EDMOND — Oklahoma Christian School senior Will McKinnis exudes confidence, even though the pressure is clearly there for the Saints.
After an impressive run to the Class 2A state championship last season, OCS enters this season facing uncharted territory as the defending champion while dealing with the weight of repeating.
“I'm glad they have the confidence,” OCS coach Derek Turner said. “It's going to be a lot of pressure, but I think if we talk about it and go through what they're going to be expecting, I think they can handle it. This is a smart group of kids.”
OCS did nearly everything right last season right down to the championship game, where it edged Davis 44-41 after a rocky start.
Even before that game, OCS found good fortune with the way the schedule set up. It played six home games in the regular season and then added three more in the playoffs, causing the dice to roll in their favor.
“It was nice to have a lot of home games,” OCS senior running back Cameron Jones said. “We kind of rolled a good one because we had a lot of playoff games at home.”
But how do the Saints continue their good fortune this season? How do they contend with teams like Millwood and Davis?
Turner points to a lot of factors for success.
“If you go back and look at our year, we started off and won some ballgames because of our conditioning,” he said. “We played some teams that were awful good and it could have gone either way, they probably had more talent than we had, but at times we had a little bit better conditioning. That was a real significant deal for us. As the year went on, we built that depth as we went through the year.
“We're going to have to figure out the identity of this team. Last year's team did certain things and they did them really well, but this year's team we're just going to have to figure out what the things are that they're going to do really well.”
One thing the Saints did well last year was throw the ball. Quarterback Austin Brooks threw for nearly 3,600 yards and 54 touchdowns. He also rebounded from a dreadful start in the title game to throw for nearly 400 yards.
A target of Brooks' last season at wide receiver, McKinnis now finds himself under center.
It remains to be seen how well McKinnis throws, though Turner shows little concern. The Saints will certainly throw the ball this season, and McKinnis adds a wrinkle to the offense with his ability to move in the pocket.
“Anytime you get in Class 2A and have a three-year starter, it's going to be tough to replace that,” Turner said. “He does things that Austin doesn't do. Austin, his threats were down the field. (McKinnis) can throw it great, but he also has wheels.”
He also possesses a confidence some first-year starters lack.
“I've played quarterback my whole life, so I don't feel any pressure at all,” McKinnis said. “It's just a different spot on the field.”
But he hasn't faced a secondary like Millwood's star-studded group or taken a snap under the pressure of repeating.
Turner, though, is also prepared for that.
“We're not hiding any of that,” he said. “ Everybody expects you to repeat and that's one of our biggest challenges this year is to manage that pressure and figure out how we're going to handle that. You can implode on yourself simply by trying to push too hard.
“You can get overexcited and overanxious and you can end up scaring yourself into a couple of losses if you're not careful.”