By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Last year, a season 20 yards shy of 3,000 yards wasn’t good enough.
So for Lawrence Evitt, was less more?
His 2,641 rushing yards got the same team results — a semifinal appearance in Class 4A, where the Wagoner Bulldogs were again knocked out by Anadarko which this year went on to become state champion.
And, his coach confesses, some intangibles were added to the package which won Evitt the Most Valuable Player honors on the All-Phoenix football squad.
“He matured and became mentally tougher,” he said. “He was able to fight through pain and fatigue at times, as we played him some on defense. When you get to college ball, this becomes a job so everyone needs mental toughness.”
Part of that began mental toughness evolved from multiple question marks on both the offensive line and at quarterback. Defenses were able to key on the 5-foot-7, 170-pound senior a little more. Yards were more punishing and for a few weeks, so were the statistics that came from those yards.
But the line issues jelled before the end of non-district and his numbers rose to 2012 levels on fewer carries — 238 to 273. He rushed for 31 touchdowns.
“He’s never really been concerned with how many yards he’s had. He’s never come to me wanting more carries. There were times he wanted me to pull him out and put in Devin Hawkins — a guy who had been through two ACL surgeries in his career — so he could have a scoring opportunity.”
Evitt finished with 31 touchdowns, including two that momentarily stole the momentum in the semifinal loss to Anadarko — a 61-yarder on the final play of the first half and a 20-yard run on the first possession of the second half, giving Wagoner a 14-13 lead.
Anadarko scored 21 unanswered points to finish the contest, then extended the run to 61 in the title game against Poteau. Evitt’s final game in high school netted him 175 yards on 23 carries.
The next move for Evitt depends on his ACT tests. Tulsa, Memphis, Southern Mississippi and multiple Division II teams in the area have offered him scholarships and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have kept in touch, Condict said.
“I’m grateful for the community and coaching staff at Wagoner for being there for me,” Evitt said. “They really worked to put the offense together and make it work for us.”
Other honorees follow.:
Offensive Player of Year
Evitt edged Hilldale quarterback Chandler Puckett for the MVP. Puckett, a 5-10, 175-pound senior, completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,373 yards, 30 touchdowns and ran for 6.72 yards and seven TDs and ended up as the Large School Offensive Player of the Year.
“It’s a one-man award but you can’t do it without those other 10 guys on the field, my receivers for being playmakers and the offensive line for protecting me and the coaching staff putting in a lot of work to make us all better,” Puckett said.
Two of those pieces made the team on offense. Bradley Campbell was his best receiver, and the top vote-getter by a considerable margin at that position. Drew Vandiver was regarded as Hilldale’s best lineman and got the same nod on this team.
Campbell was fifth in the MVP hunt and there’s little doubt the two sapped votes from each other.
Puckett, who was 21-5 as a starter, wanted to share this honor with him.
“We had such good chemistry,” he said. “We kind of mentioned this to each other, like hopefully one gets one award and the other gets the other award.
“He’s probably happy for me and I’d been happy if he’d received this. We couldn’t have had the seasons we had without each other. And Lawrence, the things he’s done the last two years, he’s deserving of this too.”
Chad Kirkhart knows how tough it was to decide between the two, having coached them together the past two seasons.
“You couldn’t have asked for much more from either,” he said.
With Puckett drawing this honor, Kirkhart saluted him, pointing to two defining games.
In a 42-41 loss in a District 3A-7 decider against Locust Grove, Puckett had 441 total yards, 254 rushing and 187 passing. In the second round of the 3A playoffs against Metro Christian on a icy night in Tulsa, facing one of the state’s top defenses, he was 10-of-13 while under constant pressure.
“In one situation it was his ability,” he said. “In the other, while we didn’t have many yards that night, he stayed poised, made great decisions, had no turnovers, threw the ball away when he needed to. To go 10-of-13 is nothing to sneeze at against that particular defense. And of his TDs, one he throws on a rope and the other he stays in the pocket, takes a hit and still delivers it on the money.”
Defensive Player of Year
Tramal Ivy played on a team that won just three games, but there was little he didn’t do in helping gain those victories.
He set a school record with 19 sacks, capping it in the season finale against Bixby with four. He finished 77 tackles, and played just about everywhere on the Muskogee defense — strong safety, linebacker and defensive end.
