Lincoln Christian returns a total of five players from its 2009 Class 2A state championship team, but the Bulldogs are still the favorite to win District 2A-7.
There's still plenty of talent on the roster and the squad is deep with more than 50 players. But there will be a lot of learning-on-the-run players as the Bulldogs have just two offensive starters from 2009 back.
"We have a young team and will need playing time to season us," said Lincoln Christian coach Darren Melton. "If we can mature early and stay healthy, I think we can be very competitive."
Senior Grant Towry and junior Brennen Evans are two of the Bulldogs' most experienced players. And Towry may be their best. The 6-2, 243-pounder starts on the offensive and defensive lines. Evans, who had 11 receptions last season, has spent time as a starter for two years.
Senior Chris Turner looks to take over at quarterback. As a backup last season, he threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns and one interception.
Newkirk's touchdown maker
Newkirk coach Barrett Shupe calls receiver Connor Pulley the best player no one has heard about.
That's likely to change this season. In 2009, as a sophomore, he caught 18 passes for 309 yards. And while those numbers aren't all eye-popping, one does jump out. Of the 18 catches, Pulley scored a touchdown on nine of them. Aside from getting into the end zone on half his receptions, Pulley has great size for a 2A wideout, staning 6-3 and weighing 185 pounds.
Shea Johnston is who will be getting the ball to Pulley. The senior quarterback is a three-year starter who accounted for 15 touchdowns a year ago.
Few players in 2A piled up as many tackles as Chelsea linebacker Donavan McLeod. The 6-0, 210-pounder had 139 stops as the Green Dragons went 5-5.
And with standout defensive linemen Brett Schuller and Hayden Delozier, Chelsea's defense figures to be among the best in 2A-7. Schuller is one of the biggest linemen in 2A at 6-5, 290 pounds.
Pawnee to test 2A teams
A move up from Class A to 2A hasn't dampened anyone's thoughts on whether Pawnee can maintain the type of success they had last year.
The Black Bears went 9-3 in 2009, but lost to the one 2A school they played (District 2A-7 foe Pawhuska 19-16). Still, Pawnee ranks second in the district poll. The reason it is expected to do well is a wealth of experienced talent. There are 10 offensive starters back, including four-year starting quarterback Tate Beer. Running back Cameron Heisler, who ran for 1,136 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry, also returns.
Six starters are back on defense.
District 2A-7 coaches poll
1. Lincoln Christian (14-1)
2. Pawnee (9-3)
3. Pawhuska (11-3)
4. Newkirk (6-5)
5. Chelsea (5-5)
6. Caney Valley (1-9)
7. Chouteau (1-9)
Note: 2009 record in parenthesis