BLANCHARD — After an impressive run to a Class 3A state championship last fall, Blanchard entered spring football with a lot to replace.
Gone are two key components of its high powered offense — which averaged 41 points per game last season — in quarterback Brock Lamle and his go-to receiver Zach Hill, as both have graduated this spring.
However, the Lions believe they'll return their biggest asset from a 13-1 season that ended with a 28-21 victory over heavily favored Kingfisher in the Class 3A state championship game. That asset is team chemistry.
“We had a really good chemistry amongst our kids last year,” said coach Jeff Craig. “That was the key to our run last season and I think that's kept up now here in the spring with this group that we'll have next year.
“The guys that we are graduating now really set the tone for us on how to work hard. Not just during the season, but also during this time of year in the spring. They've passed that on to our young guys, and they've accepted that mindset.”
Team unity and a championship work ethic weren't the only important things back for Blanchard during spring practices. The Lions also return star running back Braden Stringer.
“He (Stringer) is really the guy for us now,” Craig said. “We had a really experienced and solid quarterback last year, and we'll probably have to take a little pressure off that position by letting the guys who have been there carry more of the load.”
After splitting time at running back with departing senior Stephan Davis last season, Stringer is ready to take on the added responsibility next fall. As a junior, he rushed for 1,377 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging more than nine yards per carry.
“Everyone on this team is just as close now as we were before,” Stringer said. “We lost some guys, but we learned a lot from them about how to live a champion lifestyle together. We still have that with us.”
Craig says that the Lions' quarterback job is anyone's to win. While he admits some may be ahead of others, the competition — between sophomore Parker Williams, junior Kanon Kirchner, and senior Braden Bush — will continue into the fall.
“We're not throwing anyone out yet,” Craig said. “We think some guys do certain things better than others at this point, but it's a competition. We're not naming a starter in the spring.”
Even with some uncertainty at quarterback, the Lions remain confident in what they can accomplish next season. Stringer believes that confidence was gained when the team went from missing the playoffs in 2011 to state champions in 2012.
“Over the last couple years we've all been really close,” Stringer said. “As a team, we've bought in to what we're doing and learned how to win. Now that we've tasted what it's like to win state, we just want to go do it again.”