BLANCHARD — For the first time in two years, preseason uncertainty surrounds the Blanchard football program.
The good news is the Lions answered all the questions in 2012 by winning the Class 3A state championship, their first title since 1979.
It’s yet to be seen if Blanchard is capable of producing a similar run in 2014, as the Lions are replacing 3,000-yard running back Braden Stringer and productive starting quarterback Blake Owen from last season’s 3A runner-up team.
Seniors Brandon Montano and Hayden Hamlin and sophomore Holden Mayfield are all expected to see time at running back, while senior Kanon Kirchner becomes the new quarterback.
“Those other guys are ready to step in and get their shot,” said Blanchard coach Jeff Craig. “We’ve had our time with Braden, and the guys here now at running back have been inspired by his hard work and his work ethic. That’s kind of transcended into their game now, so they’re ready to take things on.”
Blanchard also has holes to fill defensively at linebacker. Jalan Daniels, who had over 140 tackles each of the last two seasons, is one of four linebackers the Lions are replacing.
“I’m a little nervous about that,” Craig said. “But in 2012 when we won it, we had four new linebackers that year. Putting in that perspective, anything can happen. But we know we’ve got some work with a lot of holes to fill that were filled by some really good players the last two years.”
Even with the new faces, the expectation to win has been firmly established after going 26-2 over the past two seasons.
“Based on what our kids have done in the offseason, in spring ball and in the weight room, I think we’ve learned how to work at a championship level,” Craig said. “It’s just a question of if each group from year to year will stay hungry enough and healthy enough to have success. But the good thing about it now is our guys know how to win. It may take us a little while to come together, but our kids are still as excited as ever.”
At quarterback, Kirchner will have the benefit of playing behind a solid offensive line led by seniors Carson Smith and George Madden.
The Lions’ non-district schedule is also viewed as a positive. They’ll face Class 4A opponents Tuttle and Newcastle along with a talented Casady team, giving Blanchard a chance to see how it stacks up against tough competition before district play.
“Our whole mindset has changed over these past few with us winning a lot,” Kirchner said. “We’re expecting a lot from ourselves and we’ve worked hard. But we do expect to be good every year now.”