OKC Heritage Hall
Nobody seems to be slowing down the Chargers. Last year’s gold ball was their second straight and fourth in five years. They are 67-3 in that span. Brains and brawn are equal parts of the winning profile. Physical line play will be a long suit in 2019, and speedy WR/DB Phillip Smitherman is committed to being the second Charger to play at Harvard.
2. Lincoln Christian
The Bulldogs are loaded with multi-year starters from last year’s semifinal team. Chase Ricke passed for 3,116 yards and 34 TDs and Lincoln led 3A in scoring with 45.2 points per game. WR Sam Brueggemann caught 17 TD passes, LB Connor Johnson had 90 tackles and DB Zac Harwell had six interceptions.
OSU-commit Eli Russ and TCU-commit Blake Nowell return to lead last year’s 9-3 squad that stayed with Lincoln Christian for a half in the quarterfinals. Russ, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive guard, is the state’s No. 4-rated prospect by 247sports. He averaged 6.6 pancake blocks last season. Nowell caught 13 TD passes.
Jim Dixon starts his 44th season with 325 wins, third among Oklahoma high school coaches. RB Trey Kiser is gone from last year’s state runner-up team, but Dixon returns nine starters on defense and key offensive linemen to make his punishing ground game go.
The Chiefs are 34-3 over the past three years and haven’t lost a regular-season game since 2015. WR/DB Braden Hendrix had 2,143 all-purpose yards and 15 TDs last year. DB Dawson James led the state as a sophomore with 12 interceptions.
Nobody envies the job QB Cade Stephenson has before him. He takes over for Jett Sternberger, who accounted for 46 TDs in last year’s semifinal playoff run.
Don’t sleep on the Warriors, new coach Scott Pratt says. Along with their customary backfield speed, they’ve gotten stronger in the weight room and will have large, experienced hands along the offensive line to open holes.
8. Cascia Hall
The Commandos are poised to extend the state’s longest active streak of playoff appearances to 33. Bobby Byers caught 43 passes last season and joins Jaxon Henderson, Zach Uhren, Grant Phillips and Dylan Wilson to lead the “Blue Swarm” defense.
Mike Snyder starts his 40th year at the Chieftains’ helm with 360 wins, needing four to become Oklahoma’s all-time winningest high school coach. Sept. 27 could be the big night as Roland visits Seminole. Cameron Gunville rushed for 32 TDs last year.
Arkansas State commit Austin Woods, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound lineman, is one of 16 returning starters from the Cards’ first playoff team in three years. WR Toby Willis caught 11 TD passes last year, and LB Sloan Roller had 142 tackles.
Players to watch
Checotah, QB/WR, 6-1, 175, Sr.
Explosive athlete returns to quarterback after moving from Okmulgee and catching 11 TD passes last year. Committed to Eastern Michigan. Also received offers from TU and others.
Vinita, RB, 5-10, 153, So.
Showed blistering speed as a freshman, setting one-year school rushing records for yards (1,856) and TDs (26). Helped lead Hornets to their first winning season in eight years.
Stigler, QB/DB, 5-9, 178, Sr.
Versatile and explosive athlete takes over at QB after catching five TDs as a junior and averaging 20.4 yards per reception. Also had 52 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Games to watch
Sept. 27: No. 2 Lincoln Christian at Stigler
First of several matchups that may be necessary to clarify what could be a complicated District 3A-3 playoff scenario.
Oct. 4: Vinita at No. 10 Verdigris
Conference basketball rivals met for the first time in football last year, and Verdigris won a shootout, 45-35.
Oct. 17: No. 5 Berryhill at No. 8 Cascia Hall
Chiefs won 28-0 on the way to last year’s District 3A-4 crown, giving the Commandos their first shutout loss in 21 years.
Some of the quotes Sports Columnist Guerin Emig gathered in his four-part series on the 1999 OU football team.