Foyil, a team that won two playoff games last season before losing in the Class A quarterfinals to Carnegie, is the pick to repeat as champions in District A-8.
But the team with the most experience returning is Fairland, which was a surprise last season with its second-place finish in the district.
Last season, the Owls hosted a playoff game for the first time since 1988 and led Hominy 20-0 before losing 21-20 in the first round.
With only three starters graduating from last year, Fairland coach Jerry Johnson believes the Owls can be a district title contender this season.
“We snuck up on everybody else in our district last year,” Johnson said. “We are going to be mostly seniors and juniors this year. We do have a very strong upperclassman group. We are real optimistic.”
Among Fairland's returning starters is 6-2, 190-pound quarterback K.C. Jones, who rushed for 934 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while tossing four scores and passing for 606 yards.
Also returning are standout tight end Tyran Jones, running back Caleb Reynolds and tackle Slate Boyer. In addition, the Owls have more depth than in past seasons, Johnson said.
It could be a special year for Fairland if “we can stay healthy and make good grades, those kind of things,” Johnson said.
Blowing a 20-point lead in the playoffs stung for a long time, Johnson said. But on the positive side, “it makes you look forward to next year that much more because you were so close,” he said.
WARNER HEADING NORTH
Warner is a new face in District A-8. Third-year coach Chris McMullen said it should be his best team since taking over the program.
“We got nine starters returning on offense and eight on defense,” said McMullen, who previously coached at both Tecumseh and Bristow. “A lot of those guys have started since they were sophomore and a couple since they were freshmen. We are excited. We think we are going to have a pretty good year.”
McMullen installed the wing-T offense upon arriving at Warner and believes the Eagles are now comfortable running it. Last year Warner almost doubled its scoring output.
“They got another year of experience with it (wing-T),” he said. “It just fit my kids. People just don't see it much and it's tough to prepare for in two or three days. ”
At Tecumseh, McMullen coached running back Patrick Cobbs, who played for the Miami Dolphins for several seasons.
“If I had a Patrick Cobbs, I would get in the I-formation and toss it to him, but you adjust to the kids you have,” he said.
Warner is solid up front, let by Luke Moses (6-0, 235 pounds), a two-year starter in the offensive line and nose guard on defense.
“He is the strongest guy we have on the team,” McMullen said.
Moses' cousin, Briar Campbell, plays running back and linebacker and was the linebacker of the year in Warner's district last season, McMullen said.
But Warner — located on I-40 in Muskogee County — is in a new district this season and will be traveling north instead of south this season to face district opponents.
“We played Porter in a nondistrict game, but other than that I don't know anything about them,” McMullen said if his new district foes.
AFTON LOOKS TO RELOAD, NOT REBUILD
Afton lost a strong senior class to graduation last year. It included three players now suiting up for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Northeastern State University and another who is playing college baseball.
“That don't happen very often at a Class A school,” coach Zach Gardner said.
Afton finished 8-3 last season, losing its first-round playoff game to Morrison.
While Afton lost a strong senior class, the Eagles do return twin brothers Dillon and Austin Johnson, a pair of smart and brawny linemen who both scored 33 on the ACT.
“They are pretty special kids,” Gardner said.
Gardner still expects his club to contend for the district title even with lots of new faces at the skilled positions.
“We got kids who can make plays, but everybody else does too,” he said. “It's just a matter of making more of them.”
District A-8 Coaches' Poll
1. Foyil (9-4)
2. Fairland (5-5)
3. Afton (8-3)
4. Warner (5-5)
5. Liberty (3-7)
6. Porter (0-9)
7. Summit Christian (3-7)
Note: Last season's record in parentheses.