“KNOCK KNOCK KNOCKIN’ ON SEVEN’S DOOR” reads one side of the shirt. The other side is emblazoned with “IT’S A LAMAR TIGER THING” and “THE BROTHERHOOD.” Lamar is selling t-shirts again for another trip to the MSHSAA Class 2 Show Me Bowl. Regardless of your chosen artist (Bob Dylan, Guns N’ Roses, Avril Lavigne, etc.), no other football program in state history has been in a position to play on the song lyrics of the timeless “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”
That is because Lamar will play for its seventh-straight Class 2 state championship on Friday, as the Tigers will face Lafayette County at 3:00 at Faurot Field in Columbia. Lamar will be looking to continue an unprecedented run of success, as the unbeaten Tigers (14-0) will also carry a 48-game winning streak into the championship game. Lamar has not lost a game in over three years, with the last setback a 29-28 decision to Carl Junction on Oct. 17, 2014.
Several schools have had a sustained run of success, but none have approached the level of perennial greatness that has been achieved by the Lamar program. Perennial Class 4 state powerhouse Webb City, located about a half hour down I-49, comes to mind. However, even the Cardinals—who will play Ladue Horton Watkins Friday night in the Class 4 state title game—could muster only five-straight state titles.
Lamar’s run of success actually began in 2009 with a 21-7 loss to Maryville in the state semifinals. The Tigers watched a week later as the Spoofhounds turbo-clocked Brentwood in the state title game. That sowed a seed in each Tiger that Lamar was on the cusp of greatness.
“The guys that don’t get enough credit are the 2009 and 2010 semifinal teams,” said Lamar head coach Scott Bailey, the architect of the Tiger Title Town Dynasty, though Bailey’s humility would never acknowledge the truth of such a statement. “It’s stair-stepped. In our program, we had made it to a quarterfinal game before I got here. But in the history of the program, we had never won a quarterfinal game. In 2009, we beat Fair Grove to win the first quarterfinal game in the history of the school, and then lost to Maryville the next week. We were new to that level of the playoffs, but we knew about Maryville. We lost to them 21-7. We threw an interception that they ran back for a touchdown, and a lateral that they picked up and ran in for a touchdown, so their offense scored a touchdown and our offense scored a touchdown. But we had made it to a semifinal game, and when the team walked off the field that day, everybody was content. Our kids were smiling, never been this far before, made it to a semifinal game. Even our coaches, I will tell you for me personally, I kind of felt like if you’re gonna get beat, get beat by (perennial Class 2 state powerhouse) Maryville, a really, really good team.
“And that lasted for seven days, because seven days later Maryville turbo-clocked Brentwood in the Dome to win that state championship,” added Coach Bailey. “My phone started ringing and our kids were in tears. ‘Coach, we didn’t know how close we were.’ And we didn’t. The teams aren’t ranked going into the playoffs. You never know at what level—quarters, semifinal or state championship game—when you’re gonna get the best team. We didn’t know how close we were. We were a couple plays and an overtime maybe from getting into that first one for us, but it didn’t happen. So from that point on, I think that our kids really bought into getting themselves to a level to win it.”
After a three-loss regular season, Lamar would return to the state semifinals in 2010, losing 33-19 to Maplewood-Richmond Heights. That is Lamar’s last loss in the state playoffs.
“We came back in 2010 and played Maplewood over there,” recalled Coach Bailey of the Tigers’ trip to the St. Louis area. “It was the first overnight trip for all of us in our program. I thought our kids handled it well. We played well for three quarters and Maplewood won it in the fourth quarter.”
Jared Beshore, who is now a standout at Missouri State, was a freshman All-Stater on that 2010 team. Even today, he remembers the heartbreak of that loss to Maplewood.
“Losing in the state semifinals my freshman year was heartbreaking,” said Beshore, who was a four-time All-State selection while at Lamar. “That 2010 team was primed and ready for a state title and we all knew it. So coming so close to it and not accomplishing that goal was really hard for everyone. I especially took it hard. I remember how talented that Maplewood team was, which had a lot of future college athletes on it. I remember our quarterback, Brett Campbell, running for two touchdowns in the second half to bring us back into the game, on a leg he broke only six weeks earlier. And lastly, I remember walking off the field with the seniors that had just played their last football game.”
The Tigers would get a rematch with Maplewood a year later, but it would be the Blue Devils who made the trip across the state to play in the Tigers’ backyard.
