The Leavenworth Pioneers were a young football team in 2018. This was something that head coach Mark Littrell stressed during offseason interviews. The young team had struggles as the Pioneers finished the season 1-8. Despite the record, Littrell said he saw a lot of growth in the team.

“I will say we were a lot better football team in Week 8 and 9 than we were in Week 1 and 2,” Littrell said. “So I think you got to look at that. I think our coaches did a good job looking at that and keeping our kids up. I really felt like our kids played hard and gave great effort.”

Littrell said he felt like the team had chances early in most of their games. He said they even were able to capitalize in some, but the team couldn’t finish building momentum. Littrell said the youth and inexperience might have led to that. He also said the opponents would get a long touchdown and it would “break the backs” on the team and it was hard to recover.

“But our kids never gave up,” Littrell said. “Even in those games that we got down, our kids made runs and kept working. So I was not disappointed in the effort of our players.”

Littrell was asked who an MVP would be for the team this year. He said Anthony Garcia. The lineman played both ways and on special teams. Littrell said he rarely came off the field. Littrell also said Ja’Hawn Byrd was another standout player when he was healthy. 

Littrell also said JoVaughn Dathard and Keenan Brown were some of the players that showed tremendous improvement over the year, but he said there was improvement from a lot of players. Another improved player he mentioned was Dante Smith.

“He was injured his sophomore year,” Littrell said. “But he came back and had a good year. He ended up starting for us on our defense at linebacker. He was one that improved a great deal.”

Littrell continued to talk about other areas that saw improvement. He said the whole team improved.

“Honestly, I think the whole team was most improved,” Littrell said.

When asked about the team’s best game, Littrell said it was a win over Turner. 

“Not just the fact that we scored the amount we scored,” Littrell said, “but our kids were excited. Ja’Hawn was seeing the field really well and made some great cuts. Overall that was definitely our best game by far.” 

Byrd’s performance that Littrell mentioned gave him the HyVee Athlete of the Week, which Littrell said was one of his favorite memories of the year. He also mentioned an interception by Garcia in the Shawnee Mission Northwest game. Littrell also said he was happy when Kim Shoffner was honored as the Powerade Mom of the Week presented by Heartland Coca-Cola. Littrell talked about all of the hard work Shoffner did for the team throughout the season including helping set up concession stands and making the team meals.

“She’s a big part of our football program, just like our players,” Littrell said.

Littrell was also asked to reflect on his seniors. The coach said the players worked hard and provided leadership. He wished the team could have gotten more wins for the seniors. 

With the seniors leaving and the year over, it is time to look toward the future. The junior varsity team went 5-3 and the freshmen team went 4-4 so Littrell said the future is bright. He said he and the staff will push them to be involved with the offseason program and other sports to get strong and ready for next fall.

Littrell said it will be huge to have a lot of the skill position players return next year, but it will be a total team effort for success. 

An early goal for next season will be hitting the ground running.

“We got to have a good offseason and great summer,” Littrell said. “So then we can get to camps and do the things we need to with everything we need to reinforce with our offense and defense. We just need to have a great offseason and summer to get ready for 2019.”