Every high school football coach in Missouri, after two weeks of practice, has lost his voice to some degree. At the very least, they're hoarse.

Phil Pitts is not hoarse.

"So far, so good," Pitts said in full voice.

No yelling required, thanks. With 29 seniors on the roster and 17 returning starters, the Helias Crusaders are more loaded than the U.S. Military.

"We've got a great senior class," said Pitts, who's entering his third season at the Helias helm. "The kids are working hard and they've really bought into being great --- and not just being good.

"They want to be the team that finally gets the job done. We've been pretty good now for six, seven years, but this year, they want to be great."

Last year, the Crusaders were quite good, going 10-5 and reaching the Class 4 championship game.

"It was a fun season," Pitts said. "The schedule we played, it was going to challenge us all year long ... it really prepared us for district time and the playoffs. It was a fun group to be around and they got better each and every week.

"It was a memorable season up until that last game, memories we'll never forget."

That last game was a 49-14 loss to Webb City, which scored touchdowns on its first five possession on its way to its 45th straight win and third straight state championship.

"That was the best team we've seen in long time," Pitts said.

That Helias team featured Cole Distler, Mr. Everything for the Crusaders, and Anthony Woodruff, who was a game-breaker and game-changer. They will be tough to replace.

Still, Pitts must feel like he's heading into this season with an ace up his sleeve. Or two aces. Or all four.

"I'm excitable and optimistic by nature," he said. "But this group has a chance to be special, a chance to be great, to always be remembered.

"If we continue to work hard and continue to get better, do the things we need to do, and keep pushing ourselves, we have a chance to beat anybody in the state of Missouri."

Phase one, the hard work, has apparently been accomplished.

"From Jan. 5 on, we had 97 percent attendance in the weight room, even though some of the kids played other sports," Pitts said. "Then in the summer, we were 100 percent in the weight room.

"These kids don't won't to be just okay."

Not only is there talent and desire, but there's plenty of it.

"We've got lots of depth," Pitt said. "We're probably going to play 21 guys on defense and 17 guys on offense; we've got depth all over the place.

"And that's in the normal rotation of the game."

Senior quarterback Wyatt Porter (6-3, 220) promises to be anything but normal this season.

"The way we run our offense and the complicated scheme that we have, it's all centered around Wyatt," Pitts said. "He's so much more comfortable in his second year (Porter threw for 2,700 yards last season), that I think the sky's the limit for him."

Junior tight end/defensive end Hale Hentges (6-5, 230) is coming off a great season. This year, he should be even better.

"We're going to lean a lot on him; he's the No. 2-rated player in his class in Missouri for a reason," Pitts said. "He's got a lot of talent and a lot of ability; he's a big, strong athletic kid.

"I'm sure glad he's on our football team."

Senior running back/safety Brock Gerstner (5-10, 175) is back on the team after missing last season with an injury.

"If he hadn't gotten hurt," Pitts said, "you would have heard a lot about him. He's a special football player."

Helias has plenty of others. To name a few, senior tailback Garrett Buschjost (6-1, 175), who rushed for over 800 yards in just eight games last season; all-state senior Will Fife (6-2, 255), who will anchor the lines; and senior twins Ryan and Michael Tannehill.

Helias opens the season by hosting Harrisonville on Friday at Adkins Stadium.

"Right now," Pitts said, "all we're focused on is getting better heading into Week One."

Okay, sure. First things first.

But somewhere lurking deep in the back of their mind has to be Webb City, which has seemingly ended Helias' season every year since 1998 --- the last time Helias won a state championship.

If they meet again, it would be in the championship game, once again. And if they meet again, could this be the year?

"No doubt," Pitts said. "It's hard to say that, with the past we've had with them in the last four or five years. But hopefully we get the chance to play them again.

"We have to take care of business first --- a lot of business --- and so do they. But I like our chances if we get to that football game."

Don't be surprised if it happens.