By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
For Northeastern State’s football team, experience breeds excitement.
The RiverHawks return 17 starters — the most that coach Kenny Evans has had in his five seasons in Tahlequah.
“We were so young last year and I knew it would be tough in a new conference (Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association), but having all those guys back, we have a chance to do some exciting things,” he said.
Because of the experience, Evans is particularly enthusiastic about the things his team has been doing this spring.
“We’re looking at some tempo things such as changing our speed between the plays on offense and defense,” he said. “We want to do that as teams were snapping the ball (last season) before we had time to get set. That’s helped us in getting tougher in those situations.
“We may even add a wrinkle or two. But doing these things now will help us be so much farther ahead when get to camp in the fall.”
NSU has 12 days of spring practice remaining. This time of the year couldn’t come fast enough for Evans.
“The winter seemed to drag on,” he said. “We’ve been ready to get on the field, run some routes and make some tackles.”
Evans has had his eye particularly on 6-foot-4, 205-pound wide receiver Cruz Williams, defensive tackle Kinley Choate (6-2, 325) and cornerback Quenton Watts (5-10, 175).
“They went through spring ball last year and were going to be starters, but because of transfer regulations and other academic situations, they had sit out this past fall,” the NSU coach said. “Now we can throw in those four starters into the mix with our 17 starters, we’ve got a great nucleus of experience back.”
Among the returning starters, quarterback Johnny Deaton goes into his third year as a starter and Joel Rockmore looks to follow up on his season in which he ran for 1,024 on 186 carries and 10 touchdowns. The RiverHawks also have their three starting linebackers and three starters back on the offensive line, including Ethan James of Gore.
With all of the excitement, one thing continues to temper that.
“You always worry about depth at this level because if you lose someone to injury, the guy replacing him may not be same caliber,” Evans said. “We’ve been using the spring to develop that for the fall.”
Evans looks for a carryover from last season in which the RiverHawks won their last four games to finish 4-6 in MIAA and for the season.
“After last year, I think we have a new confidence and hopefully, we’ll be ready to make a move in the conference,” he said.
The RiverHawks will have their spring game on Saturday, April 20 at 3 p.m.