Nixa’s Spencer Ward reacted to the release of the All-COC selections over the weekend with excitement, appreciation and fulfillment, but a bit of disappointment, as well.
Ward was tabbed as the COC’s Defensive Player Of the Year, while being named a First-Team pick for the second straight year.
"I’m very blessed. That was one of my goals since my junior season ended,” Ward said of the Defensive POY honor. “I wanted to earn respect not only throughout the conference but the state, as well. I couldn’t have done it without being surrounded by such great teammates and coaches.”
The senior safety collected 157 tackles, including 112 solo stops.
“Personally, I didn’t think I’d touch 150-plus tackles because of how good our defense was this year,” he said. “When I started getting close, I was surprised.”
One of Ward’s best friends, Joplin running back Quin Renfro, is the Offensive POY. Renfro rushed for 1,601 yards during an injury-plagued season in which he was limited to eight games.
Ward and Renfro have been friends since they were in junior high. Last summer, Renfro was a guest at Ward's house as they trained together for several days.
“I texted Quin when I first seen we both won,” Ward said. “We were both extremely happy for each other.”
Nixa senior defensive end Jayden Antonelli is a First-Team choice for the second consecutive year. He recorded eight quarterback sacks and seven TFLs as both a junior and senior.
Ward is disillusioned more of his Eagles defensive cohorts are not on the First Team.
Nixa has a modest two First-Team selections on defense, despite running away with the COC championship. The Eagles won the league title by two games over Class 5 runner-up Republic and Class 5 semifinalist Webb City.
COC coaches certainly opened themselves to debate by voting for Branson to have more First-Team selections on defense than Nixa. The Pirates, who tied for sixth place and gave up an average of 26.7 points a game, have three First-Team picks on defense.
Branson has two First-Team linebackers. Nixa has no First-Team linebackers.
The Eagles gave up an average of 16.9 points a game and blew out the Pirates 41-3.
Eagles senior inside linebacker Eli Frazier notched 153 tackles and junior outside linebacker Parker Mann had 133.
“I don’t really know how Eli or Parker weren’t on the First Team,” Ward said. “Parker was an absolute beast. Now, he’s gonna have an even bigger chip on his shoulder next season, so good luck to the rest of the COC. And Eli, anyone who has 150 tackles should be included (on the) First Team. Numbers don’t lie.”
Nixa’s First-Team selection on offense are sophomore offensive lineman Jackson Cantwell, junior running back Dylan Rebura and senior wide receiver Rylan Michel.
Cantwell is a unanimous selection and one of only two sophomores chosen to the First Team. He emerged as a breakout star by accounting for 89 pancake blocks, while receiving recruiting interest from elite college programs the likes of Georgia and Alabama.
Rebura rushed for 1,288 yards and 18 touchdowns while sharing Nixa's ball-carrying duties.
Michel caught 39 passes for 621 yards and four touchdowns.
Ozark junior Sam Clark is a First-Team selection as a punter. He averaged 38.3 yards on 41 punts.
Ward breaks one streak, while other streaks continue
Ward is the first Nixa player named Defensive POY during the COC’s current configuration, which dates back to the COC Small Schools Division disbanding and Joplin’s addition in 2018.
Past recipients of the Defensive POY from 2018-2022 were all from the Joplin area. They include Carthage’s Luke Gall, who won the award by himself in 2022 and shared the honor with teammate Cody Lindsey 2021, Webb City’s Treghan Parker in 2020, Carthage’s Kale Schrader in 2019, and Webb City’s Alex Gaskill and Carthage’s Colton Winder, who shared the honor in 2018.
Ward was also a unanimous First-Team selection a year ago.
Ward’s brother, Steven, was a unanimous First-Team linebacker in 2020.
The last Nixa defensive backs named First Team were Riley Childs and Kolyn Eli, both in 2020.
Prior to Antonelli, Nixa defensive ends named First Team were Dylan Nelson in 2020 and DeShawn Downs in 2019.
Cantwell continues Nixa’s steak of having a First-Team offensive lineman. He joins a list that also includes Garrett Davidson in 2022, Thomas Schulte in 2021 and Matias Moreno in 2020.
Cantwell is the first Nixa sophomore named to the First Team since Ramone Green in 2020.
Michel ups Nixa’s string of First-Team wide receivers to five seasons. Previous Eagles wide receivers named First Team are Kael Combs in 2022 and 2021, Smith Wheeler in 2020 and Evann Long in 2019.
Webb City, Joplin combine for 13 First-Team picks
Overall, Webb City leads the league with seven First-Team selections, while Joplin has six.
In addition to Renfro, Cantwell, Rebura and Michel, the First-Team Offense is made of Republic quarterback Wyatt Woods, Carthage running back Landyn Collins, Republic tight end James Rexroat, Republic lineman Carter Nation, Joplin lineman Dontrell Holt, Webb City lineman Shaun Hunt, Carthage lineman Edward Carreto, Joplin wide receiver Davin Thomas, Joplin tight end Whit Hafer, Branson kicker Dane Efird and Webb City athlete Gabe Johnson.
In addition to Ward, Antonelli and Clark, the First-Team Defense includes Republic lineman Logan Hunt, Webb City lineman Tuckler Libertore, Webb City lineman Jace Jones, Carl Junction linebacker Johnny Starks, Branson linebackers Gage Depee and Javen Finkbone, Webb City linebacker Brock Christian, Republic defensive back Zion Allen, Joplin defensive back Chavis Coleman, Brandon defensive back Marshall Storm, Webb City defensive back Conner Gayman, Carthage defensive back Morgan Langston, Carthage punter Karson Murray and Webb City kick returner Gabe Jonson.
Second-Team and honorable mention selections
Clark is also a Second-Team selection at wide receiver. In his first season as a wideout, Clark caught 57 passes for 682 yards and four touchdowns.
Joining Frazier and Mann as Nixa’s Second-Team picks are senior nrunning back Malachi Rider, junior offensive lineman Jacob Lile, junior defensive lineman Payton Covell and sophomore defensive back Randy Flint.
Lile, who had 59 pancake blocks, was a Third-Team pick a year ago. Rider ran for 25 touchdowns and 1,236 yards. Flint had 37 tackles and Covel 28.
Receiving honorable mention recognition from Ozark are junior linebacker Parker Elliott, junior defensive end Ruben Arvizu and senior linebacker Frankie Munoz.
Elliott topped the Tigers with 136 tackles, while Munoz was third with 93. Arvizu had six TFLs and four quarterback sacks.
Receiving honorable mention recognition from Nixa are junior wide receiver Wyatt Vincent, senior quarterback Nate Uber and senior offensive lineman Ethan Cho
Uber passed for 1,440 yards, while Vincent averaged 26.6 yards per reception.