Cassville freshman makes varsity debut
Haney splits snaps with Cox in Mt. Vernon contest
Even the most faithful Cassville football fans had to pull out their programs Friday, as an unfamiliar jersey number was spotted under center.
Only practicing with the varsity squad for the a week and two days before Friday's Mt. Vernon contest, freshman Shannon Haney made his debut for the 'Cats in impressive fashion.
"Coach [Lance Parnell] said he knew I was ready to start and said how I could benefit the team," Haney said. "I was pretty happy with [my play Friday], and I didn't end up hurt."
Parnell said he and the coaches have been watching Haney in freshmen games and practices, and they have been working on getting Haney in the lineup for the past three weeks.
"Shannon has a good head on his shoulders, and when you play a freshman on Fridays, you worry about other teams being too big and having too much speed," he said. "I felt with Shannon's makeup, he'd be able to handle that pressure, and he did a really nice job [Friday night]."
Parnell said in the 18 years he has been involved in Cassville football, there has never been a freshman taking snaps on Friday nights.
"I knew they would be bigger, but a few of the upperclassmen told me to think of them as the same age, just a little bigger, and you play with your heart, not your size," Haney said. "I had no clue I'd be here. I'd heard some stuff
from people, but I never thought I'd be playing varsity this year.
"It's been super special for me. It means the world to me because the upperclassmen have been so nice to me for so long, it's nice to be able to give back to them.
Haney still needed some assistance from senior Leigh Cox, who was calling the plays in the huddle all game long.
Cox started the game at quarterback, and played additional snaps throughout the game, but moved to running back when Haney was in.
"I know the hand signals for the freshman team, but I haven't learned all the signals for varsity yet," Haney said. "I'm hoping to get them down and next week or the week after, I will probably call plays."
Haney had a handful of firsts in Friday's contest, as he ran for his first first down on a 13-yard run to the right sideline; completed his first pass with a 14-yard strike; and he led the Wildcats on his first scoring drive, going 85 yards. The drive ended with a 1-yard jump over the pile by River Phelps.
He said his expectations for the rest of this season are to do even more.
"I expect us to start working better together as a team," he said. "[Friday] was a trial run, and I think we will get better."
Haney finished the game with 46 yards on seven carries, and he went 3-for-4 for 21 yards in the air.
Parnell said Cox took the news in stride when he told him Haney would be taking some snaps.
"Leigh loves playing running back and safety, so when I told him a couple weeks ago we were going to give Shannon a few snaps, he is team player and just asked what he could do for the team," Parnell said.
Cox finished with 127 yards on 28 rushing attempts and went 1-of-4 through the air for 14 yards. He also caught one pass for 9 yards. Phelps racked up 68 yards on 20 carries.
After Friday's performance, Parnell said Haney's future with Cassville this season and over the next three years is bright.
"Looking down the road this year, we'll continue the path with him and probably play with two quarterbacks," he said. "He's a good player and has a good future for us."
Haney was not the only freshman getting varsity minutes, as Parnell said a smattering of underclassmen got their chance to make their marks on Friday.
"Jesus Perez played several snaps at left guard, Zack Burton had some big snaps at defensive end and Peyton Stringer was our short snapper on extra points and field goals," Parnell said. "We also had Austin Sanders and Anthony Tolbert play some special teams for us."
With the 23-16 loss to Mt. Vernon Friday, the Wildcats' hopes of a home playoff game dropped dramatically. There is still an outside chance of getting one, but the most likely scenario is Cassville returning to the Mountaineers' turf in week 10.
"We talked about having to win out to secure a home playoff game, but now, we can only control the last two regular-season ballgames," Parnell said. "I would not be surprised if we end up back [in Mt. Vernon] in Week 10 for the 4-5 matchup."
In possibly the last home game of the season, the Wildcats (2-5, 2-4) will host winless East Newton (0-7, 0-6) on Friday at 7 p.m.