“We come back in 2011 and we get Maplewood in the semifinals here,” said Coach Bailey. “They were really good, really fast and athletic. We beat them 20-7 to get that first trip to the (Edward Jones) Dome (in St. Louis). I think the first one is special because it was all new. The kids seeing the Dome, the kids in the locker room, the whole thing was special just because it was like the first Christmas. And since then, it’s become an expectation, which puts a lot of pressure and burden on it, whereas before it was less of an expectation and more of a gift that we made it this far. We could just relax and go play our best football and we ended up beating Higginsville (Lafayette County) that day.”
Lamar rolled over Lafayette County 49-19 to win the first state championship not only in program history, but in school history. Class 2 Offensive Player of the Year Markell White rushed for a pair of touchdowns and threw for another. The potent Tiger offense outscored its five playoff opponents 225-50. The stingy Lamar defense, which included Class 2 Defensive Player of the Year Zakk Yokley, held Lafayette County to just 16 total yards on 24 plays in a dominating first half, as Lamar led 28-7 at the break (the lone Husker touchdown coming on an 88-yard kickoff return).
“I will tell you that playing Higginsville in that game, I got to coach against Steve Cook, and now we’re really good friends,” said Coach Bailey. “We played them again two years ago in the semifinals (a 45-0 Lamar victory) and we were still good friends. One of the things about getting to the state playoffs is we get to coach against guys that we wouldn’t normally get to meet or coach against. You get a chance to build relationships with those guys. That was one of the really good things that came out of that 2011 game was Steve and I became friends over it. And it basically set that expectation. That bar is extremely high.”
“Winning the state title in 2011 was, at that point, the most enjoyable honor in my life,” said Beshore. “Seeing all the work pay off in that one moment was euphoric. It was also Lamar’s first state title in any sport, so being a part of the very first team to accomplish that for the town of Lamar made us feel like heroes.”
Graduation has hit Lamar hard seemingly every year throughout the Tiger’s six-title run. The annual All-State lists are dotted with Lamar Tigers on both sides of the ball. In fact, since the state title run began in 2011, a total of 74 Tigers have garnered some level of All-State recognition from the Missouri Football Coaches Association, with a staggering 64 of them receiving 1st-Team All-State accolades.
Lamar has also cornered the market on the Class 2 Player of the Year Awards, too, with the Defensive Player of the Year hailing from Lamar in five of the past six seasons, along with three Offensive Player of the Year Award winners. For good measure, Coach Bailey has been named the Class 2 Coach of the Year in five of the past six seasons, including the past four.
“After winning it in ’11 and graduating some really good football players, a lot of people doubted that the 2012 team could win it again, especially after we started off 1-2,” said Coach Bailey. “There was a whole lot of people that questioned how good we were. We had some inexperienced guys at certain positions and we had some injuries that were taking away from the level of success of our team and finally, when our guys got some experience and we got some guys healthy, we won it again in 2012.”
The 2012 team finished the season with a 12-game winning streak, which included a thrilling 69-41 win over Blair Oaks in the state championship game. The Tigers, who trailed the Falcons 34-33 in the second half, exploded for 36 points in the fourth quarter to cruise to their second title in a row, finishing with a 13-2 record for the season. Junior quarterback Levi Petersen rushed for 254 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries to lead the punishing Tiger ground game, which posted a state title game record 503 yards on 71 carries for the game. Beshore added 147 yards and a touchdown, finishing with 2,093 yards for the season, as the Tigers averaged almost 48 points per game on the year.
“Those early teams probably don’t get enough credit for building what our teams now just take, or just know that this is the way it’s gonna be,” said Coach Bailey. “I was going to say they take it for granted, but I don’t think our kids take anything for granted. They understand that it’s gonna take a lot of work to be able to compete in our conference and compete in Class 2 at that high level. But they don’t know any different. They don’t know any different work ethic, and they don’t know any different coaching staff.”
Lamar was back at the Dome again in 2013, this time for a convincing 42-0 win over Lawson. Beshore led the Tigers with 212 yards and three touchdowns in his final game in a Tiger uniform. For the season, the Tigers set a state record by scoring 883 points, a ridiculous 58.9 points per game. At the time it was the third-highest total ever, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Lamar rushed for a state record 518 yards in the game, breaking their own state record set in the 2012 state title game win over Blair Oaks.
In 2014, the Tigers had successive games with 74-0, 71-0, and 70-0 outcomes late during the season. However, after a mid-October loss to Carl Junction in the 2014 regular season finale cost the Tigers a Big 8 Conference championship, Lamar regrouped and rolled through the state playoffs.
