There’s no doubt that the 2022 season was a special time for the Houston High School football team.

The Tigers enjoyed significant success during the campaign, finishing with eight wins for the first time since 2005, winning their first seven games for the first time since 1979, prevailing in a district playoff game for the first time since 2008 and defeating South Central Association conference foe Ava for the first time since 2008.

“Last year was a great season,” said head coach Eric Sloan. “I can’t say enough about the senior class that graduated. They led the right way, they were great teammates and held each other accountable. They made the underclassmen rise to their level of competition. There wasn’t any drama or extra noise created by those guys.

“It was a really fun year.”

The Tigers will try for more success in 2023 with a vastly different roster, but one that does include several experienced upperclassmen.

“We have some guys who have started the last two seasons and will return some key experience,” Sloan said. “Now it’s their turn to take over and lead.

Seniors on the 2023 HHS football team. Front row, from left, Dalton Ennis, Ethan Chase, Keaton Goetz, Grayson Mitchell and Stone Jackson. Back row, Wyatt Hughes, Kayden Crawford, Brady Brookshire, Garrett Bieller and Trenton Shelton.

“We’re looking to find our identity right now. Our offensive line is a work in progress trying to gel. If we can get the kinks worked out up front, that will help our offense out tremendously.” 

That offense will once again be led by quarterback Wyatt Hughes, a three-year starter who’s now in his senior year.

“Wyatt understands what we’re trying to do,” Sloan said. “He has matured as a leader and does a great job running the team. He is throwing the ball well and works with the receivers every day after practice.  I believe our passing game should be much improved.” 

Hughes will also start at defensive back.

HHS senior Wyatt Hughes.

“I look for Wyatt to have a big year on both sides of the ball,” Sloan said.

Other returning seniors who had an impact last season include Brady Brookshire and Keaton Goetz, who will help anchor the offensive line and be at linebacker on defense, along with tight end Kayden Crawford, lineman Trenton Shelton and running back/linebacker Grayson Mitchell. Also returning after seeing plenty of varsity time last year are juniors Layne Seago, Jordan Arthur and Bryson Alexander. After a breakout 2022 season, Seago – who was one of the squad’s leading tacklers last year – will be on the defensive line again, but will move to running back on offense. Meanwhile, Arthur will bring athleticism to the wide receiver and defensive back positions and Alexander will go both ways at running back and linebacker.

A mix of other upperclassmen and a handful of sophomores will be relied upon at various positions. The HHS football program features more than 50 players again this season.

“We should be able to play some freshmen games as well as some JV games,” Sloan said, “which is really good for development for the future. If we can keep our young kids playing on Monday night and not have to depend on them playing major roles on Friday night, I think this will play a huge part in how we do overall.”

The HHS football coaching staff for 2023. From left, Rodney Preheim (OL/DL, JV), Dakota Burchett (WR/DB, JV), Jake Brookshire (LB, FB, TE, Defensive Coordinator), head coach Eric Sloan, Clay Ashworth (OL/DL, freshmen) and Brett Rawlings (WR, DB, freshmen).

Sloan is entering his ninth season at the helm of HHS football. He said depth could potentially be an issue.

“Last year was the first year we had mostly juniors and seniors playing major roles on Friday night,” Sloan said. “We’re pretty thin in some spots, so if we have any injuries we will get young and inexperienced in a hurry.” 

To come even close to matching last season’s win total, this year’s group will likely have to produce the kind of big numbers on offense that became routine last year.

“We want to be able to get into multiple formations and run our plays, and put some pressure on the defense,” Sloan said. “We will probably throw the ball a little more. We have to gel together as an offensive line and stay healthy.

“We are replacing a lot of talent and production from last season. The new faces in some positions are going to have to take the ‘next man up’ mentality and run with their new role.”

Sloan and defensive coordinator Jake Brookshire want Houston’s Big Red D to just take what the opposing offense gives and deal with it appropriately.

“We will try to take some thinking out of it and allow the kids to read and react,” Sloan said. “We have some guys who have several starts who will be able to simplify and get the new guys lined up. It will be important for us to align correctly and run to the football.”

The Tigers tuned up last Friday in a four-team jamboree at Mountain Grove that included Thayer and Willow Springs.

Houston kicks off the season with a home game Friday (Aug. 25) against Orchard Farm. The contest is the first of three straight home games for the Tigers, as Fayette comes to town on Sept. 1 and SCA rival Salem visits Tiger Stadium on Sept. 8.

“We have to stay healthy!” Sloan said. “Offensively, our new guys are going to have to make up a lot production that was lost due to graduation. And we need our offensive line to be able to take some pressure off our new playmakers early and allow them to ease into it and not feel like they have to do too much.”



Aug. 25: Orchard Farm

Sept. 1: Fayette

Sept. 8: Salem

Sept. 15: Cabool

Sept. 22: Thayer

Sept. 29: Ava (Homecoming)

Oct. 6: Willow Springs

Oct. 13: Mountain Grove (Senior Day), 1 p.m.

Oct. 20: Liberty

*Home games in bold

*All games kick off at 7 p.m. (unless otherwise noted)

Junior varsity

Sept. 5: Liberty, 6 p.m.

Sept. 11: Salem, 6 p.m.

Sept. 18: Cabool

Sept. 25: Thayer

Oct. 2: Ava

Oct. 9: Willow Springs

Oct. 16: Mountain Grove

*Home games in bold

*All JV games kick off at 6 p.m.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at

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