Cole Dugger played his final game at Owasso Stadium last season in a state semifinal game against Carl Albert. On a steamy Monday evening, the senior quarterback was leading his new team onto the very same field for the first day of fall practice (see PHOTO gallery).
Dugger, who transferred from Collinsville to Owasso in the offseason, enters the season No. 1 on the depth chart and the likely starter for the Rams.
“I’m definitely anxious because you don’t know what’s going on,” said Dugger just before taking the field. “Being somewhere you’ve been so long, you know what everybody is doing. Here you don’t know the schedule. You just don’t know what practice is like. I’m ready to get out there and see what it’s like.”
Last season, Dugger threw for nearly 900 yards and eight touchdowns for the Cardinals. Rams coach Bill Blankenship said the 6-foot-1, 180-pound signal caller’s talent and poise have stood out during the summer.
“Our team, the players really embraced him,” Blankenship said. “They nicknamed him “Iceman” because, emotionally, he doesn’t ride a big wave. But he’s been really good for us. I’m excited to see him go through this process.”
Despite his calm demeanor, Dugger admitted he did not sleep much the night before in anticipation of the start of preseason. Blankenship had a similar feeling.
“I saw (Owasso defensive coordinator Bobby) Klinck tweet this and I feel the same way,” Blankenship said. “I have a hard time sleeping the night before. For me, it’s all about wondering if I’ve remembered everything and the details…But this is when we really get to hit the grind and the turnaround is fast. We only have 18 days (until the season opener).”
Dugger is surrounded by an Owasso squad that returns 16 starters, eight each on offense and defense, from a team that finished 2018 with a 7-5 record and a state semifinal berth.
Running back Isaiah Jacobs returns on the offense after rushing for more than 1,000 yards while playing in just seven full games. The Rams also retained their top three pass catchers, in terms of receiving yards, with Trey Goins, Mario Kirby and Kelan Carney.
Defensively, several key players from a unit that entered last season with many Rams seeing their first significant varsity action. One of those expected to benefit from a year of Class 6AI seasoning is senior defensive end Haydon Grant. The rangy 6-foot-5, 215-pound University of Tulsa commit finished with 43 tackles and four sacks a season ago.
“Last year was just us coming together,” Grant said. “We were real young last year. By the end of the year, we matured and meshed and came together. I feel like we’re already there this year so it’s just up from here.”
Blankenship said last year’s growing pains should benefit Owasso going into 2019.
“Some of those are the exact same guys,” Blankenship said. “But they have had 12 or 13 games and practices and scrimmages and spring ball. That kind of experience, you can’t just crack open someone’s head and pour it into…They’re different and hopefully they’ll take it and build on it and not be satisfied with where they are.”
Owasso is scheduled to take part in the annual Union Gridiron Classic Preview Thursday, Aug. 22. The regular season is Aug. 30 at Bentonville West.
Grant on his decision to commit: Earlier in the summer, Grant committed to TU. He chose the Golden Hurricane among other offers, most notably Army.
“I felt like Tulsa was the place but I went ahead and took a couple of visits there,” Grant said. “I just liked how the players were and how the coaches interacted with them.”
Dealing with the heat: Monday was anticipated to one of the hottest days of the summer yet with temperatures reaching 100 degrees around the area.
Blankenship said preparation is the key in dealing with extreme conditions.
“Awareness is the big thing,” he said. “At Owasso, we’re very blessed with legitimate, certified athletic trainers that have done this for a while. For all of our trainers who deal with it to have that background, we’ve already talked about what will we do if a guy falls down? We’ve already talked about the emergency plan. I just think there are a lot of years where we haven’t that. And I think leadership matters and to have people lead us like they do is pretty fabulous.”