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De Smet ready to meet Joplin for Class 6 state football championship

De Smet football coach Rob Steeples has been there and done that.

Now, he wants this Spartans to experience it as well. That would be winning a state championship.

In his fourth season at the held, Rob Steeples has his De Smet Spartans playing for the Class 6 state football championship.

Steeples was a member of De Smet’s only football championship team. That Spartans squad won the 2005 title.

This Spartans have another chance to win one at 3 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia. In the battle of unbeaten teams, De Smet (13-0) will battle the Joplin Eagles (13-0) for the Class 6 state championship.

The two teams met for the state title before. Joplin Parkwood won 16-8 in 1975 for the Class 4 state title at Hughes Stadium in Joplin. At the time, there were just four classes in the state. Joplin had two high schools then and they have merged since then. Parkwood and Memorial combined in 1985. Parkwood won three state football titles and Memorial one before the merger.

Steeples starting playing in college at Missouri for the Tigers at Faurot Field before transferring to Memphis. He had a brief NFL career. He saw some action with the Minnesota Vikings. He was cut by the St. Louis Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys.

“Yeah, it’ll be nice to be out there on Faurot Field again,” Steeples said. “As a player, it has special meaning to me. Now a a coach and taking my team there, it’s awesome. More or less, it’s not about me returning to Faurot Field but it’s about these kids getting their moment and opportunity. I’m looking forward to seeing them making a memory.”

Streeples has fond memories of his state championship. He was on the De Smet team that beat Hazelwood Central 48-31 at the Edward Jones Dome.

“What I remember about that game is you learn anything is possible going into the championship game,” Steeples said. “Two good teams always makes for a fun game. It’s some of the most you’ll have playing football.

“I’ve told the guys to remember that. One other thing I tell the guys is to take this all in. After the 2005 season, that was the last time I got to be a champion. You never know when the opportunity comes again. These guys all love being around each other and fighting for each other. They’ve got a chance to have a bond and carry it with them for a lifetime.”

Steeples said that bond with his old teammates remains. He stays in touch with several of his Spartan teammates. They are all, Steeples said, wanting this team to have the same memory that comes from winning a state crown.

This is Steeples’ fourth season at De Smet. His club has gone 2-8, 1-9 and 9-3 before winning all 13 games this season.

De Smet continued its turnaround with a solid 37-0 victory over Raymore-Peculiar last week in a Class 6 semifinal to earn a berth in the championship game.

The Spartans have outscored their opponents 587-100 this season. The offense is averaging 45.2 points a game.

With all that, the Spartans are in position to claim their second state crown.

“This is all pretty new to these kids,” Steeples said. “They have a a pretty back demeanor. I’m sure there some butterflies. I’m sure their some anxiousness to get out there and get playing. I know there’s also some gratefulness to still be one of two teams playing football.”

It’s different, Steeples said, being the coach in this game instead of being a player.

“You don’t wake up sore the morning after the game,” Steeples quipped. “On the other hand, you can’t have a direct hand in the game by being on the field. Coaching is based on trust. Everyone has the same aspirations on the team. They all want to win. My job is to make sure those guys when they come the sidelines is to be focused on them.”

Turning around the program wasn’t easy. There were two tough seasons before last fall’s breakthrough to respectability, Steeples said.

“Our No. 1 emphasis was character. Build trust and character,” Steeples said. “Early on, when I first came in, I told the boys to trust me. That takes time I told them. It takes time to build trust and love. The two things I wanted was my players to do was trust and to buy into each other.

“We developed character when we were going 1-9 and 2-8 and things weren’t showing up on the scoreboard at the time. They had to take their lumps and I had to be a better coach. It’s a process. It’s taken time.”

The team this year has a strong running game. Running backs Taj Butts, Rico Barfield and Darez Snider lead the offense. The three juniors have combined to rush for 3,141 yards and 47 touchdowns this fall.

Senior quarterback Michael Wheeler is a capable passer. He has thrown for 1,201 yards on 81 of 129 passing. He has 18 touchdown passes. He has just two interceptions.

Senior receiver Jordan Johnson, a Notre Dame recruit, has caught 24 passes for 503 yards and nine touchdowns. Junior receiver Ra’shod Smith-Harvey has hauled in 34 receptions for 476 yards and seven touchdowns.

The De Smet defense is led by junior linebacker Carter Edwards, who has recorded 121 tackles along with four sacks and two interceptions. Junior defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo has added 93 tackles and a whopping 15 sacks. Jakailin Johnson has picked off five passes.

When practice began in August, Steeples didn’t know his team would go undefeated and play for a state title.

“I didn’t try to look that far ahead,” Steeples said. “We just kind of knew we had to get things ready one day at a time. We had to build a foundation that when you met adversity, you were ready. You don’t want to run into thing you can’t fix on the sidelines.

“You can’t get more physical on the sideline or in shape on the sidelines. We building toward the bigger pictur. I wanted to be better each day and then let the chips fall where they may.”

Joplin is good, Steeples said. They pose a tough challenge for the Spartans.

“They’re an explosive, phsycial team,” Steeples said. “Their offense is so good that their defense doesn’t get enough credit. They play hard and physical.”

The Eagles are led by senior quarterback Blake Tash, who has thrown for 2,551 yards and 30 touchdowns. He has been intercepted just one on 180 of 230 passing. Senior running back Isaiah Davis leads the ground game with 2,192 yards and 44 touchdowns. Senior receiver Zach Westmoreland has caught 94 passes for 1,437 yards and 19 touchdowns.

To earn that second state championship, Steeples said the Spartans need to make no changes.

“Do what we do,” Steeples said. “We must trust in each other. I’m proud to coach these young men.”

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