District 4A-3 produced two of the best football teams in the state last season.
Wagoner (13-1) won the state championship. District champion Catoosa (12-1) lost a heartbreaking double-overtime game to Clinton in the semifinals after defeating Wagoner in the regular season.
The Bulldogs and Indians are expected to be loaded again this season.
“It's a tough district,” said Cleveland coach Dale Anderson, whose Tigers join District 4A-3 this season. “We have possibly the top two teams in 4A with Wagoner and Catoosa. If not the Top 2, I would be shocked if they are not in the Top 5.”
BULLDOGS HAVE TO QUIT CELEBRATING
Wagoner is still euphoric after the school's first state title in football, defeating Clinton 23-0 in the championship game.
“I always wondered how you would feel after that (winning a state championship),” Wagoner coach Dale Condict said. “I was actually more excited to get going again (this season). The kids and the community are too.”
Condict said the club is trying not to bask in last year's glory.
“We wallowed around it for awhile. We milked it all we could,” he said. “Now we are trying to get over it and get ready for another run. There are lots of question marks. Some of the guys we lost were really key players.”
The most pressing question that must be answered is how will Wagoner replace the versatile and talented Kevin Peterson, who is now playing for Oklahoma State.
Peterson was the Bulldogs' biggest playmaker last season. He rushed for 1,621 yards and 25 touchdowns. He also had 189 yards receiving and three touchdown catches. In addition, he returned an interception and a punt for scores.
“Kevin was pretty special,” Condict said.
Thirty touchdowns won't be easy to replace but the Bulldogs are counting on senior Kerwin Thomas to fill the void.
“We will do the wildcat stuff with him like we did with Peterson last year,” Condict said. “He is a good athlete. He is probably our top college prospect.”
Wagoner also has a pair of running backs, Devin Hawkins and Lawrence Evitt, who will get more carries this season. Condict has added the pistol formation to the offense to better utilize their running style.
“We are trying to start them from an ‘I' type position to get them going downhill,” he said. “We have been tinkering with this pistol all spring and really like it.”
Wagoner should be in the title hunt again this season.
“I think there is potential to be really good,” Condict said of his team. “A lot of guys have to prove themselves on Friday nights.”
CATOOSA READY TO TRY AGAIN
Catoosa had a great season last year but is still smarting from a 27-24 playoff loss to Clinton.
The Indians were the top-ranked team in the state entering the game and were one win away from a rematch with Wagoner for the state championship.
“I wouldn't say we stumped our toe in that game,” Catoosa coach Aaron Meier said. “It was a hell of a game. It was a great game, it really was.”
Catoosa loses its backfield of Cole Shulin and Levi Browning from a year ago.
“We are going to miss Cole,” Meier said. “He was a breakaway guy with a lot of speed. He was very explosive.”
Meier is counting on twin brothers Hagan and Hunter Harrison to step in as tailbacks.
“They started as outside linebackers last year,” Meier said. “These two or more in the style that Levi was. They are physical backs.”
Senior quarterback Austin Potter returns to provide stability of offense.
MCLAIN CHASING WAGONER, CATOOSA
Tulsa McLain finished third in the district last season, but new coach Jarvis Payne thinks the Titans have closed the gap on Wagoner and Catoosa.
McLain returns eight starters on offense and six on defense from a team that lost to Hilldale in the first round of the playoffs last year.
“We are going to be pretty good,” Payne said. “We got some athletic kids.”
Demetri Walker is moving to the slot from wide receiver, where he compiled more than 1,200 all-purpose yards last season. Walker likely will get the ball even more this season in the slot position.
Junior Bishop Louie is moving from cornerback to quarterback. The Titans primarily will run behind 6-3, 307-pound tackle Thurman Smith, who also anchors the defensive line.
Payne was an assistant on the McLain staff for eight years before replacing coach Dan Bitson, who left after last season to return to the University of Tulsa as an assistant coach. Bitson was an All-America wide receiver for the Golden Hurricane in 1989.
“I have been waiting a long time for this,” Payne said of the head coaching opportunity. “I am ready to go.”
STALLARD BACK TO LEAD CLEVELAND
Cleveland's hope will depend much on the play of senior quarterback Chas Stallard.
Stallard has been the Tigers' starting quarterback since midway through his freshman season. Last year, Stallard threw for 1,800 yards and rushed for 1,200 yards.
On defense, Cleveland returns linebacker Lucas Whaley, who led the team in tackles last season, along with linebackers Tyler Jones and Josh Ratliff.
“They are going to be huge for us,” Anderson said.
District 4A-3 Coaches' Poll
1. Wagoner (13-1)
2. Catoosa (12-1)
3. Tulsa McLain (6-5)
4. Oologah (4-6)
5. Miami (4-6)
6. Cleveland (5-5)
7. Vinita (4-6)
8. Tulsa Webster (3-7)
Note: Last season's record in parentheses.