By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
A question of whether it’s rebuilding or reloading is one Vian football coach Brandon Tyler is answering this summer.
The Wolverines lost 14 seniors to graduation, eight of which started, from a squad that finished 13-1, its lone loss to Davis in the Class 2A semifinals. Included on the departure list are 2012-13 Phoenix Male Athlete of the Year and two-time All-Phoenix Small School Defensive Player of the Year Rowdy Simon and 2012 All-Phoenix Small School Offensive Player of the Year Rob Boyd.
However, they way the Wolverines’ season played out, a lot of last year’s backups got meaningful playing time which helps them this year as starters.
“Because of the success we had, a lot of young kids got to play,” Tyler said. “In the first 10 games, they got to play just as much as the starters did, even through 12 games. So, those kids are progressing well and they all know what its all about.”
Tyler is also looking for a new quarterback to replace Landon Decker. However, Tyler is not too concerned as Rowdy’s younger brother Rylee seems to be the heir apparent to Decker.
Rylee, serving as Decker’s backup the last two seasons, has already established a solid resume. In 2011, he guided the Wolverines to a 48-13 win over Commerce in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs and completed 69.7 percent of his passes in 2012.
“The past two years have prepared me very well,” Rylee said. “We had a great group of seniors ahead of me. They taught me a lot.”
This upcoming season will be the first time in 10 years that the Simon brothers have not put on the same uniform. That is something that Rylee began preparing for last season.
“We’ve been playing together since the first grade,” Rylee said. “It’s gonna be a lot different. You could kinda tell the difference in spring ball.”
Eric Casey seems to be the odds on favorite to take over at running back, replacing Rowdy. Casey finished last year with 670 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing and 456 yards and 10 TDs receiving.
“He’s definitely a playmaker,” Tyler said. “His touchdown to touching the ball ratio last year was pretty high. This will give him the opportunity to carry the ball and catch the ball out of the back field a lot more than what he did last year.”
One bright spot returning for the Wolverines is three-year starter Andre English who amassed 91 tackles and three sacks in 2012.
“We’re going to move him to linebacker this year,” Tyler said. “He’s been playing defensive end for us. With the graduation of Rowdy and Tre (Locust), we’re gonna slide Andre in there. Him being athletic enough to take over at that linebacking position.”
Even with the departure of Boyd, Vian still has a potent offensive line to put on the field.
“We’ve got three of the five offensive linemen coming back,” Tyler said. “We only have to replace Rob and Cody (Monholland). Jon Andrews will stay where he was at but we have two kids coming on this summer – Ashton Vickers at center and Ty Andrews at guard. That will enable us to move our other center – Dakota Eads – out to tackle.”
On defense, the Wolverines are still solid up front with Vian being able to rotate guys in and out.
“Dakota and Jon will still be there,” Tyler said. “A.J. Rodriguez is gonna move down from a linebacker’s spot to a defensive end. Rylee, Daylon McWaters and Andre will be our three linebackers. Our front seven are going to be pretty solid.”
In the secondary, Tyler is replacing Shawn Troutman and Warren Zachary who have both moved on. However, like in the other positions, Tyler has the players to step in.
“Denver Coffee will slide into a cornerback’s spot,” Tyler said. “J.T. Frazier, Eric and Shamal Evans are looking like our safeties.”
While the start of the season is still over two months away, Tyler is pleased with the work the team has put in since the end of the school year.
“The guys are coming along well this summer,” Tyler said. “What they were able to do at our two camps so far with Sallisaw and Fort Gibson, Keys and Stilwell has been real good. Like I said, it’s a rebuilding year but those guys have got plenty of playing time and seem a little bit more experienced.”