Some thought it strange that Woodland, coming off a Class A state football title two years ago and a runner-up finish last year, would ask the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association to drop to Class B and eight-man football this season.
Even the Woodland community wasn't fond of the idea, but the school didn't have much of a choice, said coach Joe Sindelar.
“The numbers are dictating that,” Sindelar said. “Our school is getting smaller. We got four classes in a row that just don't have very many male athletes.”
Coming off its success in Class A, Woodland will be the favorite to win the District B-3 title and possibly the Class B state championship. It's a perfect time for the school to make the transition from 11-man to eight-man football, as Sindelar was one of the best coaches in the eight-man game before coming to Woodland.
Sindelar led Morrison to three state titles in eight-man football before retiring from coaching and taking a job as a principal in Woodland.
When Woodland found itself without a football coach shortly before the season began two years ago, Sindelar was coaxed back to the sidelines.
Sindelar said he never intended to coach again when he left Morrison but the layoff did recharge his batteries.
“I kind of find myself re-energized,” he said. “I got away from the negative parts of coaching that kind of grind on you all those years and now I am having a blast. I have a great deal of passion for the game and the kids again.”
That's bad news for the rest of Class B.
Woodland lost several seniors from last year, “terrific skilled position players that's hard to replace,” Sindelar said. But the cupboard isn't bare as Sindelar has talent and experience returning.
Flanker Zalin Edwards will move to quarterback this season. Tight end Kirk Shaw along with offensive linemen Tanner Botts and Drew Harrison are back to anchor the front.
“With what we have returning, we are certainly going to be competitive,” Sindelar said.
LIFE AFTER MAGNUS SCOTT
Coyle will find out what life is like without Magnus Scott this season.
Coyle's star running back, a 100- and 200-meter Class A state champion, will now be sprinting for the Kansas State track squad. Scott's times in the 100 and 200 meters were among the best in the state in any class.
“It's hard to replace someone who was that fast,” Coyle coach Shane Weathers said. “Last year when Magnus got around the corner, not anybody was going to catch him. That luxury is gone.”
Weathers thinks his club will still score points this season, just not as fast. Without Scott, Coyle will play more “smashmouth” football, relying on an experienced offensive line to run between the hash marks, Weathers said.
“We are going to control the football a little more,” Weathers said. “We are going to go right at you. The good thing is we have both the entire defensive and offensive line back. We will still try to hit you on the corner. We are still going to have a lot of speed.”
The coach's son, Ryan Weathers, returns as starting quarterback. Wide receiver Tony Aska is 6-6 and has speed, a member of Coyle's sprint relay team in track.
Center Dalton Anderson (6-4, 245), returns as the four-year starter at the position and is being recruited by the University of Central Oklahoma.
Guards Jacob Crenshaw (6-2, 220) and Joe Hells (5-11, 190) are experienced and talented. Hells also will play fullback.
Last year's starting tight end Fidel Simpson and Gary Hunter, who was hurt last season, will share time at tailback.
Coyle made the playoffs last season for the first time in school history and won a playoff game.
This is an important season for Coyle to seize on that momentum, Weathers said. Coyle is a young football program, just 8 years old, he said.
“It was a pretty exciting time around here last year,” Weathers said. “It was really neat. Our community grasped that and the kids saw that. It carried over into summer workouts. We are hungry now.”
Coyle will feel like a stranger in its new district. Since the school started football, Coyle has not known a home but District C-3. With most of the B-3 schools in the northeastern part of the state, Coyle will be spending more hours on the bus this season.
“It's going to be different,” Weathers said. “There is going to be maybe three schools we are familiar with.”
WATCH OUT FOR WELCH
Welch is expected to be the team that will challenge Woodland for the district title. The Wildcats are coming off a 10-2 season in which the team posted its first playoff win in a decade.
“We graduated nine seniors so it's going to be a little tough, but we still got a lot coming back, just not starting experience,” said Welch coach Ryan Gleaves.
Opposing offenses will have to game plan for senior linebacker Logan Bruce (6-1, 185).
“He is one of the most intense linebackers I have coached,” Gleaves said. “By the time the ball is snapped, he is just flying around like crazy.”
Welch does have experience at quarterback, where junior Tra Dodson was the starter as a sophomore.
“He will be leading us on offense,” Gleaves said. “I think there are going to be two or three teams (in the district) that are really solid and I imagine we are one of them.”
NEWCOMERS JOINING THE FRAY
District B-3 will have two schools competing for the first time in the OSSAA: Riverfield Country Day of Tulsa and Rejoice Christian of Owasso.
Riverfield Country Day coach Jason Bogle said the timing isn't great for the program's first year of competition in the OSSAA. Riverfield was 6-1 last season playing as an independent.
“I lost a lot off of last year's team. I lost my leading everything,” Bogle said. “We are rebuilding this season. It's going to be a challenge for us. We understand that. We're young and our numbers aren't great.”
Some think Rejoice Christian, however, will be a playoff contender.
“I imagine they will be good,” Bogle said. “They got a nice program out there. They've got real good numbers. I'm suiting up 15 kids. I bet (Rejoice) is suiting up 25 to 30 kids.”
District B-3 Coaches' Poll
1. Woodland (13-1)
2. Welch (10-2)
3. Coyle (7-4)
4. Rejoice Christian (8-1)
5. South Coffeyville (7-4)
6. Agra (2-8)
7. Oaks (6-4)
8. Riverfield Country Day (6-1)
9. Copan (2-8)
10. Watts (0-10)
Note: Last year's records in parentheses.