There's been a comfort around Deer Creek during the early part of practices this season.
“We've got an experienced team with over 30 seniors,” Antlers coach Grant Gower said. “They've played a lot of football and won a lot of football games. They kind of know how everything works. They know what's expected and know how to approach things.”
One of those players with plenty of experience is quarterback Joel Blumenthal, returning for his third year as the starter.
“He's had a great offseason in the weight room and he's gotten quicker and improved his arm strength,” Gower said. “His 40 is down around a 4.5. He's moving really well.”
A win at a 7-on-7 event at Kansas State over the summer boosted Blumenthal's confidence.
Blumenthal will have a solid target in senior receiver Jared Rayburn.
After being the No. 2 option in the passing game behind Hunter Dinkines last year, Rayburn figures to be the top target this time.
“He's had a tremendous offseason,” Gower said. “He's developed great leadership as well in addition to what he brings on the field.”
Rayburn is expected to play primarily in the slot, while Cale Jackson will take the outside spot.
The Antlers will also utilize returning running back Brennan Miyake heavily in the passing game. Miyake had around 30 catches last year.
On the defensive side, Deer Creek's strength figures to be its linebackers.
Kooper Ruminer and Austin Loomis return as three-year starters there and combined for 272 tackles as juniors. They figure to be the top two on Deer Creek's all-time career tackles list by the end of the year.
Of the few holes Gower does have, he's confident in the players who step in.
One such spot is at defensive end, where junior Eli Hooks is expected to start on one side.
Hooks has big shoes to fill, replacing Nolan Boyd, who in addition to anchoring the defensive line was also a state championship wrestler.
“He fits that mold,” Gower said. “I don't want to make the comparison yet because that would be unfair to Eli but he definitely has potential.”
Deer Creek is in a tough district that includes perennial powers Carl Albert and Guthrie as well as a 4A power, McGuinness, moving up a class.
“It's not an easy one but we're just really excited about what we have here,” Gower said. “We don't have a whole lot of spots to fill and we have really good players coming back.”