Last weekend, he was on the field for the Blue-Grey All-American Game at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, the first Rougher to be selected for a national-level all-star game since Jameel Owens in 2008.
He learned how to be a receiver over the off-season and became a playmaker at tight end, scoring six touchdowns on 14 catches for 546 yards. Sixth in the MVP voting, Ivy gets the nod as the All-Phoenix Large School Defensive Player of the Year.
“It validates what we feel about him at Muskogee and it’s a neat deal when others recognize it,” said Muskogee coach Josh Blankenship, who called Ivy the most recruited athlete he’s ever coached.
“Our MVP, no question about it. His dominance was undeniable if you ever watched him.”
Added Ivy: “I always wanted to be an MVP of something but this is a dream. I’m (considered) the best of all these from a defensive standpoint and there’s a lot of good players who were on teams that had better years.
“We finished strong (winning their final two games). I tried to be the motor for our team.”
His motor has had Blankenship’s phone ringing.
“I’ve gotten calls from practically every Division I school and its spanned from Washington State to Florida State,” he said.
He’ll likely go the junior college route.
“He’ll get bigger, better, stronger and then transfer, then I think the sky is the limit for him,” Blankenship said.
Offensive Player of Year
Eric Casey rushed for 1,871 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior running back at Vian as one of two key players back from a semifinal team ransacked by graduation losses. The 5-9, 160-pounder helped get the Wolverines back there again, finishing with a repeat loss to Davis two weeks ago.
“He really grew up this year, a 160-pounder carrying 250 times and was very durable. He was fortunate enough to have some guys step up in the secondary which allowed him to go just one way,” said Vian’s coach Brandon Tyler.
“With a year of weights after basketball I think he’ll be better next year.”
Casey saluted his young offensive line that included one freshman and three sophomores.
“I have to say that’s a big reason I had the year I had,” he said. “We’ll all be back together next year and I can’t wait.
“No one expected us to be where we were. Next year will be special.”
Defensive Player of Year
The pressure is growing on seventh-grader River Simon. His brother Rylee Simon has another season before handing him the baton but there’s been a Simon named Small School Defensive Player of the Year for three seasons now.
For Rylee, it’s his first. His older brother Rowdy won the honor as a Vian linebacker the previous two seasons. The younger Simon led the Wolverines in tackles for the third straight year with 169, yet because of a senior-loaded team last year, gave way to a few of them on this squad.
Now there’s the streak to worry about.
“He needs to put on several pounds. He’s a little-bitty fellow,” Rylee said of River.
But first there’s another year for River’s second-biggest brother to defend it.
“I hope I can,” Rylee said.
Good linebacker play is a family tradition that extends to their father. Joe Paul Simon starred at Vian then played collegiately at Tulsa.
“You might say he bred them to be great linebackers. There’s definitely a high standard of accountability. They’re great kids on the field and show great character off the field,” Tyler said.
Rylee wasn’t shabby at quarterback. He ran for 1,166 yards and threw for 1,290 yards. He also punted for a 39 yard average.
With his running back returning in 2014, Rylee, like his Rowdy the past two seasons, will pursue as the No. 2 vote-getter on the offensive side. Rylee was third in the MVP vote.
He doesn’t mind yielding to Casey again.
“That’s fine with me,” he said. “I’ve played defense my whole life. In first through sixth grade you could only play one side of the ball and that’s always been what I loved to do.”
Coach of Year
Brandon Tyler won the award in 2006. He had designs of ending up where his team was that year, in the 2A finals against Millwood.
Davis denied that bid, just as it did a year ago. This time, though, Tyler and company can say they lost to the state champion — an unlikely finish for a team that lost 17 seniors.
“We’ve said tradition doesn’t graduate. These kids bought in and we had seven assistant coaches who came to work every day and made my job a lot easier,” Tyler said. “Getting these new kids in the right position, that was something that was on them. So to me, this is a staff award. I’m proud of their work in what we accomplished.”
Tyler edged Kirkhart, who was second to Stigler’s Chris Risenhoover last year.
Newcomer of Year
This awards thing is all new to freshman K.J. Lee, but performing was a mode that didn’t take long to settle in to. He had 147 tackles, 19 for losses, caused four fumbles and had five sacks as a key piece to the Wagoner defense.