Lamar capped a 14-1 season with a 30-15 win over South Callaway in the state championship game, the Tigers’ fourth-straight state title. Lamar used a rare pass attempt right before the half—on a gimmick hook-and-ladder, no less—to lead 14-7 at the break, before breaking open the game in the second half, as the Tigers rushed for 318 yards for the game.
In 2015, Lamar would not be seriously challenged by any team on its schedule in the regular season, as Lamar outscored its opponents by a 464-92 count. The Tigers beat a very talented and athletic Liberty-Mt. View team 14-7 in a state quarterfinal thriller in an otherwise ho-hum march through the state playoffs, which culminated in a 37-0 shutout of Malden. In its six-game playoff run, the Tigers surrendered just 20 points and posted three shutouts.
The Tigers’ state title game win completed a perfect 15-0 season, the first unbeaten season in program history. Lamar led fellow unbeaten Malden 31-0 at halftime, and racked up 322 yards of total offense. Class 2 Offensive Player of the Year Danny Embry led the ground attack with 107 yards on 16 carries.
Last season, Lamar continued its sustained dominance, as the Tigers rolled to another unbeaten record at 14-0. For the season, the potent, high-scoring Tiger offense averaged 51.8 points per game, while the stingy Lamar defense netted just 9.5 points per outing (with five shutouts).
In fact, the only time the Tigers scored less than 42 points in a game all season was in Lamar’s 26-18 win over Trinity Catholic in the Class 2 state championship game, which was played at Plaster Stadium in Springfield and marked the first time the state title game had not been played in St. Louis since 1996. The win gave Lamar its sixth-straight state championship, as the Tigers became the first team in state history to win six consecutive state titles on the gridiron. It broke a three-way tie with perennial Class 1 and Class 4 powerhouses Valle Catholic and Webb City, respectively, which had each won five in a row. Lamar rushed for 390 yards in the game.
Six different title game opponents. Six-straight state championships.
“I think it's a very impressive run just like everyone else,” said longtime Cassville head coach David Large, who knows a thing or two about winning multiple championships, having guided the Wildcats to back-to-back state titles in 2008 and 2009. “It's a state record for a reason. They are very good and winning one state championship is an incredible feat. But when you look at the pressure you put on yourself when you are winning and yet you continue to back it up season after season that makes what they have accomplished even more incredible.
“I think their kids, parents, and the community have really bought into the program,” added Coach Large. “Once you start doing things right and winning then it becomes contagious and everyone wants to be part of it. I think more importantly they have set an expectation and no one wants to be that group or class that doesn't rise to that expectation, whether it is in the offseason, preseason, or Friday nights.”
The standard has been set, and the bar continually rises year after year. But is it “state championship or bust” for the Tigers? Did the coaches and players dwell on winning a seventh-straight state title throughout the August heat and the mid-October grind of the regular season?
“People have asked me about that, and I tell them that I haven’t thought about it,” said Coach Bailey (in an interview back in August). “None of our kids, and none of our coaches, want to be that team that doesn’t make it, that doesn’t succeed or achieve at the level that these other teams have. Nobody wants to be that team. If you stop and dwell on it (winning a state record six-straight state titles), then somebody’s catching up to you, so we normally just try to focus on where were we at a year ago with each one of these position groups, where were we at strength-wise and speed-wise, and if we’re not at a level we were at a year ago, what do we have to change so that we can still be successful? Hopefully, we can put kids in the right spots to be successful.”
The time has come now to dwell on it, with a seventh-straight state title just one win away.
Last Saturday, Lamar travelled across the state again to play a fired up Lutheran North ballclub on a rainy St. Louis afternoon. The Tigers were coming off a 28-22 win over Ava in the state quarterfinals, their closest game of the season to that point. Lamar was facing some serious adversity, as well, with several key players out of the lineup (including starting running back Michael Danner and starting quarterback Stuart McKarus).
In the closest game Lamar has played since the 29-28 loss to Carl Junction in 2014, the Tigers eked out a 7-6 win over Lutheran North. The key play was a blocked extra point attempt by junior defensive back Dylan Hill early in the fourth quarter.
“For me, what I believe and what I enjoy, this is football,” said Coach Bailey after the game. “This is the type of football I enjoy. It was a tight, close game to the end, and either team could have won it.”
The win sets up Friday’s state title game tilt against Lafayette County, as the Tigers have now come full circle in playing the same Higginsville school they beat for their first state championship in 2011. Regardless of the outcome, Lamar’s sustained run of success is simply astounding. What is the key to the success of the Tigers, though, who have posted a gaudy 97-5 record during the six-year run? According to Coach Bailey, it’s a three-part answer.
