Winning hasn’t come easy for Tahlequah football teams over the past decade. Victories have been few and far between.
In fact, the last time Tahlequah finished a season with more wins than losses was 2000, when Cody W. Keys ran for more than a 1,000 yards and Chris Polson was just shy of the 1,000-yard receiving mark as the Tigers polished off a 7-4 campaign.
It’s been quite awhile.
Posting winning records and appearing in the playoffs have been foreign to Tahlequah ever since the United States last hosted any kind of Olympics (see: Salt Lake City in 2002). And don’t think that Tahlequah coaches and players aren’t aware of that as the 2013 season approaches.
“We think we’ve got a group of guys that are willing to turn the corner and get that accomplished,” Tahlequah head coach Brad Gilbert said of posting a winning record. “We’re excited about the opportunity, but we know we won’t be favored in one single game and we’ve got to come ready to play.”
Calculating victories goes beyond the talent that Tahlequah will have in 2013. Some of that talent includes Colton Wright (running back/linebacker), Brandon Conrad (running back/cornerback), David Dick (quarterback), Will Carlile (free safety), Reese Davis (linebacker), Wesley Rivas (defensive tackle) and Charlie Lamons (offensive line).
Gilbert said it will take a combination of those players and the Tigers playing for one another to accelerate the number in Tahlequah’s win column this season.
“They’ve got to be here. Dependability is extremely important,” Gilbert said. “They’ve got to come and play for the guy next to them. That’s our team motto: ‘the man next to me.’ They’ve got to put their selfish ways aside and focus upon what’s best for the football team.”
The Tigers are coming off a 1-9 campaign in 2012, picking up the only victory of the season against Grove in the first week of District 5A-4 play. The most glaring number from last season was 36.2 — as in the average point total of Tahlequah’s opponents.
That’s something the Tigers are out to reverse when Fort Gibson comes calling to open the season on Sept. 6.
“I think we can be really good because we’re bringing mostly everyone back,” Conrad said of Tahlequah’s defense. “Most of the people we lost were on the line. They were big, but everyone else is coming back out of that group.”
One benefit for the Tigers this season will be the schedule. Tahlequah will play six home games — Fort Gibson, Rogers (Ark.), Claremore, Pryor, Central, Collinsville — at Northeastern State’s Doc Wadley Stadium.
“That helps a lot,” Carlile said. “Last year, we only had like four or something like that.”
After a long run of losing seasons, it begs a question: is there pressure building with each passing year to finally record a winning season?
“I think each year you flip the script,” Gilbert said. “But you know, pressure is good. Pressure makes everybody be on their toes, and I enjoy it. That’s part of the job.
“I don’t think we, as a staff or football team, feel any pressure, but we want to put pressure on ourselves, because we know that will allow us to perform at the best of our ability.”
Adding to that point on a broader scope, Wright said: “As a whole, we’re just trying to turn the entire Tahlequah football program around. Coach Gilbert has done a great job...and he’s not just teaching us football; he’s teaching us how to be great men. I think that’s one of the most important parts.”
As for Tahlequah’s biggest key in 2013, it’s tuning out all the outside chatter, Carlile said.
“Everyone has to do their job,” Carlile said, “and just ignoring people outside of games.”