By BEN JOHNSON
Players gathered around as Sequoyah head coach Shane Richardson voiced his necessity for permission slips. Sequoyah is heading to Sallisaw during the summer months to partake in an offseason team camp, and Richardson needed his players to go through the proper steps before being allowed to go.
A year ago, Richardson couldn’t have made a similar request.
Now, though, things are back to normal for Sequoyah football.
After being dealt a tough blow by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association for the school’s involvement in paying for summer camps — which was forbidden until recently — Sequoyah was limited during spring practices in 2013, and the Indians could not partake in summer activities or any preseason scrimmages.
Those days are long gone now.
“Last year we were a young team and couldn’t get started until the fall, so there was a lot of unknown,” Richardson said. “This year we’re a young team, but we’re in a lot better position because we can come out and build the foundation. We can do spring ball, we can do summer camps, we can go to passing league; do everything that high schools do every year.”
During spring practice last year, Sequoyah was only allowed to be on the field during normal school hours. That didn’t even allot the Indians an hour on the field each day. They also had to practice in T-shirts and shorts, while keeping the pads packed away.
Sequoyah is still in shorts this year, but the pads have been checked out — and in full use.
“Last year was a strange summer for us, but now we get to come out and do it like everybody else,” Richardson said. “We feel pretty good about where we are, but we know in August, no matter what, we’ll be further ahead than we were last year.”
The Indians will be further ahead of the game because they’ll have the luxury of knowing what they have at tailback. Justin Hooper will be returning for his junior season, after amassing 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns on 222 carries as a sophomore during the 2013 campaign.
Oh, and Hooper will be much stronger when the 2014 season start off.
“Justin had a great offseason,” Richardson said of his 5-foot-6, 175-pound tailback. “He was a powerlifting state champion and he keeps getting stronger. He had over 200 carries last year as a sophomore tailback, and he’s going to be a guy that carries a big part of the load for us again.”
As a team, Sequoyah ran the ball 364 times last season, meaning Hooper logged nearly 61 percent of the Indians’ carries. Zach Parish and the rest of the quarterbacks passed the ball 235 times, and that’s just how Richardson wants it: with the ball in Hooper’s hands and on the ground.
“We still want to be the kind of offense that establishes a physical presence and runs the ball,” Richardson said. “We want to run the ball to set up the pass, and be more efficient in the passing game.”
Speaking of the passing game, Richardson said he hopes to get Hooper more involved when the Indians put the ball in the air. Hooper caught six passes for 11 yards last season, and Richardson hopes that numbers increases once the 2014 season starts.
“We’re wanting to get our tailbacks involved in the passing game with some flare screens and some other types of screens,” said Richardson, whose club went 4-6 and missed the playoffs in Class 3A last season. “We just want to get the ball to some of our better athletes in the open space, where they can make something happen for us.”