“I get asked that quite a bit,” said Bailey. “Some people think there’s a secret to it and that I’m keeping the secret. I think there’s three parts to the answer. The first one is the kids. I spoke at a clinic last winter and when I was asked that question, one of the coaches spoke up and said ‘you mean at a small school you’ve had the kids that long’ and the answer to that is yes. If I just go back to each (state championship) team, I can go through each one of those senior classes and point to numerous kids that could play for any program in the state. It doesn’t matter what size. In each one of those state championship classes, and even the two years before (in 2009 and 2010).”
Lamar has certainly had some talented players come through the program, including several who have gone on to play at the collegiate level. However, each individual player can only contribute at the prep level for three, maybe four, years, which means that Lamar has been producing football talent in assembly line proportions. In fact, Lamar has averaged a ridiculous 10 1st-Team All-Staters per season.
“A lot of people forget in ’09 and ’10 we were a semifinal team,” said Coach Bailey. “Even on those teams, there’s kids on those teams that could play at any high school in the state. So the first part of that three-part is the kids. And people think that’s a cop out and that I’m trying to hide something, but I’m not hiding anything. There’s been some outstanding football players come through here—outstanding athletes, three-sport athletes.”
The continuity of the coaching staff has also been huge. Whereas a lot of coaches treat a Class 2 coaching job as a stepping stone to what is perceived as bigger and better opportunities, the Tiger staff has remained virtually intact throughout the run.
“The second thing is our staff has been allowed to stay together,” said Coach Bailey. “Most of us came in together in 2006 and we’re all still here. In the past, that hadn’t been the case at Lamar. Coaches came and went. Staffs turned over. Some kids played, some kids got lost in the turnover. To put that into perspective, this is our twelfth year here. Mike Rader coached here for eleven years (1990-2001). The next coach with the longest amount of longevity was Chuck Blaney in the late ‘70s up to 1980. He went five years. Everybody else in the history of our program, as far back as I can trace it, is a one-, two-, or three-year coach. So there’s a 12-year coach, an 11-year coach, and a five-year coach.
“I think if you see these successful programs, of any kind but especially successful football programs where you’re trying to manage a large number of kids, keeping a coaching staff in place long-term builds relationships,” added Coach Bailey. “What I probably learned the best here is you’re gonna have to coach with a relationship based on love. You’re not gonna be able to coach with a hammer for 12 years. The hammer’s not gonna get the same effect after a certain amount of time. You’re also not gonna be able to coach and give ‘em what they want with rewards either. The reward’s gonna lose its effect. You got to stay in place long enough to build a relationship with kids and I think that’s one thing our staff does really well.”
Coach Bailey and his staff’s “tough love” approach has drawn every last ounce of potential out of every player that has put the pads on for the Tigers. It has also produced an immense amount of respect for Coach Bailey from those same players.
“Coach Bailey is very intense and will do whatever it takes to get you to reach your potential,” said current Tiger standout TW Ayers. “He won’t take anything less than your very best.”
“Coach Bailey is a very driven, and some would say intense, man,” said Beshore. “He’s very demanding and expects a lot out of his players—no matter how old or talented a kid may be. And his coaching style is simple. He will outwork and out-prepare the opposing coaching staffs. I honestly believe he takes it personal when an opposing coach comes even close to coaching on the same level as him. He wants to be the best, so he works and prepares better than everyone else. A lot of people don’t know that in Coach Bailey’s second season at Lamar (2007), they went 0-10 and didn’t win a game.”
Opposing coaches also have a healthy dose of respect for Coach Bailey and the Tiger program. These coaches recognize just how good the Tiger program is, and know firsthand just how difficult it is to sustain such success.
“I think Scott Bailey is a player’s coach more than anything,” said Coach Large, who is now the Athletic Director at Branson. “I think he has a special knack of getting the players to believe in what he tells them and then he sets high expectations for them. I think Scott then holds those kids accountable to live up to those expectations. I really believe that players are not any different today than they were 20 years ago. The difference is we don't set the expectations for what they can accomplish as high anymore. The best coaches set these high then challenge them to get there and have built the relationships with them to help them rise up to the challenge. Scott is a great coach and it's incredible what he has accomplished and will still accomplish in the future. He is very humble, much like John Roderique is at Webb City. A great coach like Scott puts others before them and downplays their accomplishments. By doing so it makes it very easy for those outside the program to admire these achievements even more and want to see them continue their great success.”
