By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Following a 1-8 finish marking the school’s first one-win season since 1965, there’s not much room to move anywhere but up for the Muskogee football program.
Roughers head coach Josh Blankenship, who will return for his third season next fall still in search of a .500 finish and/or playoff spot, began laying the groundwork for 2013 with the final meeting of his 2012 squad Monday. In effect, he’s been doing that most of this season with a number of freshmen and sophomores seeing anywhere from significant to starting time.
It’s within that group that lies some promising skill position players. It’s within those classes that the hope for depth abounds.
Three sophomores – Bryson Bell, James Buckhanan and Adonis Talbert – all had drawn starting time in the receiving corps by season’s end. Two of the four running backs who have been heavy in this year’s picture – juniors Sammy Richardson and Mackenzie McCall, will return. Freshman Quintahj Cherry will have two games as a starter at quarterback under his belt as he succeeds Trevor Jiles, who missed those games with a concussion.
“The problem won’t be skill kids. We’ll have plenty of those and they’ll be better with another year of work,” Blankenship said. “The question is who will block for them?”
All five down linemen and the starting tight end are seniors. Two who were 5-10 and 260 to 280 were ineligible most of the season. Other than Adonis Cole, a 6-foot, 235-pound sophomore who was listed on the varsity roster, the rest will come from the group who either played JV or freshman ball this season.
The depth will be at receiver, which also includes junior Anthony King, the team’s top receiver this season. Depth at running back will benefit the defense more than anything as Blankenship projected Richardson and McCall to start on that side of the ball. That leaves Tariq Beasley, the 5-3, 140-pounder who had battled health issues early this season and emerged in a big way against Bixby last Friday with 107 yards rushing on 14 carries.
Count on Beasley to be the featured back. His quickness makes for a special package.
“He’s hard to hit,” Blankenship said. “You hope he can handle the physicality but we saw some special things in him this past week.”
That leaves Cherry, who members of the staff who were around when Rell Lewis quarterbacked the Roughers to two of the three semifinal appearances last decade have made comparisons to. Blankenship, himself a former quarterback, will spend considerable time with Cherry in the off-season.
“We’ll work on the mental side of it, how to manage the offense and things like that. He also has to get quicker with his release as a passer,” the coach said. “When we’re scheming he needs to know that he’s not a running quarterback but rather a quarterback who is athletic enough to create when things don’t happen. I don’t want him running downfield. I want him to create when things happen by running side to side to allow receivers to get open.”
The base scheme will remain the same at this point but utilizing that based on what pieces they have will remain a question until the spring.
“Athletically we’ll be capable of stretching the field but the question is what we’ll have up front. A lot of what we’ll do with the pass game, quick game and screens and gadget shots. Whether we executed right is another thing,” Blankenship said.
“But generally speaking if you’re short OL wise, you get into a situation where you’re optioning a defender on your blocking. Kansas State does a lot of that. We’ll just have to see what develops up front.”
Ty Beasley will return at linebacker for his senior season as will defensive end Tramal Ivy. Both were two of the top playmakers on that side. In the secondary Roger Lewis got plenty of playing time as a freshman safety this season as did Darion McNac at cornerback.
The 3-4 defensive coordinator David Heath was forced into due to injuries will become the base defense, Blankenship said.
“It will fit our personnel more rather than being something we were forced into because of circumstances,” he said.
Tracy Hughes, a sophomore linebacker, may be moved up to the front. Skyler Buckner, a junior who is built like the 6-4, 215 Ivy, came into the program late after off-the-field issues and could be a factor up front defensively.
The Roughers will also be looking for a kicker/punter for the first time in four years as Preston Soper will attempt to play college ball somewhere. He started all of the last three seasons and some as a freshman.
In all, 15 juniors, 26 sophomores and 53 freshmen are expected back next season.
“In two years we expect to have over 100 kids in the program,” he said. “Our depth will grow. The program is developing. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”