“I didn’t think I’d get something like this,” the stout 6-foot, 215-pounder said. “I have to work harder to be more than what I am now.”
That’s music to Condict’s ears.
“He doesn’t say much. He just works,” he said. “He’s always on time with a huge upside.”
And, Condict is quick to note, he’s just 15.
“I think he’s got a big future. His parents do a good job keeping him grounded and reminding him of other things he needs to take care of, like grades,” Condict said. “And that’s the thing. You tell these kids all the time that if they address that and if they have any level of football talent, we’ll find them a place to go play.
“He’s a potential D1 player, there’s no doubt. The eyeball test, he passes that right now. Kind of like that kid over there (pointing to Ivy).”
Hilldale’s Campbell, last year’s Newcomer of the Year, joined Evitt on the team as a repeat selection. He was one of the state’s top receivers with 73 catches for 1,336 yards and 18 TDs and one of seven Hornets on the team.
Among the other Hornets, Vandiver was the top vote-getter among offensive linemen as was Dakota Holmes at cornerback. Defensive end Justin Sanders was runner-up on the line to Ivy and was joined by his Hornet bookend, C.J. Hunnicutt. Linebacker Hunter Olson also made the team. All of Hilldale’s selections were seniors.
Wagoner’s Roman Rodriguez, a junior, received the most votes among fullbacks. He was joined by two senior Bulldogs, defensive lineman Wyatt Probst, and safety Devin Hawkins, giving the 4A semifinalists five selections.
Vian also had five. Joining Tyler, Simon and Casey were sophomore offensive lineman Ty Andrews and senior safety Shamal Evans.
Despite a 3-7 mark, Muskogee had three make the team — Ivy, along with senior linebacker Ty-Chris Beasley and wide receiver Anthony King.
Stigler senior Seth Sandlin, another repeat selection to the team, moved from the athlete slot to quarterback this season. He was fourth in the MVP race and was joined by one of his targets, senior tight end Austan Drewry.
The athlete spot went to another quarterback this year, Checotah senior Caleb Knight, who was also outstanding at linebacker. Junior offensive lineman Ronnie Clayton, senior defensive lineman DeMarco Patterson and junior linebacker Hunter Collins gave the Wildcats four spots.
Nine years ago, Fort Gibson kicker Daniel Mielnik immigrated to this country from Poland. He was the top vote-getter at that position. Joining him were senior center Sheldon Smith, senior defensive lineman Grady Mosteller, junior linebacker Tristan Johnson, giving the Tigers four selections.
Eufaula senior Devon Siers, who had an area-best nine interceptions, was the top vote-getter among safeties. Offensive lineman Colton Walker, a senior, gave the Ironheads a pair of picks.
Sequoyah had a pair of selections, return specialist Nick Kingfisher and wide receiver Caisen Green. Porum and Tahlequah had one player each — the Panthers had running back Darren Bollman, a senior, and Tahlequah got junior linebacker Reese Davis.
Coach: Brandon Tyler, Vian
Hit severly by graduation losses, leads Vian back to Class 2A semifinals and 13-1 record.
# MVP: Lawrence Evitt, Wagoner, 5-7, 170, Sr.
2.641 yards rushing on 238 carries and 31 TDs.
Newcomer: K.J. Lee, Wagoner, 6-0, 215, Fr.
147 tackles, 19 for loss, caused 4 fumbles, recovered 1 fumble had five sacks.
Large School Offensive Player of Year: Chandler Puckett, Hilldale, 5-10, 175, Sr.
60 percent completion rate; 2,373 yards, 30 TDs and rushed for 642 yards.
# Large School Defensive Player of Year: Tramal Ivy, Muskogee, 6-5, 220, Sr.
77 tackles, set school record for sacks with 19.
Small School Offensive Player of Year: Eric Casey, Vian, 5-9, 160, Jr.
1,871 yards on 218 carries.
Small School Defensive Player of Year: Rylee Simon, Vian, 6-1, 210, Jr.
Led team in tackles for third consecutive season with 169.
On the following, * indicates the top vote-getter at that position
#QB—Seth Sandlin, Stigler, 6-1, 210, Sr.
2,151 yards and 21 TDs passing, rushed for 1,387 yards and 23 TDs.
RB—Darren Bollman, Porum, 5-9, 180, Jr.