“In my opinion, Coach Bailey has done an excellent job in setting the vision for their program,” said Chad Depee, the current head coach at Ozark and former coach at Monett, where he went toe-to-toe with Lamar on an annual basis as part of the Big 8 Conference. “Everyone has bought into their program top to bottom and throughout the community. They have high expectations and they know how to work. Coach Bailey and his staff do a wonderful job in all aspects of the game and they have developed some great athletes over the years. Coach Bailey is a good guy. In my experiences with him, he has been courteous and professional. His teams are always fundamentally sound and play extremely hard.”
“We always had some great games with Lamar,” said Coach Large. “I think the thing I remember more than anything was how respectful their players were. Coach Bailey did a great job of teaching them as much about life as he does about football. Their best players were also the most humble and respectful players you would come across each season.”
In today’s politically correct world, it is rare to see a “tough love” coaching approach, or what some would refer to as “old school,” to be permitted by this generation’s parents or school administrations. That is not the case in Lamar, where a blue-collar mentality pervades the entire town.
“The third thing is our administration and our parents let us coach these kids in an ‘old school’ way,” said Coach Bailey. “You can boil it all the way down to the offense we run. It’s very old school. A lot of schools and a lot of towns would not accept winning a football game by running it on every down—even though you won the football game. They wouldn’t accept it, because that’s not what they see on Saturday and Sunday. Our town takes pride in the fact that we can play physical and run the ball. Our town takes pride in the fact that we start our weight program at five o’clock in the morning. Our kids are dedicated and get up and get here.”
The weight program is certainly a key to Lamar’s success. In fact, current and former players alike extoll the benefits of the year-round weight sessions.
“The whole team buying into the program and being willing to do anything it takes to be successful, along with the year-round weight program, has been the biggest keys to our success,” said Ayers.
“I believe the two major keys to Lamar’s success over the last eight or so years is the stable, yet adaptable, program that’s been established by Coach Bailey and his staff,” said Beshore. “But it’s also that the kids faithfully buy into the plan and program year-round. Kids that aren’t involved in other sports are involved in after school weights and are always actively pursuing peak physical condition.
“I bet no one outside of Lamar knows that our weight room was an old bus barn that we shared with farm equipment,” added Beshore. “Literally, the weight room was in one bay and tractors were in the other bay. In 2012, they finally renovated the ‘bus barn’ weight room to make it a full weight facility and took the John Deere tractors out.”
If you drive through Lamar on a normal day, it’s quite possible that you will see a tractor driving down the main thoroughfare. Many folks’ work attire includes a pair of denim jeans. Lamar, the county seat of Barton County situated a few stones throws from the Kansas border, is a tough town. It’s hard-nosed. It’s blue-collar. It’s old school. And so is its football team.
“We’re an ag community,” said Coach Bailey. “That’s what Barton County falls back on is the ag community here, and if you’re not willing to work in the ag community then you’re not gonna be very successful, plain and simple. We use two words to describe our program a lot: blessed and fortunate. We’re blessed and fortunate here at Lamar. It’s not like that everywhere. We don’t take attendance when we’re at practice. We’re gonna start when everybody gets there. We don’t have a scripted schedule. Our kids know that we’re gonna work until we get to a stopping point and we’re ready to go on to the next day. It might take two hours or it might take four hours—we don’t know. Our kids buy into that. Our kids hold each other accountable.”
So the blueprint for success is simple. Talented kids plus coaching continuity plus old school coaching equals an unparalleled run of success.
“It’s those three things: the kids, allowing us to stay here in a small town, and not having an angry parent or an angry community member or an angry (school) board member run with it and try to get you out of here,” said Coach Bailey. “We’ve worked through our problems and been allowed to stay here. And third, allowing us to coach kids the way I coach the best. It’s old school and it’s brutally honest.”
Any team’s success puts a little bit of pressure on the next one to sustain that success. If a team wins a conference title one year, then next year’s team has to live up to that standard. But what about a team that has won six-straight state championships? What about a team that has not lost in 48 games? What kind of pressure does that put on the next group of players? No player wants to be part of the team that does not live up to the expectations, and at Lamar those expectations are sky high.
“It’s something that we battle,” said Coach Bailey. “Some of our classes that have come through, they can count on one hand the number of times they lost a football game going all the way back to third grade. They expect to win. From the time they were in third grade on—football, basketball, baseball—they expected to win. And what we were kind of caught in was we were talking to them about the teams we play in our conference and in our district and at the state level and they had played against most of these teams—or a lot of these teams—since elementary school. And they had beat ‘em a lot, in every sport. Us talking to them didn’t exactly motivate them to the level that I wanted.
