With work continuing on the repaving of Ozark’s track encircling the football field, the Tigers have ventured to their junior high field down the street for football camp the past two weeks.
It’s a step back in time, as the players return to their old stomping grounds while going from turf to grass.
“Just about everyone old or new, if you’ve gone through the Ozark program, at some point in time you’ve played games on this field,” coach Chad Depee said. “I wasn’t real excited about this initially. It’s a lot more convenient to be (at the high school), where you can walk out of the locker room and go. But it’s been good. The kids have handled this well. They get to experience again the wet shoes, itchy bellies and all that kind of stuff.”
Perhaps no one has appreciated being on Ozark’s former gridiron home more than senior nose guard Hunter Tennison.
He’s returned to the same field where his father, Jeremy, starred for the Tigers in the mid-1990s. Hunter's uncle, Scott, and grandfather, Jay, also were key figures in Ozark athletics in the past.
“I used to have teachers all the time ask me if I was related to Jay Tennison and they would tell me about something great that he did, same with my Dad,” Hunter said. “Teachers ask me if I’m related to Jeremy Tennison and then would tell me how great of a player he was.
“I feel humbled and pride to know there have been two generations of my family that has gone through here,” he added. “For me to go along the same line as them, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Tennison plans to ask a little more out of himself during his senior season. If things go as planned and he lines up exclusively on the defensive side of the ball, the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder vows not to hold anything back.
“(Coaches) are trying to keep guys fresh by playing us on one side of the ball,” Tennison said. “So, I can really focus on defense. I’m really liking it because I can be 100 percent focused for all the plays. I’m ready to be aggressive and go hard.
“I’ve played on both sides of the ball in the past and tell myself to go 100 percent, but at the end of the game I’m always tired,” he added. “Toward the fourth quarter, I would tell myself I’m doing good. But I knew I was dogging it, while trying to catch my breath. I’m going to change that this year. I’m telling myself I’m going 100 percent all the time.”
Tennison recorded nine tackles for a loss and 2.5 quarterback sacks last season.
He has drawn interest from college football coaches, but has made it clear he wants to pursue baseball at the next level. Knowing this is his last go-around on the gridiron sparks even more self-motivation.
“I’m not going to dog anything because I’ve got nothing left after this,” he said. “I’ve got to give it 100 percent. I’ll know after my last snap of my last game that I’m done.”
Tennison is bound and determined to cause chaos in the middle of the line of scrimmage for opposing offenses.
“They’ll be having me blitz A-gap a lot,” he said. “I’m going to make a lot of destruction out there.”
Tennison is pitching this weekend in a wooden bat tournament in the Joplin area for the Ozark Baseball Club. Like all his teammates, they’ve appreciated a bit more playing in the summer after having their spring season cancelled due to COVID-19.
“It was hard missing the spring,” said Tennison, who posted a 2.55 ERA and struck out 15 over 11 innings as a sophomore for Ozark. “Junior year is supposed to be a big year in which you show (college coaches) what you’ve got. Taking away my junior year makes me have to be extra special my senior year.”
Tennison also wrestles and feels some of the skills he develops in football and wrestling transfer to the ball diamond.
“Every year I’ve thought about dropping all my other sports to focus on baseball. But I sit and think about if I did that, how much conditioning would I have to do while pushing myself?” Tennison said. “The other sports help me for baseball. Football helps me with my aggressiveness and working out my legs and wrestling helps sharpen my mentality. They all work together.
“It’s time consuming. But I’ve always loved being a multi-sport athlete because of the competitiveness,” he added. “When I injured (my hip) my sophomore year and had so much time on my hands, I didn’t know what to do. I had to ride the bus home from school for the first time. I had to figure out which transfer bus to get on. It was a trip. I was so eager to get back on the field and the mat.”