Phoenix staff reports
Examining the Roughers
Rafe Watkins got through his first spring football session after coming over from a successful run at Guthrie. A unit-to-unit look follows:
Quarterback: Quintahj Cherry has two years of starting experience but was out some of spring ball with an ankle injury. Mikey Rodriguez is his backup. Both are having to adapt to a run-oriented attack in Rafe Watkins’ first squad at Muskogee: “We’re still working on some mechanics We won’t throw as much but we’ll toss it 10-15 times a game. We need to be 10-of-15, 9-of-12 and right now we’re not close to that. We’ll get there,” Watkins said.
Running backs: Certainly one of the deepest parts of the squad. Jacouri Freeman has impressed through spring ball. Cantrell Ashley and Molizah Gilbert are also big physical type runners who have had good moments. With 125-pound Tyriq Beasley, it gives Muskogee a quicker, explosive alternative.
Wide receiver: James Buckhanan had to go at running back some last year. He’ll be exclusively at wide receiver.
Offensive line: Adonis Cole at left tackle, Zane Rasmussen at left guard, Jacolby Anderson at right guard and Logan Stovall at center return as starters and Watkins and staff have tried to shape a mentality of a defensive lineman among them. “I’ve been proud of them,” said Watkins. “We’ve asked them to go from being a predominant passing team to really trying to get down and dirty with it. So far, so good. Our defense held its own with us but as practice wore on, the OL tended to wear them down.” Anderson’s pancake block ability this spring was duly noted by his head coach. “He’s had a good spring,” Watkins said.
Watkins’ son Hunter along with Bryer Eaton are the leading candidates at the right tackle spot. Hunter Watkins was a tight end at Guthrie.
Defensive line: Watkins is high on Roderick Kirby, a 291-pound lineman that required double and triple teams in ones versus ones. “We’re not cutting him but to stand up and block him, there’s no two who were able to do that well.” Josh Medrano, who has excelled at defensive tackle, will likely be a guy on the move depending on the situation presented.
Linebackers: Tramal Ivy and Ty-Chris Beasley were the top two playmakers and their graduation has left the biggest gap. “We’ve got to get better linebacker play that we’ve been getting,” Watkins said.
Secondary: Buckhanan, Tavian Davis and Darion McNac have impressed. Kamren Curl “had a pretty good spring. He’s just a sophomore but I think he’s got a chance to be special,” Watkins said.
The Tigers wrapped up spring football with a two-day team camp with Stilwell and Stigler on Tuesday.
Coach James Singleton is revamping an offensive line that graduated three three-year starters from the Tigers 6-5 team a year ago.
“The offensive line is going to make or break you,” said Singleton. “We feel like we are farther along on the offensive line at this point than expected.”
Jared Ragland and Nick Burt return up front in the trenches and the Tigers look to Ace Eastwood and Adam Rigney as well as Jared Cornelius and Michael Rosales, who started as a freshman on the defensive line.
“As far as skill players go, we are solid,” added Singleton.
Senior quarterback J.R. Singleton will be a four-year starter this fall. Tristan Johnson, Chris Walker and Kyle Martin all return for the Tigers ground and pound attack.
“These seniors are the first group to be in the system four years,” said Singleton. “We want to be known as a physical football team here at Fort Gibson and the potential is there. We will run the football.”
On the flip side of the ball the Tigers return all but two starters and get back a “very physical” linebacker in senior McKenna Terrell. Terrell was lost for the year to an ACL injury in week three against Hilldale. J.R. Singleton will pull double duty this year starting at free safety with Jordan London returning on the strong side. The Tigers have a three-way battle at the cornerback spot with three seniors in Will Rumbley, Keifer Kirkhart and Colton Olivares.
“They all have experience and we will have some nickel packages to get all three guys out there,” said Singleton.
Singleton said he is most impressed with the team’s continuity and senior leadership while participating in spring ball.
The Tigers have Summer Pride starting June 9 and will participate in 7-on-7 passing leagues every Tuesday in June and one in July.
“We will get bigger and stronger this off-season and get it done,” added Singleton.
The Indians finished up spring football with a team camp at Sallisaw against Roland, Vian and the host Black Diamonds. Coach Shane Richardson and his club are coming off a 4-6 finish last year and are replacing the entire receiving unit for senior quarterback Zach Parish.
“Our seniors from last year accounted for 75 of 103 receptions,” said Richardson. “We’ve got 6-8 kids that are fighting for playing time at that spot and we want as many as possible.”
Parish who is in just his second year of football aired it out for 1,450 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
“He (Parrish) gives us a calming sense with his influence in the huddle,” said Richardson. “We are developing more continuity in the passing game and expect a lot more out of him this year.”
The Indians return junior tailback Justin Hooper to help Parrish. Hooper was “the main offensive threat” last year with 1,272 yards and seven rushing scores. On the offensive line, the Indians are replacing three starters and return one senior. “We have a young line, and the spring has been up and down for them,” said Richardson.
Defensively, the Indians are converting to a 3-4 defense to “get more athletes on the field against the spread offenses.”
Sequoyah brings back four starters on defense, with the anchor and captain in senior Tanner Crow, Crow led the team in tackles last year with 78. “We have always been a base defense but this year we are working on being more blitz oriented and aggressive,” said RIchardson
The Indians’ new defense is depending heavily on outside linebacker Tiron Gourd and weak side linebacker Hunter Crow to bring the pressure from the edge and containment off the corners.
“Our main objective was to stay healthy and not get anyone injured this spring,” said Richardson. “We did that and I was most impressed with how well we have practiced and the amount of energy we have been playing with.”
Sequoyah begins its Summer Pride on June 9 and will participate in Fort Gibson’s 7-on-7 passing league every Tuesday in June and one in July. They will also be at Locust Grove for team camp June 26-27.
Coach Brandon Tyler and the Wolverines bring back 19 starters to a club that ran off 13 victories in a row before their lone loss in the Class 2A semifinal to eventual state champion Davis.
The Wolverines are 38-3 with 30 straight regular season victories and open the season Sept. 6 in the Kickoff Classic at Choctaw in a rematch against Davis in what should be championship football from the first whistle.
“If we stay healthy, we feel we should be in great shape,” said Tyler. “A few injuries turn a 10-0 team to a 5-5 team real quick.”
The Wolverines ended spring ball with team camp at Sallisaw against 3A and 4A teams in Roland, Sequoyah and the host Black Diamonds.
Senior quarterback Rylee Simon returns to operate out the spread offense that Tyler says “will spread the field to run.” Simon profited from that approach last year accounting for 2,885 yards of total offense and 28 combined scores as well as senior tailback Eric Casey. Casey amassed 1,992 yards on the ground to go along with 35 touchdowns.
Junior tailback Daylon McWaters will also see some carries as more of a “physical type” runner whereas Casey is “the slasher.”
The only spot on the offense to be filled is at split-end where senior Josh Cowart gets the call to help Denver Coffee on the opposite side.
Wolverine defenders line up in the pressure 4-3 defense and Tyler says his front seven are “the best he has had” in his tenure as head coach at Vian.
Simon leads the defense as well from his linebacker spot where he has led the team in tackles three straight years. A.J. Rodriguez returns to the linebacking corps where Tyler says, “he has had a tremendous camp.”
“We have to be able to stop the run to win it all,” said Tyler. “And our defensive effort this spring has been superb.”
Vian goes to the University of Tulsa on June 9 for “One Night Under the Lights” and will participate in Fort Gibson’s 7-on-7 passing league before beginning Summer Pride on June 23.
The Hornets’ summary ran in Saturday’s paper. Go to muskogeephoenix.com/sports to check it out.