“So we kind of changed our focus and our coaching in that we went way from comparing them to the teams that we were getting ready to play to comparing them to themselves,” added Bailey. “We’d go back and watch what they looked like a year ago and now what they look like coming into this season. As you get later into the season, you go back and look at what they looked like at the beginning of the season when their legs were fresh and they weren’t beat up, compared to what they look like now. We try to coach them ‘you v. you’ and see if we can get a little bit more out of them compared to coaching them and focusing on who we’re playing, because they just have so much experience playing against everybody starting in third grade.”
Even though it is a Class 2 school playing mainly against Class 3 schools (and a Class 4 one), Lamar has owned the Big 8 Conference of late. The Tigers’ dominance of the conference is even more impressive when you look at the state-level success other teams in the conference have enjoyed.
Carl Junction is now in the COC-Large, but the Bulldogs have been one of the top Class 4 teams in the state for a while now. Carl Junction, the last team to beat Lamar in Big 8 play and overall, might have won a state title or two—that is, if the road to State did not go through the Webb City juggernaut. The Cardinals have ended the Bulldogs’ season in the state playoffs the past five seasons.
The Big 8 has been well represented at State in Class 3 in the past decade, with a different team seeming to emerge each season. Mt. Vernon will play Maryville for the Class 3 title on Saturday morning at 11:00 at Faurot Field. That marks the Mt’neers’ first state title game appearance in 35 years. The defending Class 3 state champion is Monett, and the Cubs also advanced to state semifinals in both 2012 and 2014.
Aurora made a state semifinal run in 2015, while Seneca was the Class 3 state runner-up in 2013. And then there’s the Cassville mini-dynasty. The Wildcats followed up back-to-back state championships in 2008 and 2009 with trips to the state semifinals and quarters in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
“The Big 8 is a very strong conference, with a lot of teams with similar philosophies as Lamar,” said Beshore. “Hard-nosed, physical, run the ball kind of football. When I played in the Big 8, every team was a challenge and had their moments of success. The Cassville dynasty from 2008 to 2011, the physical Aurora teams in 2011 and 2012, the 2012 Monett team featuring Kurran Blamey (my current teammate and one of my best friends) and his boys, Carl Junction once Coach (Doug) Buckmaster took over, and Seneca’s state title (game) run in 2013. Obviously, these teams prepare you for Class 2 playoff teams.”
“Playing against these teams really helps, because most of them are Class 3 or 4, so when districts start and we are playing Class 2 teams, we are prepared,” said Ayers.
“We tell our kids, and I don’t hide it, if we can compete in our conference, we can compete with anybody in Class 2,” said Coach Bailey. “That’s not to say we can beat them, but if we can compete in our conference, we have a chance to play the best in Class 2 and compete against them. If you go back and look, even all the way back to 2009, we were 1-6 in our conference in 2009 and went to the semifinals and got beat by Maryville. The only conference team we beat that year was East Newton. The next year we were 4-3. That state championship year in ‘11 we were 6-1. So all of a sudden, when we were able to get to the top level of our conference, we were able to play for state championships in Class 2 and it’s been that way. Those state championship years, we were at the top of the Big 8. We feel like if we can play at that level with those teams that we can compete for state championships in Class 2.”
The Tigers continue to dominate the conference, even though there has been a shift in philosophy in terms of what the other teams in the Big 8 are running. When the Lamar dynasty began, the Big 8 featured a bunch of hard-nosed, physical teams of the “three yards and a cloud of dust” variety. Nowadays, though, you will see the ball getting thrown all over the yard on Friday nights—except at Lamar. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.
“When I got here, our conference was a run conference, and it was a run conference at almost every school,” said Coach Bailey. “Now the run teams are fewer. Cassville’s gonna run the ball, Seneca’s gonna run the ball, Aurora in the past had wanted to run the ball but they’ve kind of went away from that. But everybody else, they’re gonna try to throw it. Monett’s been about 50-50, but right now we’ve got a lot more teams trying to throw it in our conference than we had when I first got here. When we get into Class 2, normally what we see are teams trying to throw it more, so the teams in our conference going to more of a passing game has helped us.”
The Lamar offense is a throwback, of sorts. If you take a look at old black-and-white footage of teams running the football in leather helmets, you might get a glimpse of what you will see at Lamar on any given Friday night in the fall. Think Mr. Inside (Doc Blanchard) and Mr. Outside (Glenn Davis) on those dominant Army teams of the mid-1940’s. The Tiger offense mirrors its blue-collar, old school Lamar roots. It’s physical, fundamentally sound football, run at breakneck speed and with deadly precision. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to prepare for. After all, what scout team in the state can mimic the Tiger offense? (The answer is “none of them,” by the way.)
