Blanchard is the defending state champion, Tuttle was the only team to beat the Lions last year, and Jones was knocked off by Blanchard last season in the state semifinals.
A common ingredient among the three powers of District 3A-1 this season will be a new quarterback.
Blanchard will have to replace Brock Lamle, Tuttle will not have one of the head coach's sons at quarterback for a change, and Jones lost Alabama verbal commit David Cornwell, who transferred to Norman North.
LIONS LOADED ON DEFENSE AGAIN
Blanchard is the pick of most 3A-1 coaches to win the district, but Tuttle is a close second.
Lions coach Jeff Craig loses Lamle and standout wide receiver Zach Hill on offense, but returns an experienced offensive line and running back Braden Stringer, who rushed for 1,377 yards and 21 touchdowns last season while sharing time with departing senior Stephan Davis.
On defense, the Lions should be solid with nine starters returning, but they did lose All-State defensive end Gage Wimer and free safety Kyle Self, both of whom will play for Oklahoma Baptist University this fall.
“We've got a lot of our pieces back,” Craig said. “Quarterback play is going to be the kicker for us.”
The quarterback position is a battle between Braden Bush, who started at wide receiver last year; Kannon Kirchner, last season's junior varsity quarterback; sophomore Parker Williams; and senior Blake Owen, a move-in from Texas.
Blanchard won its first state football championship since 1979 last season after missing the playoffs the previous year. Craig says it's time for the Lions to stop celebrating and get back to work.
“You try to put last season behind but when it's been so long since you won one (state title), it's hard,” Craig said.
But if the Lions are feeling cocky, all they have to do is remember the 2011 season, he said.
“That really gave us a bad taste in our mouth, missing the playoffs (in 2011),” Craig said. “Most of these guys have had the bad and the good. They know which one they like better.”
NO CORNWELL. NO PROBLEM?
At Jones, coach Dave Martin said the Longhorns quickly turned the page after his star quarterback decided to play his senior season at Norman North.
“We are not going to sit around here and worry about the kids we don't have,” he said. “If you don't want to be here, we don't want you. If you think the grass is greener somewhere else, go explore that deal.”
Jones will hand over the signal calling duties to sophomore Clayton Sims.
“We've got a young quarterback we feel really good with,” Martin said. “He is a mobile kid who will make plays with his feet along with his arm.”
Jones returns eight starters to a defense that is fast to the football, led by senior linebacker Dustin Pierce.
Senior wide receiver Levi Fox, who combined for 1,000 yards rushing and receiving last season, is the Longhorn's biggest playmaker on offense.
The Longhorns have reached the state championship game and the semifinals the past two seasons, and Martin thinks this year's club can be just as good.
“It doesn't matter who leaves,” he said. “The guys who come into those roles, the expectations are going to be the same.”
TUTTLE HAS NEW LOOK AT QB
Tuttle coach Phil Koons has had the luxury of having one of three sons as the Tigers' starting quarterback for the past seven seasons.
This season, there is no Koons to snap the ball to. After spring football and summer camp, Pioneer transfer Jett Jobe won a three-way battle for the quarterback job between Taylor Newport and Deakon Mincey.
“He's got some experience. He's got good size,” Koons said of the 6-1, 170-pound Jobe. “He is very smart and knows how to run the show. He can throw. He's got a good arm and got good speed. I just felt like he was going to be the guy because we have roles for the other two to play.''
Newport will be one of the Lions' starting safeties with Tanner Brannon. Mincey will play cornerback and share time at tailback in a talented Tuttle backfield that includes Jesse Gregory, Brannon and Morgan Neal.
“That's kind of what we hang our hat on, the tailback game,” Koons said. “We always have.”
Tuttle also returns three starting offensive linemen and look for tight end Nick Mills (6-4, 230-pound) to be a main target in play action.
Mills, who also starts at defensive end, is one of the Tigers' best players on defense, along with middle linebacker Montana Clark.
If the Tigers have a weakness, it's the lack of depth and experience on defense.
LITTLE IMPROVING ST. MARY'S DEFENSE
As soon as Mark Little returned to Mount St. Mary in the spring as the defensive coordinator, the Rockets' confidence improved.
“I think the greatest thing about Mark is the confidence he brings to all of us — the coaching staff to the kids,” St. Mary coach Chris Stiles said. “He's got a calm confidence and a great presence about him. Obviously, that kind of permeates through the program.”
Little returned to St. Mary after a year hiatus. He was the offensive coordinator in 2011.
Now, he has the defense taking a more aggressive approach, and he's also working on improving the front seven.
“We've got to get better up front,” Stiles said. “We've got to do a better job off blocks up front and those guys being able to make plays, where maybe last year we weren't as good at doing that.”
The Rockets return RJ Foster, Josh Maddox and Jesse Turner on the defensive line. Also, Nikko Sutton, who was the team's second-leading tackler last season, returns at linebacker.
District 3A-1 Coaches Poll
1. Blanchard (13-1)
2. Tuttle (10-2)
3. Jones (11-3)
4. Marlow (4-7)
5. Bridge Creek (3-6)
6. Mount St. Mary (3-7)
7. Little Axe (3-7)
Last year's records in parentheses