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by Mark Cheffey
Palmyra Panther football is entering a new era with the arrival of Dalton Hill as head coach.
Hill is a native of New London and a graduate of Mark Twain High School where he earned an athletic scholarship to Northwest Missouri State University.
He was a starter on the Bearcat offensive line, and now brings everything he learned at a storied and winning football program with hopes of rejuvenating a Panther program coming off a disastrous 0-10 season.
And Hill said he likes what he has seen from his 46-player roster during summer camps, conditioning and the first week of pre-season preparation.
“I think its building back,” Hill said. “We’re getting some kids back out for football who previously played, and we’re restoring their love for the game. That’s always a good thing to see when kids come out.”
And to say that Bearcat football had an influence on him and what he’s using to teach his players would be a huge understatement.
“It taught me everything I know,” Hill said. “I learned from some of the best coaches, and I had some of the best teammates. It drove me into a love for football even more than I already had, and it inspired me to want to be a coach.
And, having been hired by PHS initially as the school’s first strength and conditioning coach, Hill said it has given him a head start linking up with his football players.
“That’s one of my favorite parts of this job,” he said. “Not only do I spend time with my football team, but all summer long I’ve spent time with all athletes in the school and started building those relationships.”
He said the early weight-room momentum led to strong showings during football camps at NWMSU and Quincy University and has carried over into the pre-season practices.
“We have high energy practices, and I truly believe our players want to be out here,” he said. “I truly believe they’re starting to trust us. They’re starting to ask good questions. I always tell our players there are no wrong questions and for them to come to us with questions has been gratifying to us as a staff.”
Hill said he still has a lot of competition for starting spots on both sides of the ball, but has also seen a number of players come to the fore, including his quarterback.
“Aaron Ritchey has done a phenomenal job this off season,” Hill said of the player who got varsity experience as a freshman and sophomore.
“He’s really bought into the system and the program, and he’s just one of those guys who shows up everyday and willing to work, and obviously we’re just going to keep growing with him.”
Ritchey will be joined in the backfield by Gideon Bogue, a senior, Landon Carroll, junior, and Wyatt Augspurg, who Hill said brings a combination of speed and physical play.
But, Hill has also penciled in a complete offensive line that includes senior tackles, Gage Barnett and Tyler Zeiger, senior guards, Jeremiah Edwards and Zeke Meyers, and center, Colby Jones, a sophomore.
“They’re doing a great job of progressing and buying in this off season, getting better with their foot work and hand placement,” Hill said. “And they’re learning to work together and zone things off.”
Hill should know too, because he’s still an offensively lineman at heart who believes it all starts with a strong line.
“I’m the head coach obviously, but I will tell people I will coach offensive line until I can’t coach anymore,” he said. “My true love in football is the offensive line.
“And, I tell our players if our offensive linemen and defensive linemen can’t get it together, we can’t win a football game.
“I am extremely hard on those guys, but I encourage them to take that on their back and realize they’re the ones who win this game. They’re the ones up front who get this done.”
And, while the O-line doesn’t get any of the glory, Hill said he believes he is able to get his linemen to love what they are doing.
“I think they see my passion and feed off my fire for the line, and they see how much I love it,” he said.
Hill brings in a new zone run offensive system, designed to have the backs and line “working together to piece things off.”
“It’s all about giving our backs a place to go,” Hill said, who also indicated the plan is to also build a balanced offense, as the passing game progresses.
Hill said the defense is progressing especially after gaining confidence to the QU camp.
He sees the line, made up of some players from the other side of the ball, coming along, with a linebacker corps led by Bogue and Jonas Janes, a junior, along with Augspurg at nickle back.
Hill has a group of assistant coaches who are new with the exception of Nick Powell, who is working with receivers as well as being the special team coordinator.
The defense is coordinated by Dalton Huffman, who was an all-American linebacker at Culver-Stockton College.
Lilo Lionel leads the defensive line, and Isaac Williamson coaches the running backs.
Jory Maddox, a PHS alum, is also assisting.
Despite coming in following an 0-10 season that went beyond even the lack of wins, Hill said he and his coaches are keeping their eyes forward.
“My staff and I don’t talk about that much. That’s the past,” Hill said. “We had nothing to do with that, but we just know that if you come in and do things the right way, be good to people, trust in your kids and communicate a certain way with people, everything will be fine. Everything will work out in the end.
“I tell my players, do things right, be a good person and everything falls into place.”
And, while the focus of the team is preparing for the season opener at home against Hallsville Friday, Aug. 25, the players and staff are looking forward to hard-nosed Clarence Cannon Conference football and piling up wins “from practice, watching film, the weight room and playing the next game,” with the goal of bringing back Palmyra Panther football.
“I want to see Panther fans tailgating, filling the bleachers and providing a good environment for all our kids, because that is what it’s all about.”
2023 PHS Varsity
8/18 Han. Jamboree 6 p.m.
8/25 Hallsville 7 p.m.
9/1 Bowl. Green 7 p.m.
9/8 Centralia 7 p.m.
9/15 at Macon 7 p.m.
9/22 at Brookfield 7 p.m.
9/29 Monroe City 7 p.m.
10/6 at Clark Co. 7 p.m.
10/13 Highland 7 p.m.
10/20 at S. Shelby 7 p.m.
10/27 District TBA 7 p.m.
2023 PHS JV
8/28 Hannibal 6 p.m.
9/4 Centralia 6 p.m.
9/11 at Mon. City 6 p.m.
9/18 at Highland 6 p.m.
9/25 Macon 6 p.m.
10/2 at S. Shelby 6 p.m.
10/9 Bowl. Green 6 p.m.
10/16 at Clark Co. 6 p.m.