Tahlequah put its best foot forward as it completed the spring portion of its football offseason Thursday at the Claremore Team Camp.
Tigers’ head coach Brad Gilbert saw a lot of things he liked.
“We walked away feeling good where we’re at,” said Gilbert, whose team will now be off until June 10. “We saw a lot of execution by guys that haven’t really been able to go out there and compete at that level yet. We thought they handled themselves well for the first time against good quality competition. That’s the important thing, just the growth of the guys that haven’t played as much in the past year or two.”
Facing off against someone other than themselves in game-type situations was the biggest benefit. Wagoner, Coweta and host Claremore were the opposing teams.
“These guys get excited for team camp because we get to compete against someone that’s wearing a different color than what we’ve been used to,” Gilbert said. “Anytime you get to go against someone else it always gets you excited, and it allows us to see where we’re at against competition that we’ll see next year. We felt good about our performance and we’re excited about where we’re at right now.”
The Tigers have a lot of knowns on offense, especially at the skill positions, but Gilbert talked about the play of his offensive line, a position group that has some holes to fill. He came away pleased, and Brandon Jackson, Tristan Walters, Kooper McAlvain and Joe Hendrix are some of linemen that he pinpointed.
“Our offensive line play in general was solid,” he said. “We were able to run the ball pretty well, and then our pass protection was really good. They protected extremely well and Tate [Christian] did a good job of getting rid of the ball quickly.
“Brandon did a good job at guard for us, and Tristan at tackle were two guys that did some really good things. Kooper played at tackle and he did some good stuff. Joe started three games for us last year at center and he did a really good job for us [Thursday]. Justin Hitchcock is another tackle. We’ve got some guys that aren’t where we need them to be, but we think we’re a little ahead of where we thought we would be.”
Gilbert was also pleased with a position group that he feels is as deep as he’s ever had and already includes veterans such as Jaxon Jones, Kobey Baker and Trae Patrick.
“We got to see some guys that we haven’t seen on Friday nights compete at the receiver position in Simeon Armstrong, Tristan King, and Bradley Pruitt was a lot more involved. So there’s some guys that we got out there that we need to see what they can do. This group is the deepest I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Running to the football is something that Tahlequah prides itself in on the defensive side, and Thursday was no different. Defensive linemen Blake Corn and Hayden Napier, linebackers Dylan Parish, Angel Quezada, Shaw Thornton, Tristan King and Carson Ferguson, and defensive backs Qua’shon Leathers and Kobey Baker are players Gilbert highlighted.
“Defense played at a high level, they really did,” Gilbert said. “They run to the ball so well. Dylan Parish is a leader within that group and he plays the linebacker position as good as we’ve had. Blake and Hayden, returning up front, they did a lot of great things. Angel Quezada is doing a really good job for us and he got some quality reps last year. Shaw Thornton, Tristan King and Carson Ferguson each had a good day for us as linebackers. On the back end, Qua’shon continues to improve, and Kobey Baker are two guys that are going to play at a high level.”
The Tigers will next participate at the Fort Gibson Passing League that starts on June 11. Gilbert wants to continue to see development and growth.
“We don’t need to be satisfied with who we are and where we’re at,” he said. “I don’t think we will be. I think we’ll continue to work hard and improve.”