LITTLE RIVER — In just his second year with the program, Little River High School football head coach Kevin Ayers has his team ready to compete for a state championship.


Little River returns six starters on offense and five on defense after reaching the 8-Man Division I Quarterfinals.


Little River is coming off a 9-2 season and returns one of the most explosive players in the entire state in senior Jayden Garrison.


Garrison rushed for 1,234 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground, while throwing for 444 yards and eight touchdowns through the air.


Garrison, who led Little River in rushing, passing, and receiving last season, also caught 10 passes for 346 yards and five touchdowns. Additionally, Garrison recorded 66 tackles at defensive back.


Senior Graham Stephens is perhaps just as versatile and dynamic. Stephens went down with a season-ending injury before the second round of the playoffs, but started in nine games.


Stephens threw for 395 yards, rushed for 682 yards, and tallied 26 total touchdowns. Little River was able to win a wild game over Ness City, 44-42, in the playoffs without him, but missed Stephens greatly in the quarterfinals in a 74-38 loss to Leoti-Wichita County.


While Stephens and Garrison will lead the way, Little River returns five total senior starters to round out the lineup.


Receivers Trey Rolfs and Keaton Richardson combined for six touchdowns, and Cade Young is one of four returning defensive backs.


Linebacker/tight end Braxton Lafferty had a breakout freshman season last year, leading the team with 15 receptions and finishing third on the team in reception yards (346) and touchdowns (three).


Juniors Kaden Shafer and Carter Holloway are the returning starters on the offensive line, and with all that is known at the skill positions, the o-line may be the key to the offense.


"Building culture and chemistry is priority No. 1," Ayers said. "We had a great summer and return a good nucleus of players."


On defense, Little River loses three of its top four tacklers. Garrison’s 66 tackles are the most among returners, while Stephens’ 51 is second.


"We have to play a more physical style of football if we want to compete at the highest level," Ayers said. The kids are hungry and we hope to put an improved team on the field each and every week."


Little River opens its season on Sept. 4 at Peabody-Burns. A Week 3 matchup against Goessel will be the first time Little River plays at home.