Most Oklahoma high school football teams began spring practice last week.
Teams have a 21-day window to hold 10 practices, for a maximum of two hours, during the spring. The number of those that are full contact is limited to six — and they can’t be held on consecutive days.
Some teams will wrap up practice this week and others will continue into next week. This kicks off the Tulsa World’s 2019 high school football coverage that will include the All-World preseason position rankings series that starts with the announcement of the finalists on June 2.
1. How will Broken Arrow handle the pressure of being a state champion, and can it repeat?
After winning their first state title in more than a century of football, coach David Alexander’s Tigers suffered some notable graduation losses, but there isn’t another area team with more talent, and they are confident in their bid to win another Class 6AI gold ball.
One of the key returnees is senior linebacker Campbell Yeager, who had 96 tackles last season — nearly as many as All-World defensive player of the year finalists Zach Marcheselli and Gavin Potter, who have graduated and signed with major colleges.
“We like the pressure,” Yeager said. “We want to build momentum going into the season. We want to two-peat and continue to make more history.”
Defensive lineman Jaylen Moss added, “Nothing’s changed, we still have the same chemistry.”
Owasso, the 2017 champion which lost 10-7 to Broken Arrow in last year’s semifinals, returns 15 starters. Coach Bill Blankenship said, “We had a good first week (of spring practice) and we’re really pleased so far.”
Jenks, last year’s runner-up, graduated 19 of 22 starters on offense and defense. “This spring is a heavy evaluation period after losing so many starters,” coach Keith Riggs said. “Last spring, we were doing a lot of fine-tuning, but this spring we have a lot of evaluating to do to try to figure out how everyone fits. This reminds me of 2014 where we had lost many of our starters and struggled early in the year, but we got better each week and won the state championship.”
Union, which last won the state title in 2016 and lost on the final play of last year’s semifinal to Jenks, graduated several major college signees, including running back Darius Boone Jr. Coach Kirk Fridrich said Union will go to a running back-by-committee approach that will include AJ Green and Chauncey Andrews. About 20 players are being looked at for playing on both sides of the ball.
2. Many powerhouses have QB battles
Bixby returns junior Mason Williams. who passed for 3,225 yards and 36 touchdowns last season, but many of the traditional area powers will have new starting quarterbacks this season.
At Broken Arrow, juniors Jake Raines and Seth Dodd are looking to fill the void left by the graduation of Tate Robards and Quintevin Cherry, who split time last year. Raines and Dodd are expected to split reps during the spring and in 7-on-7 action.
Alexander said, “Jake’s biggest asset is his heart, his unwillingness to let anyone beat him — he’s a tough, gritty kid. Seth is very cerebral, has great situational awareness, he always will get us in the right play, kind of like Tate, he can manage the game. Jake is a better runner, more shifty. Seth has a strong arm and is better on the deep ball.”
Jenks is looking to replace three-year starter Ian Corwin, Owasso is searching for a successor to 2017 All-World offensive player of the year Will Kuehne and Union is looking for two-year starter Peyton Thompson’s replacement. Both of last year’s area 5A semifinalists, Bishop Kelley and Collinsville, will have new starting quarterbacks. At 2A champion Sperry, Cooper Park will succeed four-year starter Beau Teel.
3. QBs on the move
Both of the past two 6AI champions, Broken Arrow and Owasso, won titles with QBs who moved from other schools.
At Owasso, senior Cole Dugger has joined the Rams after going 12-1 at Collinsville last season. Another QB moving to Owasso is junior Melchisedech Porter, who was at Broken Arrow last year after playing for Miami in 2017. Others in the QB competition are senior Kellen Pokoski, junior Seth Henrichs, and sophomores Solomon Skalnik and Jacob Clifton.
This year, Jenks’ QB battle is between returning backup Stephen Kittleman and Cody Ross, who passed for 2,087 yards and 15 TDs last season for Berryhill.
At Union, Trent DeSmet and Rovaughn Banks are competing against JD Geneva, who had 3,799 career passing yards at Coweta.
4. Can perennial 4A power Wagoner contend again?
Coach Dale Condict’s Bulldogs lost in the quarterfinals the past two years. Those would have been good seasons for most programs, but the bar is high at Wagoner after winning three consecutive state titles from 2014-16 and a state-record 48 victories in a row. The Bulldogs appear to have the potential for another state title run.
“We had a great first week of spring ball,” Condict said. “We have a lot of guys back who played a lot last year.”
That includes quarterback Sawyer Jones and running back/noseguard Chochee Watson. Both are juniors.
“This junior class is a group that we’ve been excited about,” Condict said. “It’s a strong class. It makes a big difference for us having a quarterback with experience. And this is one of our fastest groups.”
5. Late coaching changes in TPS
Tulsa Public Schools has gone through a lot of head coaching turnover in the past few years. It appeared for a while during the offseason that all nine TPS teams might have their head coaches returning, but there have been two recent changes.
At Webster, Ryan Boatright, who was an all-district tight end at Jenks in 2011 and later played at Missouri State, was promoted from assistant to head coach after Scott Robb moved on after one year to become Mounds’ head coach.
