Jake Raines said he was “a little anxious but more excited” as Broken Arrow opened preseason football drills Monday.
Raines, a junior, is stepping into the eye of the storm as the Tigers seek to repeat as Class 6A Division I champs.
Tate Robards and Quintevin Cherry shared in quarterbacking the Tigers to 13 straight wins last year and the school’s first state football title.
Both have graduated, and Raines won the starting job in a battle over the summer with Seth Dodd, another junior, and Griffin Stieber, a sophomore.
“It’s gonna be fun because I get to play before my hometown and play the position I love and play the game I love,” he said.
Leading a team loaded with stars from the championship campaign will be a unique experience, he admitted. Offensive tackle Andrew Raym, a four-star prospect committed to the University of Oklahoma, is among 10 returning starters.
“It’ll definitely be different at first, but I think I’ll get the hang of it,” Raines said. “All the seniors have been very supportive.”
Tigers coach David Alexander said Raines started distancing himself as the leader of the QB competition in June when he led the Tigers to third place in the 7-on-7 tournament at Shiloh Christian School in Springdale, Arkansas.
“Jake had a great tournament and gave us a chance to win it,” Alexander said. “He’s a tough, tough, gritty kid. Seth is a great kid, too. He’s a sprained ankle from going in and winning football games.”
Raines quarterbacked the junior varsity as a freshman and spent last year as the varsity third-stringer, seeing limited action in six games.
He said he’s been preparing for this since he started playing football at age 10. But he had to wait longer than expected Monday because the Tigers moved back their first practice four hours to avoid searing afternoon heat.
It was 94 degrees when they took the field at 7 p.m. “But that’s better than 99,” Raines said.
Alexander said the Tigers planned to take frequent mandatory water breaks with helmets off to prevent overheating. At least 20 trainers were circulating among the players with water bottles.
Trevor Burckhartzmeyer also returns to an offensive line that helped block powerful running back Noah Cortes to 1,958 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. Burckhartzmeyer moves from guard to center and will be joined by younger brother Nate, also a senior, starting for the first time at guard.
“I played with him back in youth ball and to be able to do that again is pretty fun,” Trevor Burckhartzmeyer said.
The Tigers are confident they can repeat, but some holes must be filled. Cortes, a 225-pound battering ram who become BA’s career-leading rusher, has graduated, along with marauding outside linebackers Zach Marcheselli and Gavin Potter, who combined for 35 tackles for loss. Matt Kaiser had a team-leading 497 receiving yards.
But the returnees are also impressive. Myles Slusher, a University of Oregon commit at defensive back, intercepted four passes last season. Linebacker Campbell Yeager had 96 tackles.
Isaiah Keller returns with 4.47-second speed in the 40-yard dash and likely will be Raines’ main passing target. Keller caught three TD passes as a junior and had a breakout spring as the starting right fielder for the Tigers’ 6A state runner-up baseball team.
Raines said his confidence began to soar when he hit Keller in the back of the end zone for the winning touchdown in an overtime game at the 7-on-7 tournament.
“Isaiah’s a great player and he’s definitely gonna help,” Raines said. “I think he’s gonna take a lot of pressure off of (the quarterback).”
The Tigers ran the ball 75% of the time last season and if all goes according to plan, Raines won’t be called upon to win most games with his arm. But that isn’t going to mean the Tigers don’t have confidence in him, Alexander said.
“It doesn’t matter what system you’re in because the quarterback is already a leader on your football team and we ask ours to do a lot,” Alexander said.
“He’s in charge of getting us lined up and getting us in the correct running play. We do put a lot on him. We’re committed to the run and you’re probably not gonna see him throw as much, but we don’t have a (big back) like Cortes right now and we may have to throw it outside a little more than we did last year.”