SHANE SHOEMAKER – Sports Writer
When asked what was needed to be done differently from last season, Marion County Head Coach Tim Starkey didn’t hesitate, “I wrote that on our weight room board just last week,” he revealed.
The word he was referring to was a simple, four-syllable word familiar with most athletic programs, yet Starkey expressed it had to be emphasized this upcoming season. No matter how good or bad things got, whether it was on the field or in the weight room — wherever – this word, and the meaning behind it, would be paramount to this season’s success.
That word? Consistency.
Consistency wasn’t exactly in the team’s favor last season according to Starkey. Whether it was having his team learn a new offense, his defense was unable to make stops or suffering through key injuries to their veteran players, they could never find their consistency as a team.
“Last year on defense, we just couldn’t get off the grass,” Starkey said. “We put up points at times [on offense], and I think our kids understood what we were trying to do on offense, but we just couldn’t get enough stops to win the game [on defense].”
Starkey lamented that losing three key players on their offense was detrimental.
“We couldn’t ever find a good gel or mesh after that, just having to replace so many bodies,” Starkey said. “And it seemed like every time one of those kids got hurt, or an older player got hurt, we’re throwing in a sophomore.
Those three players were then-senior Alex Condra and then-juniors Chance Gravitt and Ben Royal.
“It’s an old saying – and we used to laugh about it – but I had to live by last year, I guess – they say for every sophomore you play, you’re subject to lose a game,” Starkey said. “I kind of felt that a little bit, you know, thinking that was a myth. It kind of set true for me last year.”
The Warriors ended with a .500 season last year, finishing 2-3 in the region and missing the playoffs.
“Anytime you go .500, it’s something that you don’t ever want to try to do,” Starkey said. “You always want to overachieve. We’ve had the injury bug hit us. We had a young team. We had a bunch of excuses that people made for us, but as a coach and a competitor … no matter, whatever you got, you just want to win with it. Turning the page, we just hope we’re much better from last year and we learned some hard lessons from last year.”
Although the Warriors were forced to play more of the younger part of their team than they’d hoped for last season, it could prove to be fruitful this season. Those sophomores from last year are now juniors, and there’s a whopping 18 of them now. That’s not to exclude the 14 seniors on the squad.
And as for starters, Starkey said they’ll be bringing back seven on each side of the ball.
But it won’t be just his players coming in with more experience, it’ll be Coach Starkey himself who will be only entering his second full season as head coach for the Warriors.
“It’s been more comfortable going into year two because I have now had a whole year with the team, the program … doing stuff in the weight room that I think can make us better,” Starkey said. “It’s been kind of more of what I would like to do and like to see as a head coach for my team. I’m really interested, really curious and anxious to see if what we got in store is going to pay off.”
There will, however, still be some unfamiliarity this season as the Warriors are set to take on a completely different region than in years past. They will now be in Region 4 2-A, with Forrest, Cannon County, Cascade and Fayetteville.
They will face three out of four of those in the last three games of the season, including back-to-back road games on Oct. 6 and 20 against Cannon County and Cascade, which will be an additional 165 miles-worth of travel for the Warriors. However, they will have a bye week in between those games.
Nevertheless, those will be crucial region games at the end of the season that will determine Marion County’s ultimate fate.
“I told the guys, we got high hopes for this season, but the first thing we need to do is concentrate on winning that region first,” Starkey said. “Because if you can win that region, it sets you up for a good playoff run by being that one-seed. And then anything can happen in the playoffs. Our goal is to take it one game at a time, embrace this new region we’re in.”
This is in the second of a three-part series on high school football in Marion County leading up to the 2023 season. The stories are accompanied by Duane Sherrill photos.