“Ryan loves being at Webster,” TPS athletic director Gil Cloud said. “He’s come from two good programs, and when you’re a young coach the first two or three years you often coach like you’ve been coached. Ryan is also putting together an esports team at Webster.”
At Rogers, Parker Childers replaces Marlon Houston Jr., who was the interim coach for one year. Childers was the Thoreau Demonstration Academy middle school coach. Houston, a late replacement last year when Rob Gilbreath moved to Claremore Sequoyah at the start of spring practice, will focus on being Rogers’ wrestling coach.
“Parker is a great fit, he already knows a lot of the kids at Rogers from being at Thoreau,” Cloud said.
Booker T. Washington’s Brad Calip, Edison’s Tony Daniels and East Central’s Kevin Gordon lead TPS head coaches in seniority, as they enter their fourth seasons at their respective schools.
Players to watch
Krishawn Brown, LB, Booker T. Washington
Has often been overshadowed the past two years on a team with many major college signees, but he will be in the spotlight this season. Had 120 tackles with 14 sacks last season. He recently was offered by Kansas and was an MVP at a Dallas Rivals camp.
Jace Hightower, RB, Claremore
After rushing for 1,138 yards and 10 TDs this season, his goal as a senior is to double those totals, and that’s very possible on a Zebras team with many offensive weapons and that appears ready to have a big year. Has been offered by Air Force. Coach Jarrett Hurt said, “We have high expectations for him. He’s an outstanding student, an outstanding competitor and a very tough kid.”
Isaiah Keller, WR, Broken Arrow
Caught 19 passes for 295 yards and three TDs last season. Also averaged 11.5 yards on 11 punt returns. Coach David Alexander predicts Keller will emerge as one of the area’s top receivers. Alexander said, “He has a running back’s mentality, he’s built more like a tailback, with a strong lower body, he’s very difficult to tackle. He has outstanding speed, great eye-hand coordination. He’s a fantastic athlete.” Keller also started two games at safety last season and was a standout outfielder on the Tigers’ state runner-up baseball team.
Seth Long, Athlete, Bartlesville
Coach Jason Sport is excited about the versatile senior, who was ineligible to play for the Bruins varsity last year due to transfer rules after moving from Oklahoma Union, where he was a starting quarterback/safety. Sport said, “He is an incredible athlete — probably the most explosive kid we have on our team. He’s a very hard worker. We can put him in a lot of different places — tailback, slot receiver, fullback, outside linebacker, defensive end, safety, cornerback. There’s been a lot of college interest in him.”
Jordan Reagan, CB, Bixby
The senior was at his best down the stretch last season — his first as a starter. Also showed potential in limited action at receiver. Coach Loren Montgomery said, “He’s a big, lean cornerback, colleges really like him. He’s really come along, a great competitor.”
Catching up with: State champions
6AI: Broken Arrow
A challenge for the Tigers is to replace All-World offensive finalist Noah Cortes, who rewrote the Broken Arrow rushing record book last year. But they still have one of the nation’s top offensive linemen, Andrew Raym, who will open holes for running backs such as Kejuan Tolbert, Maurion Horn and Julian Mosley, who impressed in limited backfield action last year. Horn, a sophomore, already has been offered by Baylor.
“No one is going to be like Noah, he ran over guys like a truck, but those guys have track speed,” coach David Alexander said.
Oregon commit Myles Slusher and Bryce Mattioda lead a playmaking secondary.
Coach Loren Montgomery’s Spartans appear to be the early favorite to win their fifth state title in six years. Many starters return, including wideout/cornerback Brennan Presley, who is one of the area’s top players. Motivation is unlikely to be a problem for the Spartans.
“We’re going to attack this spring practice, we’re not going to be complacent, not just go through the motions,” Presley said.
Offensive lineman Kobe Williams added, “We know most of the teams are going to be after us so we’ve got to come to the field working hard each day. Just because we’re at the top doesn’t mean we don’t work hard.”
Senior linebacker Brody Sartin led the Spartans with 141 tackles.
“We’ll have one of the great run-stopping defenses,” Sartin said.
The Spartans’ spring game is 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Coach Robert Park doesn’t sense any complacency with the Pirates after their first OSSAA state football title. “It’s a pretty good feeling,” Park said about going through spring practice as a defending champion. “The kids are excited and they are very focused. They understand they have a target on their back and they are working extremely hard.” Many starters return, including playmakers such as All-World defensive player of the year finalist Walker Niver on the defensive line, as well as linebacker Joe Whiteley, lineman Levi Juby and defensive back/receiver Kohlby Foster.
July 26: All-State Football Game at Union
Aug. 12: Fall practice opens
Aug. 22-23: All-City Preview, scrimmage openers
Aug. 29-30: Regular-season openers (Zero Week)
Aug. 29-30: Border Brawl (Five Texas schools at Tulsa-area powers)
Get your All-World Awards tickets for the June 22 event celebrating high school athletics at allworldawards.com.