One of the biggest challenges for Hilldale’s defense thus far under new co-coordinators Kaleb Harris and Ernie Ragland is reacting to the lightning-fast offensive scheme they see in similar helmets.

“Back in the day if you held someone under 100 yards rushing or passing that was a big deal, but a lot of those offenses would run 35 to 40 plays a night,” Harris said. “Here they’re snapping it 60-70 times and it becomes difficult to reach those goals.”

Most offenses these days are up-tempo. It’s just this one wants to raise it another level.

“The up-tempo practice every day really helps us prepare us for that style of play when we face it,” Harris said. “When we do meet up with someone that slows it down, I’m kind of interested to see how they react to that, to be perfectly honest.”

Harris as an offensive coach most of his career at Muskogee, Hulbert and Haskell, and coordinator at the latter two, has also crossed that with coaching the secondary.

One of his objectives with his primary responsibility being pass defense is flexibility among his defensive backs. 

“I try to emphasize the need to learn both the safety and corner positions so that they can be called on any time to play either,” he said.

Dylan Walker returns in the secondary. The junior played some at linebacker a year ago. Harris likes his athleticism.  

Hunter Parsons was noticed quickly by Harris as a quick learner.

“He’s picked up things really fast and is an asset to help some of the other guys,” he said of the senior. “When I’m coaching one corner on one side, he might be instructing the other side.”

Speaking of flexibility, there’s also sophomore Brayson Lawson, who Harris referred to as a “Swiss Army knife” who can do a bit of everything. He’ll do that on both sides of the ball but safety and outside linebacker are two spots he’ll rotate regularly on defense.

Another sophomore, Andrew Blankenship, has had a breakout summer as a sophomore at one corner, so much show that Ragland, whose focus is the front seven and run game, has paid attention.

“We started calling him LD for lockdown after watching him at Bixby’s team camp,” he said.

Chance Johnson is one of the few seniors on defense, let alone the secondary. 

Ragland is high on Jaden McWilliams, a junior linebacker who tore knee ligaments in the first round of the playoffs last year. The youngest of linebacker coach Phil McWilliams is back and fully healthy.

“Very heady, very smart, and our best inside linebacker,” Ragland said. 

Darrin Hays, a junior, is a starting running back, Mike Oeser, a sophomore, if not in the quarterback hunt is a possible running back. Both will play linebacker spots.

Up front, he’s equally pleased.

“Watson Schiller (junior) has lost some weight and looks good up front, Devin Brandt has good size (6-4, 280, senior) and Ryan Mattox, who is just a sophomore, continues to go in the direction he is he can be a really good player, kind of a William Dominguez type,” Ragland said.

Dominguez was a two-time All-Phoenix undersized defensive end known for his relentless pursuit, but he played under Ryan Keenom, who is now Wagoner’s defensive coordinator.

“I knew Keenom when I was at Fort Gibson (under James Singleton) and I admired what he did with his fronts. Dominguez was hard to block,” he said. “We’re not changing much, maybe more zone than man, and I told the kids I’m not coming in and trying ti change everything. If you try to change a lot, it’s going to take a lot of time to implement. 

“They’ve been a 3-4, the terminology will be different but the kids are coming on. We’re young, not going to lose a lot to graduation. So in the years to come we can become a defense that can be really hard to block.”

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