MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

June 10, 2014

New QB settles in for Hilldale

Mitchell Croftcheck’s first reaction when asked about how things are going so far for him as Hilldale’s incoming quarterback, without hesitation, starts with a compliment of his offensive line.

“I think the guys up front are pretty solid. It all starts with them,” he said, heading into this week’s two-day team camp at Claremore Sequoyah.

First lesson is down pat. Take care of the guys who take care of you — and even more so as the style of play you’ll guide is an attack that will focus perhaps more than recent years on running the football.

On a squad hit hard by graduation from a group that posted back-to-back quarterfinal appearances, the offensive line has the most seasoning of any unit on either side of the ball. Bailey Puckett is moving from right guard to right tackle. Wyatt Gassaway from right tackle to left tackle. Both will be joined 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.

Patterson will snap to Croftcheck, a junior who will have an experienced ground option in running back Hunter Woods (865 yards in 2013). Devin Cochran, a junior who came up through the underclass ranks with Croftcheck, also gives him a familiar face.

“We have to establish the run. Almost everyone wants to do that. And once we prove we can do that, then we will start dumping it over,” he said. “But this is definitely my style. I always split carries with Devin. And I feel like I have a coach who believes in my ability to run.”

Indeed, Hornets head coach Chad Kirkhart does.

“He also reads defenses well and reacts accordingly and has done 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.”

That good one is Chandler Puckett, the Phoenix Male Athlete of the Year and last year’s All-Phoenix Offensive Player of the Year. Croftcheck spelled him in the second half of several games last season and helped groom him for this moment.

“The seniors knew they had a big class leaving, and they knew we were going to be in the same exact boat as they were two years ago when a lot of seniors graduated,” he said. “Chandler was one of the guys who said something individually to me about how hard it will be to rebuild, but that if they did it, we could.

“Two years ago, I basically stayed back and watched him operate. Last year, we grew close and from that I learned a lot on how he carried himself, how to carry a team, and how to lead a team.”

Those glimpses of game time a year ago primed Croftcheck for what is to come.

“There’s no doubt the speed of the game picks up between JV and varsity,” he said. “I think it’s helps us a lot that we’re also all close. All those guys here now, I’ve grown up with and we’ve been through ups and downs different years playing together. They trust me and believe in me. and that helps a lot.”

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