With a veteran team returning, the Verdigris Cardinals are expected to snap a string of four-consecutive losing seasons in 2019.
After losing three of their first four games last year, the Cardinals rebounded to finish 5-6 and fourth in District 3A-4 to reach postseason.
Turnovers and penalties damaged the Verdigris effort in 2018, especially in a 55-26 loss to Berryhill on Senior Night. The Chief are again favored in District 3A-4, but the Cardinals should challenge on the basis of eight returning offensive starters and nine on defense.
“I thought our boys fought back from a rough start and made the playoffs,’’ Verdigris coach Travis East said. “I would like to go a little further this time. We’ve had a bunch of young guys the last couple of years, but they’ve gained experience on both sides of the ball.’’
1. VETERANS: The Cardinals welcome three four-year starters who were forced into action as freshmen. Linemen Austin Woods and Kyle Pickens and receiver Toby Willis are now familiar names.
VHS should be good up front and feature talented receivers. Woods caught passes for 894 yards for 11 touchdowns.
2. DEPTH: East said he has a lot of talented freshmen ready to play along with his junior and senior classes.
Upper classmen are expected to add leadership that’s been lacking in recent years.
Hayden Jones moves from receiver to quarterback and fill in for the loss of Hayden Hutchison.
3. CONFERENCE: Ranked 11th in the Class 3A in preseason, Verdigris should give four-time district champion Berryhill competition for another title.
East said remaining healthy is the secret, along with rolling into district games “playing the way we should.’’
The team is confident and players ‘’know what they want to do.’’
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. AUSTIN WOODS: A preseason all-state selection, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound lineman has committed to Arkansas State, turning down offers from 12 other schools.
At defensive end, Woods had 44 tackles, nine for losses, and five sacks last season. He’s a ‘’big guy who moves well and is very aggressive,’’ according to East.
2. SLOAN ROLLER: Also a preseason all-state choice at linebacker, Roller led the Cardinals with 142 tackles, nine for loss, and five sacks a year ago.
“He’s one of those kids who makes plays all over the field,’’ East said. Roller moved in from Bixby two years ago and is a standout in both baseball and football.
3. TOBY WILLIS: A wide receiver, Willis was the No. 1 pass catcher for the Cardinals as a junior with 894 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Willis ran for an 82-yard kickoff touchdown against Berryhill on Senior Night.
“He runs great routes and fights for the ball,’’ East said. “He’s another one who could play football or baseball somewhere.’’
4. EVAN RAINES: A 6-3, 255-pound junior defensive tackles, Raines piled up 65 tackles, 11 for losses, and seven sacks last season.
Raines is said to be a quarterback headhunter.
“People can’t block him,’’ East said. Ty Moore is a two-way player at linebacker and defensive end “who makes plays all over the field.’’
DISTRICT 3A-4 PREVIEW
Berryhill is once again favored to win a conference championship, but Verdigris should be the team to step in if the Chiefs falter.
Berryhill has gone 34-3 the last three seasons, including 11-1 a year ago after reaching the 3A second round.
“They’ve won the district four years in a row, so you have to go through them to win it,’’ East said. “We didn’t play well against them last year, but I think we have a good shot to win it (the district) if we stay healthy. That’s our goal, that’s what we’re trying to do.’’
GLENN HIBDON’S DISTRICT 3A-4 PREDICTIONS
3. Cascia Hall
7. Locust Grove