“Their kids are always very disciplined and well coached,” said Coach Large. “They have a unique offense that is based on the running game, so you always knew when you played Lamar it would be a very physical game.”
Coach Depee guided the two Monett state semifinal teams, and had some annual battles with the Tigers. He described playing against Lamar with just one word: Tough. “I will always remember a Saturday afternoon we played at Lamar,” said Depee. “We had traveled to Lamar that Friday night and got postponed due to severe thunderstorms. The next day was a beautiful sunny fall day. You couldn’t ask for a better day or atmosphere for the game. Physical and fast. That’s how I always remember them.”
“I’ll describe our offense the way Joel Wyatt (former coach at Malden, now in his first year at Kennett), who told me once, ‘Scott, playing against your offense is like 4th-and-one on every down,’” said Coach Bailey. “And that’s probably the greatest compliment I’ve ever received about our offense. We played Warsaw in 2010 up there and beat them 42-21 and never threw a pass. (Longtime Warsaw head coach) Randy Morrow, not only is he a (Missouri Sports) Hall of Famer, but he’s a Hall of Fame guy—not just a Hall of Fame coach. Every time I see Coach Morrow, it takes him about two minutes into our conversation before he shakes his head and says, ‘I can’t believe you beat me and never threw a pass.’ So, describing it as 4th-and-one on every down? I don’t think I could describe it any better than that.”
The Lamar offense features a double wing formation. There are four athletes behind the line. Any of the four can run, block, ball fake, catch a pitch, or even throw the rare pass. And therein lies the “pick your poison” dilemma for opposing defensive coordinators. Which athletic speedster do you focus on? Make a mistake and one of the four is off to the races, the end zone in sight.
“Some people say we have two quarterbacks, and other people say we don’t have a quarterback, that we just have four athletes back there and I would tend to agree with that,” said Coach Bailey. “When we put it in in 2008, we told our guys in the backfield that one good fake would fool two defenders, so basically one good fake blocks two guys. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on in the backfield, a lot of ball fakes, trying to fool as many defenders as we can so we don’t have to block ‘em.”
“Lamar’s offense is smash mouth, take your soul offense,” said Beshore. “Those kids love five yards and a cloud of dust. Now they’ve had home run athletes before that can score from anywhere on the field, but that’s not what the program was built on. The players work year-round to physically prepare their bodies to take a beating. It comes down to physical O-line play and backs that finish their runs. There is misdirection involved, but the offense at its core is simple, yet very effective.”
Today’s world of spread offenses and video game stats leads to a lot of high school football players wanting to emulate what they see on Sundays and (especially) Saturdays. Yet, it has not been a problem at Lamar to get the kids to buy into running the ball on nearly every down. Winning six-straight state championships has a way of helping kids buy in.
“It’s easy for the kids at Lamar to buy into running the ball nowadays, because of the success,” said Beshore. “You can’t deny the results that Coach Bailey has yielded. But another reason I think kids buy into the run game is the chance to physically beat the opposing team. You get to impose your will on a defense if you can consistently run the ball and wear people down.”
A lot of successful high school football teams have established a “feeder system” in which all of the lower levels of the program, such as JV, middle school and even elementary school, run the same offensive and defensive systems as the varsity. Therefore, by the time these younger kids get under the Friday night lights for the first time, they have been playing in the same varsity system their entire young lives. That’s not the case at Lamar, though.
“We’re different from a lot of communities,” said Coach Bailey. “I don’t tell our third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade coaches what to run. We’ll have our varsity on one end of the field working on something and our JV will be running something completely different on the other end of the field, because they’ve got kids that either can’t do what we do or they’ve got some kids down there that can do something else. I don’t get too hung up on having continuity all the way down through your program.
“What I do get hung up on is if they run a kid off,” added Bailey. “I tell ‘em, ‘You set the hook.’ You set the hook in them, make them want to come back to practice again, make them love playing football. Don’t make it a chore to them, because when they get to me there’s gonna be a certain part of it that is a chore. Don’t do that to them early. Set the hook in ‘em and I’ll reel ‘em in when they get to high school.”
Even though the world around him is changing, with political correctness and an “everyone gets a trophy” mentality overtaking youth sports, Coach Bailey does not see himself changing in any meaningful manner. After six-straight state championships, with a shot at a seventh coming up, it’s hard to argue with that mindset.
