Coach Joe Turner said his Okemah football team will be young at most positions, but the Panthers will be battle tested after a tough start to the schedule.
Okemah will scrimmage Class 4A’s Bristow and 5A’s Kellyville. Then, the Panthers face three good Class 3A teams in their non-district schedule before opening league play with Stroud, Prague and Chandler.
“When you go play tougher teams, they expose your weaknesses,” Turner said. “That will show us areas we need to get better. If we went out there and played three easy teams and went 3-0, we’re not battle tested.”
Turner said his team is young but won’t use that as an excuse.
“We’ve lost some size, but we’re definitely going to be more athletic this year,” Turner said. “We have more coming back on defense, and our expectations don’t change from year to year.”
CHANDLER LOOKS TO VETERAN GROUP FOR IMPROVEMENT
Zach Smith enters his second season as head coach at Chandler after a 5-5 campaign in 3A last year. Smith said his senior group will be the key to success in 2A.
“The seniors we have will be our best class,” Smith said. “They’ve kind of gotten trial by fire. Most of them started as freshman.”
That experience is what Smith is leaning on in hopes of improving.
Heath Gray starts at running back and middle-linebacker. The senior rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a junior. Smith said another senior, Jackson Kashwer, will move from linebacker to defensive end and might impact a lot of ball games.
“His motor runs all day,” Smith said. “I think he’s going to make a lot of tackles for a loss.”
Smith is big on his seniors, but it will be junior quarterback Mason Myers (6-foot-2, 195) leading the way. Myers combined for more than 2,000 yards last season running Smith’s spread offense.
“He started all 10 games as a sophomore,” Smith said. “About 85 percent of offense came on Mason’s decision making.”
HENRYETTA ENTERS 2A WITH SOLID SENIOR CORE
Darin Johnson takes over as head coach of Henryetta as the Knights move to 2A. Johnson said he has a couple of seniors that will anchor the team.
“Devin Longan, he’s got the capability of being a game changer,” Johnson said. “We’ll use him at running back as well as some slot-receiver. He produces mismatches.”
Johnson also said Eric Gray will help out in a big way. Gray led the team in tackles as a junior, and Johnson said the athletic, former offensive lineman is challenging his teammates on offense.
Stroud looks to rebound after a first-round exit in last year’s playoffs. Coach Chris Elrick will rely once again on a strong running game.... Wewoka, moving up from Class A, has skill position players that will make teams pay for their mistakes.... Prague, which comes down from Class 3A after an 0-10 season, has a new head coach in Shannon Watford.
District 2A-5 Coaches’ Poll
1. Okemah (9-3)
2. Stroud (6-5)
T3. Chandler (5-5)
T3. Wewoka (6-5)
5. Prague (0-10)
6. Henryetta (2-8)
7. Holdenville (2-8)
*Last year’s record in parentheses