OOLOGAH — For those who thought last year was a rebuilding one for the Oologah football team, get ready for a little déjà vu this season.
Despite a roster featuring only a handful of seniors a year ago, the Mustangs finished 4-7 and qualified for the Class 4A playoffs despite opening the year 0-4.
This year, only 10 senior names dot the Mustangs’ roster.
“Everyone assumes that last year was a year of rebuilding. But this year we are replacing almost all our skill positions,” said coach Sonny Schovanec, entering his sixth year at the Mustang helm.
“We do return some linemen on both offense and defense, but we are still awfully young. We just haven’t started that many seniors the past two years.”
Ironically, even with so few seniors, Oologah has been tabbed No. 8 in one preseason ranking.
That’s quite a compliment when one considers that familiar faces to Mustang fans the past few seasons — names such as Jeff Bradshaw, Tyler Harold, Blake Kelley and Greg Savage — are gone.
That quartet comprised a huge portion of Oologah’s offensive and defensive totals in 2005.
Savage topped all rushers with 861 yards and 11 TDs. From his quarterback spot, Kelley contributed 394 yards on the ground and five touchdowns while Bradshaw was close behind with 365 yards and two rushing scores.
Between them, the trio accounted for 1,620 of the Mustangs’ 1,820 rushing yards last season, or 89 percent of the team total.
Meanwhile, Kelley passed for all but nine of the team’s 1,176 yards through the air and registered 11 of the team’s 12 passing TDs.
Harold, the Claremore Progress’ 2005 Rogers County Most Valuable Player, had 36 catches for 749 yards.
Savage and Bradshaw combined for another 169 receiving yards to give the trio 918 (or 78 percent) of the team’s 1,176-yard total.
Combined, Bradshaw, Harold, Kelley and Savage accumulated 130 tackles in 2005.
“There is no doubt that we will have to replace a lot of skill positions on both sides of the ball,” said Schovanec, who has compiled a 47-14 mark in the last five seasons.
“The key is, with all of the youth that we will have starting this season, we are going to have young kids in key positions. They are going to make mistakes. So, we have to play as a team. The 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense and in every phase of special teams, we have to be focused on every down.
“In addition, with our varsity numbers down, we are going to need to stay healthy.”
To start the season, Schovanec doesn’t think any of the skill positions in the Mustangs’ I-formation will be manned by seniors.
Set at the wide receiver slots will be sophomore Colton Barnes (6-1, 160) and junior Scott Kooken (5-9, 180), while junior Trenton Horner (6-0, 200) will line up at tight end.
In the backfield, sophmore Jordan Barrett (6-3, 195) is slated to take over at quarterback. At fullback, juniors Kelsey Davis (5-10, 185) and John Jarred (5-8, 165) will split time.
The tailback will be Brett Swindell (5-9, 170, junior), who rushed for 66 yards a year ago and chipped in nine tackles on defense.
However, Barrett, Davis and Jarred did not log any varsity statistics last season.
“We are looking for an identity, offensively,” Schovanec said. “Right now, we don’t have a player who we know we can go to on every down.”
Two seniors will highlight the offensive line.
Eric Horner (6-2, 210) will be at quick tackle with Cameron Kelsey (6-0, 230) next to him at quick guard.
On the other side, a pair of juniors — Chance Keith (6-2, 230) and Jason Weeks (6-1, 300) — will occupy the strong guard and tackle spots, respectively.
At center, Mark Wells (6-0, 230, sophomore) and Blake Hope (5-10, 185, junior) will share time.
More upperclassmen will highlight the Mustangs’ 4-3 defensive alignment.
“On defense, our strength should be at linebacker,” the head coach said.
Seniors Marty Price (6-0, 190) and Aaron Stoops (6-1, 200) will share that strength.
Price led all defenders in tackles last year with 131. That total included five tackles for loss and a sack. He also forced two fumbles and recovered one.
Stoops, an outside linebacker, amassed 76 stops a year ago — third best on the team. He also had five tackles for loss and recovered a fumble.
The defensive line will be paced by senior tackle Justin Dorsey (6-1, 250), who made his presence known in the second half of 2005.
“Justin has great size and strength. He could be a great player for us,” Schovanec said.
“He will be the anchor of our defense.”
Another key player up front will be senior end Michael Albright (5-8, 177), whose four sacks paced the squad a year ago. He also had 48 tackles.
Other key players in the defensive line will be Keith, Hope (both also scheduled to start on offense) and Ben Hanneman (6-0, 225, senior), who saw limited playing time last year.
Matt Bradshaw (5-7, 165, soph) and Matt Wilmott (5-10, 175, senior) should join forces with Price and Stoops in the linebacking corps.
In the defensive backfield, senior Gates Linihan (5-8, 175) — whose 84 tackles trailed only Price’s team-leading number — returns to solidify that area. Linihan, the strong safety, picked off a pair of passes in 2005.
Joining Linihan in the secondary will be juniors Kelsey Davis (5-10, 185) and Aaron Kirkendall (6-0, 175), who notched 18 tackles last season.
Class 3A state champs in 1998 and 1999, the Mustangs also had a string of four District 4A-3 titles snapped a year ago.
“Expectations here are high every year from our parents and the community,” Schovanec said. “But I wouldn’t want it any other way.
“It’s hard to be competitive when people don’t expect you to win. The kids believe in our tradition. You can’t put a price tag on tradition.
“We expect to win every game.”
Continuing a tradition that has become popular and, and in their case, dominating, the Mustangs get an early start on most teams. They kick off their season on Thursday with a home date against Claremore.
It has become a rivarly of intense, and immense, proportions. It is a game with high expectations and big crowds.
Oologah has won four of the last five meetings.
“The excitement around that game is as high as ever,” Schovanec says. “It’s just an awesome atmosphere. I love it. Our kids play lights out in that game.”
As he said earlier, you can’t put a price tag on tradition.