It’s a good thing the turf at Hornet Field is artificial. No dust to worry about with the whirlwind of changes that now appear to be settling in with spring football practice under way and Hilldale having its third head coach in as many seasons.
Hired to replace Greg Werner after one season at the helm, first-year Hornets head coach David Blevins has his staff in place with multiple additions. Kaleb Harris, most late of Haskell, will serve as co-defensive coordinator with Ernie Ragland. Harris coached under his father Rusty and last year Frank Marsaln at Haskell, and had also been an assistant at Muskogee at one time when Blevins was on staff there under Matt Hennesy.
Ragland was with Blevins at Locust Grove. He also has been on staff at Fort Gibson.
Another addition is Erwin Starts, who coached with Blevins at Locust Grove and was hired away from Lincoln, Arkansas. He’ll be offensive coordinator. Also, Ty Pilgrim, who worked with Blevins when the two were on Hennesy’s staff at Muskogee, was hired away from MHS where he’s coached boys soccer. Pilgrim will coach defensive line, tight ends and fullbacks and will also handle strength and conditioning.
Gone are defensive coordinator Ryan Keenom to Wagoner, Jarrett Lowrimore to Poteau to rejoin Werner and Matt Hawkins, a hire last year is at Sallisaw. Remaining are Phil McWilliams and Eric Stout, both holdovers who were also on Chad Kirkhart’s staff, and former Hornet lineman Bailey Puckett.
“Every one of the guys I brought in I knew and I’ve known Eric and Bailey since they were babies,” Blevins said. “The challenge is these current kids buying into the changes.”
That should be easy, especially offensively. Blevins will use the pistol offense, with multiple looks, that helped make former Locust Grove quarterback Mason Fine put up record numbers en route to an outstanding career at the University of North Texas. It also should excite a deep group of receivers Blevins has to work with in Dylan Walker, Cashus Prather, Ty O’Neal, Hunter Parson and Brayden Smith.
“We’ll be more athletic as a group at receiver than we were at Locust Grove,” Blevins said.
Walker will be an H-back with multiple usages similar to what Devin Hembry was up until he became a focal point at running back as a senior last year.
Darrin Hays will return at running back where he saw substantive spell duty, but is more the power running back. Brayson Lawson also figures in that mix.
The biggest attention spot for Blevins and staff offensively will the raw talent at quarterback. Johnnie Durossette saw scrap action as a sophomore on varsity last fall. Michael Oeser is a current freshman.
“Those two are in a situation where they’re learning a new system two straight years,” Blevins said. “Michael is a real good worker, Johnnie has improved since I got here, but to compare them to a guy like Mason at this point is not fair to them, because when we got Mason he had the arm ability that helped him develop into what he was. Mechanics-wise, these two aren’t there yet, but they’re young.”
Up front, as well as part of the 3-4 defense that will be retained but with tweaks, three losses to graduation on the OL will need to be filled. Devin Brandt is getting early college attention at center and defensive end. Jay Stroble and Watson Schiller will work at nose and as blockers, but Stroble is recovering from a broken femur. Ryan Mattox is also in the mix.
Jaden McWilliams and Rylan Nail will be inside linebackers. McWilliams is being brought back slowly from ACL and PCL surgeries. Nail, a sophomore-to-be, has good size at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. Sean Looney is also getting looks there.
Shawn Livingston joins Lawson and Ryan Blanchet are at the outside linebacker spots and the secondary has Walker, O’Neal, Parson, Andrew Blankenship and Isom Smith, a younger brother of former Muskogee sprinter John Smith, who went on to play football at Howard.
The Hornets’ spring game is Thursday, May 23 at 6 p.m. They’ll do a team camp at Fort Gibson on May 24. There will be no continuation of the traditional 7-on-7 tournament halted by turf installation last year, but Hilldale will compete in one at Bixby on June 21 in a bracket with Jenks, Bixby, Tulsa Washington and Bishop Kelley, Blevins said.