Quarterback Caden Pratt was remarkable for McAlester last year.
After moving to quarterback from wide receiver during the season, Pratt rushed for 1,800 yards and passed for 1,000 in just nine games to lead the Buffaloes to a second straight appearance in the Class 5A semifinals.
Pratt accounted for 25 touchdowns after taking over for sophomore quarterback Dalton Wood, who jogged off the field in the second series of the season opener with blurred vision.
He later was diagnosed with a heart condition that required surgery and missed the rest of the season. McAlester started the season 0-3 but began playing well when Pratt eventually took over the reigns at quarterback.
Despite Pratt's success behind center, McAlester coach Bryan Pratt is moving his son back to wide receiver this season as a healthy Wood returns at quarterback.
“Dalton, he is a big-time quarterback,” Pratt said of the 6-3, 225-pound Wood. “It's best for us to put Caden at receiver because he doesn't have the arm (that Wood does).”
Pratt predicts Wood will be a Division I recruit. With Wood back at quarterback and the Buffaloes returning nine starters on offense, McAlester is the overwhelming preseason pick among District 5A-3 coaches to win the title.
“McAlester is going to be loaded again,” Shawnee coach Billy Brown said.
Wood, a junior, didn't show signs of rust in the spring or team camp in the summer, Pratt said. With Caden Pratt at inside receiver and senior Jerome Smith back at running back, McAlester should pile up the points.
“We've got some weapons, some guys we can spread the ball around to,” Pratt said. “We feel like our offense will be pretty good.”
That offense will have to carry the Buffaloes early to give the defense, which must replace all four starting linebackers, time to jell.
SHAWNEE EXPECTS TO CONTEND
Shawnee is expecting to field its best football team since 2009 when the Wolves won the district title.
The Wolves return 18 starters, including their entire offensive line from last year's 5-6 club.
“That's the biggest asset for us,” Shawnee coach Billy Brown said of his experienced offensive line. “If we are lacking something year to year, it's the line.”
The group, four juniors and one sophomore (Adam Bryson, Justin Simons, Riley Greenlee, Tristan Wyatt and Caleb Hash), have worked hard in the weight room and are bigger and faster than one year ago, Brown said.
“I really expect them to do good things,” Brown said.
Brown predicts senior running back Dillon Dutton (5-9, 180) will have a great season for the Wolves.
“He is not very big but pound-for-pound he is probably the strongest kid we have,” Brown said.
Junior quarterback John Jacobs (6-2, 215) also is a running threat.
Brown thinks the Wolves can contend for a district championship this season.
“It will be there for us if we stay healthy and get better like everybody has to do, but the potential is there definitely,” he said.
DURANT LOOKS TO BOUNCE BACK
Durant is hoping to rebound from a miserable 2-8 season when nothing seemed to go right.
“We just struggled in a lot of ways,” Durant coach Byron Cordell said. “We had a bunch of injuries.”
Last season was only the second in Cordell's seven years at Durant that the Lions missed the playoffs. This season, Cordell expects the Lions to be better despite having a senior class of only 13 players, the smallest in his tenure.
“It's a small senior class but very talented,” he said. “Nearly every one of them will start for us.”
Durant will be led by senior quarterback Zach Carter, who threw for 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns last season despite “running for his life all year,” Cordell said.
Carter, who also started seven games as a sophomore, will become the leading passer in school history this season barring injury, Cordell said.
Carter has a talented receiving corps in seniors Brandon Maynard, Billy Lewis and sophomore tight end Layton Tubbs, son of Durant athletic director Tony Tubbs, who played collegiately at Baylor.
Most of the Lions' linemen are unproven, but Cordell says Blaise Gorses (6-2, 230) is a player to watch.
Gorses, who lives on a dairy farm 45 minutes from Durant, was homeschooled and didn't play football until high school but keeps improving, Cordell said.
“He is very talented and just tougher than a boot,” Cordell said.
District 5A-3 Coaches' Poll
1. McAlester (8-5)
2. Tulsa Kelley (9-3)
3. Shawnee (5-6)
4. Tulsa Memorial (8-3)
5. Durant (2-8)
6. Noble (5-5)
7. Skiatook (1-9)
8. Tulsa Hale (2-8)
Note: Last year's records in parentheses.