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Tigers searching for separation in battle for starting quarterback job

OZARK'S CONNOR MCMURRY fires a pass during 7-on-7 action.
OZARK'S CONNOR MCMURRY fires a pass during 7-on-7 action.

Ozark’s starting quarterback job is absolutely up for grabs this summer, much more so than in recent seasons, what with the Tigers not returning anyone who has made a single pass under Friday night lights.

Connor McMurry is among the three quarterbacks working to be behind center. But he prefers not to have the competition between himself, Laine Emmerth and Fisher Wade labeled a quarterback battle.

“I don't like calling it a battle, to be honest with you, because these are my brothers,” McMurry said. “But, we are going to compete. We’ll see how it works out.”

Last season, Brady Dodd started eight of Ozark’s 10 games last season at QB and, as a senior, completed 50-of-92 passes for 867 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. With Dodd injured for the Tigers’ final two games, Gage Depee spelled him behind center and made good on 8-of-17 passes for 70 yards, one touchdown and two picks. He’s now at Branson for his senior year.

McMurry and Wade are seniors, while Emmerth is a junior. Emmerth is the only quarterback with varsity experience. He ran the ball three times for 38 yards, including a touchdown, last season.

"It's wide open,” Cordell said of Ozark's quarterback picture. “If you're a quarterback, that's what you want.”

Ozark’s 7-on-7 sessions against Parkview, Bolivar and Monett the past two weeks didn’t offer any sort concrete answer regarding who will win the quarterback job, with all three QBs having similar results both nights.

The Tigers’ passing game can be best characterized as a work in progress at this juncture and each QB performed better in 7-on-7 the second time around.

“Confidence is important to me and in our (first) 7-on-7 I didn't have confidence and wasn't throwing the right balls and my reads were off,” Emmerth said. “All the quarterbacks did better in general (in the second 7-on-7 session). All of us had more completions.

“I'm feeling more confident with the plays and the offense,” he added. “It’s taking a while for the offense to get going, but we'll get there.”

Emmerth, McMurry and Wade value all the reps behind center they can get and thus appreciated the experience they gained in 7-on-7.

“Even though there's not 11 guys on both sides of the ball, it's a chance for me to get confidence in my abilities and make relationships with my guys,” McMurry said. “I'm still working on reading formations, anticipating windows and finding the open guy.”

"I'm trying to keep improving and win the day," Wade said. "I'm trying to get good chemistry with the receivers, make good reads, trust myself and be more confident. I need more confidence, that's what I'm looking for right now, and to keep grinding."

Cordell’s timeline calls for Ozark to have a starting QB named well in advance of the Tigers’ season-opening trip to Carl Junction on Aug. 25.

“The guys are battling and trying to separate themselves,” Cordell said. “There’s going to be a time soon where there's going to be that separation. As coaches, we need to continue to evaluate and give good feedback.”

Even with Ozark enjoying a week off this week during the Fourth of July holiday, Emmerth has the Tigers’ playbook nearby.

“If you want to be a starter, you have to take responsibility and know where everyone is going and the routes they have to run,” he said. “There are some routes that we're still learning that I need to work on. That's just about looking at the playbook and studying every day. I try to put in extra work behind the scenes and grind.”

Ultimately, the hope out of Ozark’s camp is the QB battle will bring out the best in them.

“I like competition and feel competition is important,” Emmerth said. “If everyone is competitive, everyone is going to be working harder and that will make our team better in general.”

“They're all team players, which I appreciate,” Cordell said of the QBs. “They’re great kids and good teammates.”