MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

May 31, 2014

Graduation, shifts give Hilldale a new look

Hilldale will be a new-look football team and not just because 17 seniors and many of the major contributors to two consecutive Class 3A quarterfinal squads walked off with diplomas earlier this month.

The Hornets return four with starting experience, two of which return on the line. Along with those who are emerging as likely replacement parts, the Hornets should average about 260 pounds across the front.

Bailey Puckett is moving from right guard to right tackle. Wyatt Gassaway from right tackle to left tackle. Both are in the 220-230 pound range. Gunner Drake, a 275-pound senior, takes over at left guard and Xavier Milton, a 255-pound sophomore, has gotten significant reps at right guard. Another sophomore, Austin Patterson is lining up at center and at 210 is the lighter of the group.

“It’s a group that will enable us to go more downhill out of the I and run right at people,” said Hilldale coach Chad Kirkhart.

Mitchell Croftcheck, who saw some junk time behind Phoenix Large School Offensive Player  of the Year Chandler Puckett at quarterback last season, inherits that job and has impressed Kirkhart with his running ability in a team camp this past week at Locust Grove.

“He reads defenses well and reacts accordingly and did some good things running with the football,” Kirkhart said. “Obviously we’ve had a good one back there the past couple years, but I think in six practices and two nights of team camp he’s definitely gotten better from day one and will continue to improve.”

The tip of the I will be Hunter Woods, who due to injury took over as a starter early last season and had five 100-yard rushing games.

“He’s really looked good — stronger, faster,” Kirkhart said. “He’s definitely been one of the bright spots so far.”

Matt Bargsten is the top receiver so far. Unlike 1,000-yard man Bradley Campbell, he’s more of a possession receiver.

Which shifts the focus, at least for now, to a run-oriented attack.

Two guys who started on defense in 2013 return. Bargsten at safety led the defensive backs in tackles and interceptions with seven and also had seven sacks. Woods will move from linebacker to corner.

“Matt gives us some good leadership back there along with the most experience and Hunter, because of his quickness, we’re switching him to the secondary,” defensive coordinator Ryan Keenom said.

Tyler Gober was in the middle of the defensive front last year but will not play this season.

“Obviously we have a lot of new guys but we have a lot of new guys who are competing,” said Keenom. “Hopefully early summer into fall they’ll separate themselves somewhat.”

There are a lot of holes to fill due to all those diplomas.

“Without a doubt that was a special group of kids, maybe not all the most talented we’ve had but kids who believed they could beat whoever we played,” Keenom said. “And they beat some teams that were more talented because of that. Now, these guys earning playing time are coming up having played behind them and they got to see what happened from that group. Hopefully it instilled some of that attitude in them. We’ve got the same staff so nothing has changed for them.”

The Hornets will have a team camp June 9-10 at Claremore Sequoyah, then start Summer Pride.

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