With new coach and spirit, Colonels craft historic football season

With new coach and spirit, Colonels craft historic football season
Jimmy Peyton walks players through a drill earlier this season. The first year Missouri Military Academy coach led the Colonels to a 5-4 season, the school’s first winning record in 34 years. [Jessica Ekern]
By: 
Dave Faries
Editor

It was early September and Missouri Military Academy had just lost to Highland 50-34.

The team went 1-9 in 2019, were winless the year before and suffered through another 1-9 campaign before that. In fact, the Colonels could look back on only three seasons with more than one victory since 2010. To find the school’s last winning record, one had to flip back to 1986.

But head coach Jimmy Peyton saw something different on that day.

“They stayed in the game,” he said of his squad. “That meant more than a win. I knew our kids were improving.”

After a subsequent loss to Father Tolton, the Colonels went on a tear. They knocked off Mark Twain 23-14, took down Louisiana 47-34, topped Central 27-12 and overwhelmed Crystal City by the score of 64-28 on their way to a 5-4 record.

The turnaround came in Peyton’s first year at MMA. And it happened quicker than even some of the school’s student-athletes expected.

Senior fullback and linebacker Christopher Bryant felt it during a pause in the game against Mark Twain. With a time out for an injury on the field, Bryant had a moment to look around – at the lights, at the steam coming off teammates kneeling in the chill of an autumn evening.

“It felt like we were a family,” he said.

Peyton came to MMA with few concerns about the school’s football past. The young squad didn’t trouble him, either. That five of his eventual starters had little or no prior football experience, that a few struggled to translate the game’s terminology – no big deal.

“We gave everyone a chance,” the coach said. “To me it was about changing the culture.”

When coaches talk about culture, they mean more than concepts like effort and teamwork. As a veteran college and high school coach with a degree in leadership and service as a sergeant and instructor in the US Army, Peyton recognized talent. In the game against Crystal City, junior Ricky Padron scored seven touchdowns and five two-point conversions. On the defensive side, he racked up over 100 tackles during the season.

But Peyton looked for more than fundamental ability.

“We have great kids here,” he observed. “What this place lacked was the highly competitive atmosphere. The will to compete is what I wanted to see.”

In some ways the team’s youth and diversity – three members of the team come from Rwanda – gave Peyton the foundation of a historic season. He had to go back to basics and teach from the ground up, which allowed him to shape the team and inspire confidence in the student-athletes.

Against Highland the Colonels had three touchdowns called back and gave up two long scores, but the players never wavered. Peyton points to the Mark Twain game as the one where things really came together. Not only were they getting comfortable with the complexities of a spread offense and over shift defense, but they also showed the attitude the coach knew would carry them the rest of the schedule.

“We have people who have heart,” said Padron, who plays several skill positions on offense and holds down the strong side linebacker spot on the other side of the ball. “The spirit is great.”

The lopsided win over Crystal City showed just how much MMA’s football squad had changed in one season. Linebacker Jeremy Ansel intercepted a pass and took it 50 yards for a touchdown. When the Colonel’s next took possession, Padron broke free for six more and the blowout was on.
“Our offense and defense were clicking,” Padron said.

For Bryant, taking part in the school’s first winning season in 34 years stamps an added sense of accomplishment to his time at MMA.

“It made me feel more connected with myself and everyone around me,” he said with a grin. “It feels amazing.”

Peyton says that after experiencing the school’s first winning season in 34 years, the returning players know what to expect – and will set an example for incoming athletes. He anticipates a solid performance when 2021 rolls around.

And it seems to be rubbing off.

“This year was a start,” Padron pointed out. “We have to keep it going.”

And next year?

“I think we’re going to bring it,” he added.

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