Panthers hope to keep on rolling
Last season, Stigler made its deepest playoff run since 1971, when the Panthers reached the state semifinals, losing to Jenks 3-2 on the old penetration rule (number of times inside the opposing team's 20-yard line) after the game ended in a 14-14 tie.
Stigler finished 10-3 last year and won two playoff games for the first time since 1965 before losing to Kingfisher in the quarterfinals. Despite losing seven starters from last year's explosive offense, the Panthers are the pick of District 3A-8 coaches to win the league this season.
“We've got some quality kids, but I don't know about that prediction,” Stigler coach Chris Risenhoover said of the favorite's role. “We've got a long way to go before we are deserving of that.
“We do have a lot of kids who will be on the field this year who have been in a lot of big football games over the last couple of years. Our kids have learned to play at a high level. We could keep rolling. We do have some outstanding football players on this team.”
None more so than Seth Sandlin, a two-year starter at running back who will move to quarterback for his senior season. Despite missing three games last season due to injury, Sandlin rushed for 1,186 yards and 17 touchdowns while also catching four touchdown passes.
Sandlin, who is being recruited by Division II schools to play both football and baseball, is moving to quarterback to replace last year's starter Cade Shearwood, who is now playing for the University of Central Oklahoma.
“Seth is a tremendous athlete,” Risenhoover said. “He really throws the ball well. I think he is physically capable of being one of the top quarterbacks in the state.”
Senior Trent Casinger and sophomore Trace Jackson will share time at running back for the Panthers. Stigler returns six starters on defense, led by linebacker Brooks Coplen.
The Panthers will have an inexperienced offensive line and not as much as depth after graduating a large senior class last year, but Stigler is expected to continue to win.
“We started late in the season (last year) playing the game at a real high level,” Risenhoover. “Hopefully, that momentum will carry over into this season.”
SPIRO LOOKS TO RETURN TO THE BULLDOGS OF OLD
Spiro returned to the playoffs last year after missing the postseason in 2011 for only the third time in coach Chris Bunch's two decades at his alma mater.
Bunch, who played for Spiro in the early ‘70s, starts his 24th season as head coach of the Bulldogs. He expects the 2013 brand of Bulldog football to be more like the Spiro of old.
“I think we will be better than last year,” said Bunch, whose team finished 6-5 and was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by Keys.
Defensively, the Bulldogs return senior Cole McKinney at linebacker, who has been the team's leading tackler the past three seasons since stepping in as a freshman.
“He's got a knack for the ball,” Bunch said. “He does a super job.”
Cornerback McKinley Whitfield is the Bulldogs' best cover man in the secondary. On offense, Whitfield is moving from wide receiver to quarterback, switching positions with Trevon Mitchem.
Bunch thinks the Bulldogs can contend for the district crown this season.
“I feel like the district is wide open,” he said. “I think it is more equal this year than it has been in a long time.”
NEW HEAD COACH INSTALLS NEW SCHEMES AT VALLIANT
At Valliant, longtime assistant coach Chad Endsley takes over for head coach Brett Jones, who took the Bristow job in the offseason.
Valliant is learning both a new offense and defense under Endsley as the Bulldogs plan to use multiple formations in a flex-bone offense.
Despite the multiple looks, Valliant plans to play power football with the return of senior running back Shawn Moore (6-foot-2, 230 pounds), who didn't play last season.
“We are going to run him,” Endsley said. “He is big and talented with lots of potential. He could be one of the best to come through Valliant.”
The Bulldogs are deep at running back with Moore, his twin brother, Antwan Moore and Ashton Keeton, all seniors.
“We are going to use all of them,” Endsley said. “We are going to power right at you and try to hammer some people. We are not going to throw it around a lot.”
Valliant was 3-7 last year behind an offensive line that consisted of three freshmen and two sophomores. Endsley believes that unit will be much better this season with a year of experience.
MORE COACHES IN IDABEL
The biggest change at Idabel this season is on the sidelines where second-year coach Micah Mashburn now has five assistants, He only had two assistants for most of the season last year.
Among the new assistant coaches is former Purcell boss Bob Yadon, who will be the team's defensive coordinator. He will try to improve a defense that Mashburn admits didn't tackle very well last year as the Warriors finished 2-8.
But Mashburn promises that Idabel will be better this season.
“We got a chance this year to be a really good football team,” he said.
Much of the offensive load will fall on the shoulders of junior quarterback Boochie Threatt, who stepped in for injured starter Mason Leffel and played five games at quarterback before getting hurt himself.
“He is dangerous,” Mashburn said of Threatt, who averaged 200 yards combined rushing and passing per game last season. “He can put defenses in a bind because he is so athletic. He could have a breakout year.”
ROLAND RETURNS BULK OF PLAYOFF SQUAD
Roland returns 15 starters from last year's 9-3 team that reached the second round of the playoffs. The Rangers return 10 starters on offense, including their entire offensive line.
Tailback Lathan Carter, who rushed for 764 yards and four touchdowns last year, is back. Carter also had 82 tackles at linebacker. Defensive lineman Austin Cantrell also returns and recorded 87 tackles last season.
District 3A-8 Coaches Poll
1. Stigler (10-3)
2. Roland (9-3)
3. Checotah (8-3)
4. Eufaula (1-9)
5. Spiro (6-5)
6. Idabel (2-8)
7. Heavener (5-5)
8. Valliant (3-7)
Last season's records in parentheses