District 5A-4 players to watch
* Baron Hope (Claremore, LB, 6-2, 210, Jr.) - With Jordan Cunningham now at Northeastern State, Hope takes on the task of an always-stout Zebra defense. Hope is more than qualified after racking up easily 140 tackles as a sophomore in 2012.
* T.J. Johnson (Collinsville, WR, 6-1, 190, Sr.) - Perhaps one of the better pass-catchers in all of Class 5A, not just District 5A-3. As quarterback Zane McElroy’s favorite target in 2012, Johnson had close to 1,000 yards receiving.
* Tre’von Cherry (East Central, QB, 6-0, 185, Jr.) - Stanvon Taylor stole the spotlight for the Cardinals in 2012, but Cherry still did his part, passing for 25 touchdowns and nearly 2,300 yards. Don’t be surprised if his rushing numbers among the best of any quarterback in 5A this year.
* D’Angelo Brewer (Central, QB, 5-9, 195, Sr.) - The fun-sized signal caller for the Braves might now overwhelm opponents with his arm — only 300 yards passing in 2012 — but threat he posses with his legs will open up avenues in the air this year. Brewer was only 21 rushing yards away from the 1,000-yard mark in 2012, and he’ll likely be at that threshold again this season — only with more passing yards, too.
* Brandon Conrad (Tahlequah, RB, 6-0, 170, Sr.) - Playing second fiddle to Mason McMillan in 2012, Conrad possesses the ability to make any defense fearful once he touches the ball. If the Tigers can get him the ball in open space and provide just enough blocks, Conrad could easily be a 700-yard rusher and 500-yard receiver.
District 5A-4 power rankings
1. Claremore - Sure the Zebras have to find replacements for running back Jordan Cunningham and quarterback Matt Whatley, but the defensive unit should be solid enough to make a run at the district title. Plus, Claremore’s schedule is favorable with East Central and Coweta both traveling to Claremore to play at Lantow Field. Advantage, Zebras.
2. East Central - It was the Stanvon Taylor Show for the Cardinals in 2012, but former standout is now at Oklahoma trying to earn a roster spot as a freshman. Running back William Goree is also gone. That means the focus shifts to quarterback Tre’Von Cherry. The versatile playmaker can do virtually anything, but he’ll have to stay healthy while carrying the Cardinals on his back.
3. Coweta - Losing Hayden Holmes, Jakeem Johnson and Hunter Raspberry hurts. All three were integral parts of the Tigers making the playoffs last season. It’s now up to quarterback Ryan Fitzsimmons, wide receiver Caleb Wheeler and linebacker Tristan Butcher to be the next formidable trio that keeps Coweta’s playoffs hopes afloat.
4. Collinsville - The Cardinals have wide receiver T.J. Johnson, which is good enough to keep them in the playoff hunt all year. He’s also a standout cornerback, so the field is pretty much cut in half for opposing offenses. However, a revamped front seven on defense, quarterback Zane McElroy out with an injury and question marks at running back make Collinsville vulnerable of missing the playoffs.
5. Tahlequah - Five through seven in this district is a toss-up. However, Tahlequah gets Pryor and Central at home, so advantage, Tigers. It’s no secret that Tahlequah has gone more than a decade without any kind of sustained success, but the there are talented pieces in place for the Tigers in 2013. A clean bill of health and winning games at home could go a long way to Tahlequah making a push for a postseason spot.
6. Central - The Braves only won two games last season, and that was with D’Angelo Brewer at quarterback and in the secondary. So anything more than a smattering of victories would be a stretch.
7. Pryor - The loss of Carson Smallwood, who seemed to rush for at least 100 yards every game last season, is going to hurt. The Tigers’ offense hinged largely on what Smallwood did last year, and in 2013 it’ll be up to quarterback Brennon Barth to fill the void.
8. Grove - The Ridgerunners return nine starters on defense. However, it’s a defense that allowed close to 40 points a game last season. More maturity might be a good thing, but without any kind of improvement, it could be another long year on the shores of Grand Lake.