Verdigris has 15 experienced seniorsVerdigris will field a football team with the most seniors it’s ever had this season, adding experience to the Cardinals’ list of advantages. Nearly all of the 15 players had key roles for Verdigris last season, so coach Dan Nickles is hopeful their experience might pay off big. Verdigris started last season with five straight losses, but Nickles continued to emphasize team togetherness and hard work. The Cardinals finished the regular season with five straight wins to make the playoffs before losing in the first round. "We improved quite a bit over the year,” Nickles said. "We weren’t the same at Week 10 as we were at Week 1. They never stopped believing they could win football games.” Nickles said he doesn’t want the team to only concentrate on the 5-1 stretch of the season — or forget the 0-5 start. "I want them to remember because I don’t want them to do it again,” Nickles said. When these seniors graduate, Nickles will lose eight starters on offense and eight on defense, but he said the players’ influence on younger teammates will help prepare the program for the future. "Last year, they learned that it’s not just about showing up but more about working hard throughout the week,” Nickles said.
CONVERTED END LEADS DEFENSELincoln Christian returns eight starters on either side of the ball from last year’s 12-2 team that made it to the semifinals. Assistant coach Brad Ballard said the staff is most excited to have strong offensive and defensive lines. One of the biggest reasons is senior defensive end and right tackle Cole Johnson. Johnson played wide receiver and safety as a freshman. He bulked up and learned to play defensive end the next year. Johnson said he’d always wanted to be a receiver, so when he was asked to make the switch, he was a little upset. "I just thought the line was an unskilled position,” he said. "But when I got down there, I learned how much skill and talent it really takes to be a lineman.” Johnson said his speed and his size made him a formidable defensive end. "Even if you’re a slow receiver, you’re going to become a fast defensive end,” coach Darren Melton said. "Cole learned to use his hands and be physical, and he’s done a great job making the transition.”
SECOND UP FOR GRABSThe race for second place in the District 2A-7 coaches’ poll was tight. Sperry and Nowata both finished the regular season 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the district. Verdigris finished 5-5 overall but 5-2 in district play. BY JAMES CORLEY
Verdigris has 15 experienced seniors