In 11 years as an assistant or head coach at Shawnee, Billy Brown doesn't remember the Wolves having as talented a group of wide receivers as they do this season.
Theo Berry and Kendall Gilbert anchored the unit last year, both with productive seasons. Berry is drawing some Division I recruiting attention, and Gilbert is a gifted 6-foot-3 junior. The unit also received a boost when Wolf Kienzle shifted back from quarterback to wideout.
Kienzle returned to receiver after the arrival of sophomore John Jacobs, a quarterback who moved in from Texas last Christmas.
“Wolf played receiver for us as a sophomore,” Brown said. “But he had to play quarterback for us last year. This allows us to put him back at his natural position, and it really strengthens us out there.”
The Wolves' mentality has been improved by the team's return to Class 5A after two difficult 6A seasons. Shawnee finished 1-9 last season, but it is predicted by coaches to qualify for the 5A playoffs this fall.
“The atmosphere is so much better,” Brown said. “We're doing what we've always done, just against different people. We know it's people on our level, and we can compete with them. We'll be in games for four quarters now, instead of only lasting until halftime.”
MCALESTER IN FAVORITE'S ROLE
McAlester has some holes to fill, but opposing coaches still see the Buffaloes as the district's top team.
A big reason is middle linebacker Devin Rolan, who anchors a strong defense.
Rolan has verbally committed to Tulsa, following Adam Boyd from last year's squad. The Buffs must also replace three-year starting quarterback Tony Kiefer.
The offense will rely on multiple young running backs who gained valuable experience last season.
TULSA KELLEY RELYING ON LINEBACKERS
Coach J.J. Tappana can't hide his excitement when he starts talking about his linebackers, Andrew McNulty and Dakota Stowe, who will anchor the Comets defense this season.
“They're as good a tandem of linebackers as I've had,” he said. “We probably have seven three-year starters in the linebacker and defensive back positions, so we're excited about that group.”
PETERS TAKES OVER TULSA HALE
Pauls Valley native Tony Peters, who helped Oklahoma to the 1974 national championship and won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins, takes over at Tulsa Hale.
Peters, who has been with Tulsa Public Schools since 2002, previously coached at Muskogee and Sapulpa.
He replaces another former Sooner, Anthony Fogle, who resigned in January after three seasons.
DURANT EXPECTS BIG THINGS OF DIESSNER
After he ran for around 1,100 yards last season and recorded five interceptions, the expectations are high on Durant senior Dakota Diessner.
Lions coach Byron Cordell expects the 5-11, 185-pound Diessner to shoulder much of the load behind an inexperienced offensive line.
Diessner gives Cordell some versatility. Diessner can line up as a wide receiver or at running back.
WOOD LEADS NOBLE RETURNERS
Senior running back Jimmy Wood is one of eight offensive starters back for Noble this season as the Bears try to rebound from a 2-8 mark.
Wood ran for 974 yards last season, averaging nearly six yards per carry.
He figures to benefit from an offensive line that returns largely intact.
The Bears have plenty of starters back on defense, with seven returners.
By Scott Wright and Ryan Aber
District 5A-3 coaches' poll
1. McAlester (12-1)
2. Tulsa Kelley (8-3)
3. Shawnee (1-9)
4. Durant (5-6)
5. Skiatook (4-5)
6. Tulsa Memorial (3-6)
7. Noble (2-8)
8. Tulsa Hale (0-9)
Note: Last season's records in parentheses