“He is going to be our main offensive threat,” Roberts said.
Running back Stephen Price is back from injury after fracturing a bone in his leg in the fifth game last year. Price, also Empire's middle linebacker, played the next week with the injury until Roberts noticed that he wasn't right.
“He started limping more and more (in practice),” Roberts said. “He just never complained about it. I made him go to the doctor. If Stephen doesn't break his leg, I feel like we have a chance to win a couple more ball games and go 8-2.”
Empire also has a home run threat in sophomore Dillon Twigg, who returned two kickoffs and three punts for touchdowns last season while playing on the varsity team as a freshman.
“He is kind of deceptive in the way he runs,” Roberts said. “We feel like he could be a real special player.”
The key for Empire this season will be development of the offensive line. Empire lost four seniors from last year's offensive line and replacing them with sophomores.
“We feel like they are more athletic than what we've had,” Roberts said of his young linemen “But you still feel uncomfortable until you get some games under your belt.”
NEW HEAD MAN IN HEALDTON
Mark Barrett, an assistant coach on Wayne's state championship team last season, takes over the football program at Healdton this season.
He is changing the offense and bringing Wayne's multiple formations to Healdton, which could be good news for senior running back Dylan Pickelsimer, a player Barrett compares to Josh Way, Wayne's all-state running back.
“He reminds me of Way in a lot of ways, which is a good thing,” Barrett said. “He is more of a downhill runner, kind of like Way was.”
Pickelsimer rushed for 1,500 yards last season and will be Healdton's workhorse again this season.
“We are going to put the saddle on the horse and ride him like Wayne did Way,” Barrett said. “We are going to stick our spurs in him and go. He is going to be the star of the show and carry it 30 to 35 times a game.”
Pickelsimer will have a huge offensive line to run behind, led by 6-8, 340-pounder Ryan Miller, who is getting attention from Division I colleges.
Healdton has a tough schedule. In addition to the district foes, Healdton opens with defending state champ Wayne and then meets Wynnewood in Week 3.
“I probably got the preseason No. 1 and 2 (in the state) in the first three weeks,” Barrett said.
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.