After missing out on a third straight championship last season, Hennessey's players have rededicated themselves to raising another gold ball.
The Eagles rolled to the district championship, but ran into a buzz saw in Vian in the playoffs.
“There was no question about it; it was probably one of the best 2A teams I had seen in a long time,” Hennessey coach Rick Luetjen said. “They just physically outplayed us that night and they were the better football team, no doubt. We just felt like it was maybe just a little bit of lack of confidence on our part going on, which we haven't experienced that in a long time.
“I think what it's done is it made them more hungry coming back this year because we did miss that opportunity last year. The last two years after winning it, it's a little different because you come in with a little different mindset.”
Hennessey returns seven starters on offense, but is looking to replace leading rusher Levi Hill. Luetjen said senior William Arndt, who backed up Hill last season, will take over at tailback and has the ability to step in and not miss a beat.
COACHES' POPULAR PICKS: ALVA, HENNESSEY
The general consensus among the coaches was Hennessey and Alva being the top two teams in the district.
But Alva coach Bruce Dollar still sees Hennessey as the favorite. The real problem for the coaches was selecting teams after those in the poll.
“We're going to be in the mix and then I think all of the rest of the teams are just about the same,” Dollar said. “It's hard to pick one over the other.”
PAIR OF DUOS RETURN FOR ALVA
Alva returns four dynamic players this season, and two of them are on each side of the ball.
The Goldbugs' offense was driven by quarterback Ty Hooper and receiver Riley Hess last season. Hooper threw for 2,908 yards and 25 touchdowns, while Hess caught 58 passes for 1,339 yards and 23 touchdowns. Both are back for their fourth season as starters.
“Just like every other school, you got a couple of kids you depend on a lot,” Dollar said. “If you don't have them, you don't have the same kind of season.”
Equally important will be the linebacker duo of Cade Pfleider and Joby Allen. The duo combined for nearly 400 tackles last season.
NEWKIRK RECOVERED FROM INJURY PLAGUED 2012
Newkirk coach Bob Underwood feels his team went from being what should have been a seven-win season to a three-win season last season.
There's a good reason for that: injuries.
The Tigers lost star lineman Andrew Leaming to a broken collarbone and also lost quarterback Brendan McDonald to an injury.
McDonald later reinjured himself during baseball season. Underwood said he is instead moving him to receiver and going with junior Jaycee Johnston under center.
Leaming, though, may be the Tigers' key. He's added 20 pounds this offseason to his 6-foot-4 frame to reach 280 pounds, which will be crucial in Newkirk's run-heavy attack.
“Hopefully he can dominate and let us get our run game going offensively,” Underwood said. “We're going to rely on him and follow his big rear end an awful lot.”
District 2A-1 coaches' poll
T1. Hennessey (10-3)
T1. Alva (8-4)
T3. Perry (6-5)
T3. Tonkawa (5-5)
5. Chisholm (5-5)
6. Newkirk (3-7)
7. Pawnee (1-9)
Note: Last year's records in parentheses