finished the 2010 season with a 4-2 conference mark, but Irvin knows that will have to be better against the likes of Parkway Central, Parkway North, and Class 5 powerhouse Webster Groves, if the Pioneers want to be among the conference’s elite clubs.
“There were a couple of games last year we dropped that cost us in the conference,” Irvin said. “We hope to move up the ladder and we hope to be in the mix and that’s where we’d like to be.”
Week 1: Friday, Aug. 26 at home against Rockwood Summit at 7 p.m. Kirkwood Patch will have complete coverage.
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