When Parker Boyce, Will Duncan, Colby Phillips, Brett Price, Brett Stanfield, and Sam Stichnote started playing tackle football as third-graders, I knew they were destined for greatness. The boys, including my son Alex, were teamed up with Southern Boone’s fourth-grade boys their first year. The combined roster featured future high school standouts such as Seth Mueller, Cooper Mange, and Jackson Sartain among others.

Travis Naughton

The boys won every game they played that first season. During one four-game stretch, they didn’t allow their opponents to score a single point. They won every game they played the next season, too. And they won all but the last game of their third season as well. Coached by Brian Brookshire, Dave Stanfield, Mike Stichnote, and Mike Mills, the boys learned not only how to win, but how to win with class.

When Alex and his teammates were in middle school, I was asked to be the public address announcer for their home games. I remember telling my new friends in the press box to pay attention. “These boys are special,” I said. Though they didn’t enjoy the same level of success in middle school as they did in their youth football league days, the boys showed flashes of brilliance as they continued to develop their skills. The future looked bright.

By the time they reached high school, Alex and several of his teammates had walked away from the game for various reasons. I respected my son’s decision, and admittedly, I was relieved that he would no longer be lining up against players who outweighed him by 100 pounds. The boys who would eventually be known as the Senior Six—Parker, Will, Colby, Sam, and the two Bretts—would carry the torch for the Class of 2019.

This year’s amazing run, which included Southern Boone’s first-ever Class 3 District Championship and 10-win season, was the culmination of years and years of hard work and dedication by the Senior Six, their teammates, Head Coach Trent Tracy, and his assistants. When the playoff brackets paired Southern Boone with Trinity Catholic in the state quarterfinals last week, very few people thought the Eagles had a chance to beat the 10-2 Titans, a team whose only losses came to nationally ranked teams from Illinois and Georgia.

The Titans have a roster that includes 8 players with scholarship offers at Division I colleges, three offensive lineman who weigh over 310 pounds, wide receivers with world-class speed, and a quarterback with 27 TDs and only 3 interceptions on the year. Coming into Friday’s contest, Trinity had scored an average of 66 points per playoff game while yielding an average of only 5.3 points. How could the undersized Eagles, with only one future college player on their roster, hope to compete against one of the best high school football teams in the state of Missouri?

The answer is hidden within the question: hope. The Senior Six and their teammates have always believed that they can compete with anyone, no matter how big or fast or strong they are. They’ve never been intimidated by an opponent. No team, not even Trinity Catholic, could match the effort and determination of our Eagles.

Late in last Friday’s game, the mighty Titans found themselves trailing an outmatched opponent that had been given no chance to win. Their vaunted passing game was grounded by several outstanding plays by sophomore defensive back Blake Dapkus. Their imposing defense had surrendered two touchdowns to junior Tristan John and a long field goal to Parker Boyce. Trinity’s only success came on broken plays that turned into huge gains. The Titans were rattled. They were completely out of their element.

The Eagles were in their element. The muddy field served as The Great Equalizer, slowing down the speedy Titans and forcing them to fight for every single yard they earned. The undersized Eagles have had to fight for every single yard their entire lives. Frequently lining up against bigger, more athletic opponents, this Eagles team has always relied on its secret weapon to win games: heart.

You could watch football for the rest of your life and not see the amount of heart the Eagles displayed last Friday night. Though they came up just short in the end, the Eagles still had a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter. They held the Titans to only 27 points, almost 40 points below their playoff average. The Eagles scored 17 points, which was more than the Titans’ other three playoff opponents scored combined.

To the Senior Six, I want you to know that even had you won the game, I couldn’t be any prouder of you boys than I am right now. That was one of the single greatest displays of effort and heart I have ever seen on a football field. It has been a pleasure to watch you grow up over the years and become the outstanding young men you are today. You have honored your community, not just because of your accomplishments on the football field, but because of how you represent the people of Southern Boone.

To the parents of the Senior Six, I know how much you’re going to miss watching your sons playing under the Friday night lights. It feels like it was just the other day when they were trying to figure out how to put on their uniforms for the first time. It doesn’t seem possible that they’ll never wear the Black and Red again.

To the coaches, underclassmen, and fans, thank you for helping to make this team and this community the Pride of Mid-Missouri. It’s a great time to be an Eagle.