Traditional power and defending district champ Ringling is the coaches' pick to win the District A-4 crown again this season, but the Blue Devils will be challenged by Rush Springs, a newcomer to the league.
Velma-Alma, Healdton and Empire are also expected to be district title contenders.
“It's going to be wide open,” Empire football coach Tony Roberts said. “There are five solid teams that are going to be fighting for four playoff spots.”
VELMA-ALMA WANTS BETTER START
Velma-Alma lost its first five games last season but won its next six before losing in the second round of the playoffs to Minco.
Coach Greg Gothard said the start of last year's season was a wake-up call for a winning program that may have gotten complacent.
“That took me totally by surprise,” Gothard said of the 0-5 start. “I put most of the blame on me. I got lazy. I just kind of had it on autopilot and it came up and bit me. It won't happen again.”
Velma-Alma's players rededicated themselves to the offseason workouts, and with nine starters back on both sides of the ball, Gothard is very optimistic entering the 2012 campaign.
“I think we've had a great summer,” said Gothard, who has had only one losing season in 23 years at Velma-Alma. “I feel like our kids have worked harder than they've worked in many years.”
Tailback Dallen Mercer is back to lead Velma-Alma after missing almost half of last season with a knee injury.
“He is a senior and we expect great things from him,” Gothard said. “He has got a lot of ability.”
Also returning is slot receiver Checotah Lynn, who is the Class A state champ in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles.
“He is our speed demon,” Gothard said.
Quarterback Ty Richardson started last year as a freshman. “He is not green anymore,” Gothard said.
Velma-Alma has a showdown in the second week of the season against Wynnewood.
“They are probably the best team in our class,” Gothard said. “We will find out where we're at.”
EMPIRE KEEPS GETTING BETTER
Empire has improved every year under coach Tony Roberts, who is entering his fourth season. This could be the year Empire finally hosts a playoff game, something that hasn't happened in two decades.
Empire has seven starters returning on both offense and defense from last year's 6-5 club that lost to Hollis on the road in the opening round of the playoffs.
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District A-4 Coaches' Poll
1. Ringling (8-4)
2. Rush Springs (8-3)
3. Velma-Alma (6-6)
4. Empire (6-5)
5. Healdton (6-5)
6. Walters (0-10)
7. Bray-Doyle (1-9)
8. Wilson (1-8)
Note: Last season's record in parentheses.