“I don’t know that I’m gonna change,” said Coach Bailey of his football coaching philosophy. “You have a level of success at a Class 2 school and people wonder why you’re not at a Class 6 school, or why you’re not in college, or why you haven’t moved on to a higher paying job or whatever people think is greener grass, whatever it is. The way that I coach, and the way that our staff operates, I don’t know that it would be accepted everywhere. There’s just not a lot of communities, there’s not a lot of schools—there’s not a lot of kids—that want to line up and run the ball on every down and block people on every down. They want to throw it, they want to catch it, they want to get an athlete in space and watch him make people miss—the things they see happen on Saturday—more than what we do. They say you can get a job anywhere, but that’s not true, because everybody has to accept the way that we go about creating success. I just don’t know that there’s a lot of people that are open to that kind of football program.”
With many of the Big 8 Conference teams moving to a passing attack, and with Class 2 teams all over the state featuring spread offenses, the Lamar scout team gets to “throw the ball all over the yard,” so to speak, each week in practice.
“Maybe that’s one of those carrots we throw to our kids,” said Coach Bailey. “They actually get to line up and go a little spread, one-back when they’re on the scout team and run against our defense. They get to play the type of football they see on Saturday and Sunday. But we really just have really good athletes. We have guys in the secondary that can cover pretty well. We have guys up front that can get to the quarterback really well and we’ve had them for a number of years. Hopefully they continue, because they make me look like a really good coach.”
With the number of All-State players graduating on an annual basis, several have gone on to play collegiately. However, not all of them have chosen to play college football. Of course, as dominant as they have been, not all of the Tiger football alumni were All-State players either. That does not matter to Coach Bailey, though.
“It doesn’t matter whether he goes on and plays college ball, or he’s in med school at the University of Iowa, or he’s in engineering school over at (Missouri-) Rolla, or he’s farming right out here west of town, what they choose to do after they’re done with high school is probably less a priority than how they’re going about doing it,” said Bailey. “We’ve been blessed and fortunate that some—not a lot but some—colleges have come through here and recruited our kids, and given them an opportunity to get a free education. They get a chance to keep playing ball, which is something they love to do, and hopefully exposing them to more of this game and things that we don’t expose them to around here. We have a handful of them that are going into ministry that aren’t playing ball that make me super proud. We have a handful of them that are working right here in town farming that make me super proud. What they do when we’re done together is less important than how they’re doing it.”
The Tiger football team goes by another name: The Brotherhood. The term of endearment symbolizes the camaraderie and close-knit aspect of the team. It symbolizes the blood, the sweat, and the tears that each player has shed throughout their time in a Lamar Tiger uniform. It is a sacrifice of one’s self and personal glory for the sake of the team, for the service of their teammates.
“Not many people realize that one of the main things that drive us as a team is love,” said Ayers. “We will do whatever it takes to help our brothers and do it out of love for one another. There are few things that compare to the bond that we have built on the team, and that is only gained through spending countless hours together like we do. It is definitely a tradition of winning, based on the willingness to do anything necessary to help the man next to you be successful. It is a tradition that the whole town has grown a part of and supported.”
The Brotherhood is on the cusp of another state championship. Seven straight crowns are within reach. The current Tigers will be looking to extend the streaks and to continue the tradition when they take the field against Lafayette County on Friday. Meanwhile, young Tigers all over Lamar will be watching, looking up to the current Lamar players, and knowing that their turn will soon come. And the old guard, those that came before and laid the foundation for this current success, will also look on with a sense of pride and love, knowing that they still remain a part of The Brotherhood.
“I have a lot of pride in where I came from,” said Beshore. “Anywhere I go now in the state, people know who Lamar is and what we’ve done. It’s not always been like that. It was an awesome ride and I’m truly thankful for it. I’m where I am today because of Lamar Tiger football, and have opportunities I only dreamed of. Lamar holds a special place in my heart.”
“Blessed and fortunate,” reiterated Coach Bailey. “Our kids buy into what we’re trying to do with our scheme: offense, defense, and special teams. They buy into the amount of work that we require from them year-round, and our community supports it. We don’t get a lot of backlash. Now if we wind up losing a couple of games here that may change, but we’re just blessed and fortunate with what we got here. I don’t know that it’s like that everywhere.
“I heard (former New York Yankees manager) Joe Torre make a comment about (current New England Patriots’ five-time Super Bowl-winning coach) Bill Belichick and the Patriots and it just really hit home with me,” added Coach Bailey. “Joe Torre said, ‘The Patriots are so good, and the expectations are so high on Belichick and the Patriots, that they have to get better and improve just to stay the same.’ Well, around here in Class 2, we feel that way a lot, that we have to get better and improve just to stay the same, because everybody wants what we have and we’re trying to do our best to keep it.”
The Lamar Tigers have to get better and improve? That is a scary proposition for future Lamar opponents—and all of Class 2.