2,069 yards on 232 carries, 32 TDs.
RB—Alex Wheeland, Haskell
1,033 yards, 12 TDs.
FB—Roman Rodriguez, Wagoner* 5-11, 195, Jr.
Key blocking back for Evitt; Rushed fof 471 yards, 149 yards receiving and threw for a TD.
#*WR—Bradley Campbell, Hilldale, 6-0, 175, Sr.
73 catches for 1,336 yards and 18 TDs.
WR—Caisen Green, Sequoyah, 6-1, 180, Sr.
45 catches, 821 yards, 13 TDs.
WR—Anthony King, Muskogee, 6-1, 160, Sr.
71 catches for 729 yards, 5 TDs.
TE—Austan Drewry, Stigler, 6-2, 230, Sr.
29 catches for 502 yards, 9 TDs.
*OL—Drew Vandiver, Hilldale, 6-0, 315, Sr.
Two-year starter at guard graded as the Hornets’ top blocker.
OL—Sheldon Smith, Fort Gibson, C/G, 6-3, 235, Sr.
Center and guard was three-year starter, graded at 92 percent.
OL—Ty Andrews, Vian, So., 6-2, 260
Graded at 90 percent at guard.
OL—Ronnie Clayton, Checotah, 6-5, 300, Jr.
Right tackle had 62 pancake blocks.
OL—Colton Walker, Eufaula, 6-3, 245, Sr.
23 pancake blocks and 4.9 speed in 40 at guard.
Athlete—Caleb Knight, Checotah, 5-10, 210, Sr.
1,196 yards rushing, 1,724 yards passing at quarterback; 107 tackles, 13 for losses at linebacker.
DL—Justin Sanders, Hilldale, 6-0, 210, Sr.
119 tackles, 28 for losses, 15 sacks, 40 QB hurries, 6 forced fumbles at defensive end.
DL—C.J. Hunnicutt, Hilldale, 6-3, 225, Sr.
97 tackles, 8.6 sacks, 27 tackles for loss, 31 QB hurries at defensive end.
DL — Wyatt Probst, Wagoner, 6-2, 240, Sr.
55 tackles, 16 for loss, caused 1 fumble, 4 sacks and regarded as Wagoner’s best lineman on both sides.
DL—DeMarco Patterson, Checotah, 6-1, 190, Sr.
90 tackles, 21 for loss, 11 sacks.
DL– Grady Mosteller, Fort Gibson, 5-11, 240,
Three-year starter had 34 tackles, 2 for losses, 1 sack and an interception while always drawing double teams.
LB—Hunter Olson, Hilldale, 5-10, 170, Sr.
131 tackles, 1 sack, 10 tackles for losses, 4 QB hurries.
LB—Ty-Chris Beasley, Muskogee, 5-6, 185, Sr.
124 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception and 1 fumble recovery
LB—Hunter Collins, Checotah, 5-10, 210, Sr.
107 tackles, 13 for a loss, 2 sacks.
LB—Tristan Johnson, Fort Gibson, 5-11, 225, Jr.
90 tackles, 9 for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 1 for TD.
LB—Reese Davis, Tahlequah, 5-11, 168, Jr.
170 tackles, 7 for loss, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles.
*DB—Devon Siers, Eufaula, 5-10, 170, Sr.
Safety had 72 tackles, 9 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries, 2 defensive scores.
DB—Shamal Evans, Vian, 6-3, 175, Sr.
Safety had 64 tackles, 8 interceptions.
DB—Devin Hawkins, Wagoner, 5-7, 185, Sr.
Safety had 66 tackles, 9 for losses, caused 2 fumbles, recovered 2, had 2 sacks and a defensive TD off two ACL surgeries.
•DB—Dakota Holmes, Hilldale*
Cornerback had 64 tackles, 3 for losses, 2 forced fumbles, 5 interceptions and 5 pass breakups.
*K/P—Daniel Mielnik, Fort Gibson, 6-0, 155, Sr.
Three-year starter averaged 35.4 yards per punt and was 4-of-7 on FG, longest of 34 yards and was 48 of 49 on PATs.
Return—Nick Kingfisher, Sequoyah, 6-2, 190, Sr.
2 blocked kicks, 2 kick returns for TDs.
#- indicates repeat selection