There's one word Fulton Hornets head coach Pat Kelley kept coming back to when describing his 2014 squad.
Kelley and his staff evaluated Fulton's offense from a year ago and came to the conclusion that its greatest gains came when they were spreading out the opposition.
"We changed our (offensive) scheme a little bit," Kelley said. "We spent the offseason analyzing what we did on offense and where we were the most successful, and that the sets we were most most successful in were the spread sets."
The Hornets will put those changes on display tonight when they open the season at School of the Osage. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Fulton returns six starters on offense and eight on defense from a team that finished 5-6 overall last season and 1-5 in the North Central Missouri Conference.
The Hornets knocked off Osage 28-22 in Fulton in the 2013 opener, using the triumph to race to a 3-0 start. Fulton then cooled off, dropping six of its last eight games and falling to California in the Class 3, District 6 semifinals.
Kelley hopes a victory tonight can key a similar early-season surge this time around.
"Last year you hoped you'd go in and play well, but this year they have a little bit more confidence in themselves, and hopefully that carries into Friday night," Kelley said.
Fulton's offense will be led by a first-time starter tonight in sophomore quarterback Devin Masek. The 5-foot-7, 135-pound Masek and junior Trenton Clines split snaps in last Friday night's jamboree scrimmages at Boonville, with Kelley giving Masek the nod due to the need for Clines to man an outside linebacker position for the Hornets' defense.
Kelley likes Masek's ability to escape and create plays, but knows he must remain poised.
"He's elusive ... he can make something happen when things break down," Kelley said. "But he's going to have to play within himself; he's going to have to be patient and we're going to have to be patient with him because it's going to be a big step for him."
In addition to Clines, senior Sam Christensen (6-2, 188) will also be in the mix at quarterback. Christensen completed 50 percent of his passes (35-of-70) last season for 459 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, while also rushing for 203 yards and three scores.
Whoever takes snaps for Fulton will be flanked in the backfield by a trio of experienced ball carriers, led by junior Travis Dean.
Dean (5-11, 166) emerged as the Hornets' lead back in 2013, gaining 945 yards on 124 carries (7.62 average) and scoring 10 touchdowns en route to all-district and all-NCMC honors.
According to Kelley, Dean gained 20 pounds and the extra weight could add to the "intangibles" he displayed during his sophomore season.
"He's got a great first step, he's got great vision and as many times as he ran the ball last year, very few people got a clean shot on him," Kelley said. "He's definitely a slasher, and like I said, a lot of those things you can't coach."
Seniors Dominique Ford (5-6, 140) and Noah Braun (5-10, 164) will also see touches, both rushing and receiving. Braun - who averaged 12.93 yards a catch last season - and Ford will also be used as slot receivers when needed, making the Fulton offense that much more difficult to defend.
"It keeps the defense on its toes because they can't key on one kid," Kelley said.
The Hornets lost all-district wide receivers Dalton Horstmeier and Chris Tilson to graduation, but will be boosted by the return of senior Devin Gibson. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder missed all last season with a hand injury, but can use his big body in a variety of different receiver spots.
"He's more of a flex-type tight end; we can put him the slot, we can split him out," Kelley said. "He's a basketball player, so he boxes people out and shields people really well."
Senior receiver Ja'Metrius Galbreath (5-11, 155) had 16 catches for 168 yards (10.5 average) and a touchdown in 2013, while the Hornets will also utilize junior receiver Radarion Glover (5-9, 160).
Blocking up front is a group Kelley calls his most athletic in 18 years. Junior guards Clayton Bristol (5-11, 242) and Alex Garner (6-2, 220) return to anchor an offensive line that will feature two new starting tackles and a new center.
Sophomore Jared Peery (5-10, 214) will take over at center as he replaces former all-district pick Derrick Coffelt.
"He's got a great football mind and he's technically very, very sound," Kelley said of Peery. "He makes some young mistakes and that's going to happen.
"We have some guys that can move in and out (at center), but he's kind of taken the forefront and is leading us at center."
Junior Zach Benner (6-0, 192) was a tight end last season but was asked to move to tackle by Kelley in the summer. He'll man a corner, while senior Andrew Wayant (6-1, 201) will handle the other tackle position.
"They're lean ... they're athletic ... they don't look like what you'd think prototypical offensive linemen (would)," Kelley said. "They're not big comparitively to linemen ... I've got three guys right around 200 pounds, but they're athletic."
Benner and Wayant were both forced to play some defensive tackle in 2013 because of injuries, but both will start off at defensive end this season. Bristol and Garner will man the middle in Fulton's four-man front.
Bristol had 57 tackles and a sack on his way to all-district recognition last season.
The quartet was able to get in the backfield and put pressure on quarterbacks at last week's Jamboree scrimmages and Kelley noted the pursuit angles they took to the ball were much improved from a year ago. He hopes that production carries into the season.
"Defense is such an 11-man game, and you have to know what everyone else is doing," Kelley said. "With those guys up front with another year under their belts, when you have guys who've played a lot, you can do more."
Junior Kobe Kaminski (6-1, 195) logged 80 tackles a year ago and returns to play middle linebacker, along with sophomore Lukas Berrey (5-10, 174).
Braun - the Hornets' leading returning tackler with 94 - will handle one of the outside linebacker spots, while Clines (5-7, 156) will drop down from his strong safety position and occupy the other outside position.
Clines' move will allow Fulton to play more of a true 4-4 defense and let him play closer to the action, where Kelley says he excels.
Glover and senior Nathan Lexa (6-0, 152) will each lineup at cornerback in the Hornets' secondary. Cornerback was seen as a question mark for Fulton, but players like Galbreath, senior Noah Given (5-8, 160) and sophomore Lucas Gray (5-8, 142) will provide some needed depth.
Junior Andy Baysinger (5-10, 158) enters his second year as a starter at free safety.
Senior Austin Wilson will handle place-kicking duties when his soccer schedule allows it, while Gibson and Dean will be responsible for kickoffs and punts, respectively.
Kelley said his players are up for the challenge that Osage and first-year coach Devin Johnson will present tonight.
"You have to approach it as a first game," Kelley said. "They've got a new coach and other than what we saw in the Jamboree, we don't know what to expect. We're excited about it."