Brad Gilbert was ecstatic as Tahlequah closed its first week of football spring practices Friday afternoon at a sun-soaked Doc Wadley Stadium.
The Tigers’ head coach knows his team has a high ceiling going into the 2019 season, and he told his players so as they huddled together before departing.
“I think our ceiling is as high as they want it to be,” Gilbert said. “It’s all up to them in the work they do going forward the next two to three months and leading into the season. I think we have a lot of pieces in place, but the commitment over the next two to three months will determine how high that ceiling is.”
With a good number of starters and key contributors back from a 9-2 team, it’s easy to see why there’s a lot of early excitement for the Tigers.
“Just the excitement of the players,” Gilbert said. “I think they’re as excited as we’ve had as a group when it comes to spring football. They’re really excited about what we’re doing and about the upcoming season, so we’ve got to make sure we channel that excitement in the right direction. It's just a really good group of guys."
With the returning pieces in place, the Tigers have been able to hit the ground running since day one on Monday.
Gilbert spoke about retention.
“Retention, and what I mean by that is the knowledge base of what we do on both sides of the ball has been retained really well by the veteran players,” he said. “We’re not having to start as elementary as we’ve had to in the past. We’ve been really able to throw a lot of things at them in a short time. That’s really exciting for me and the coaching staff because they’ve been able to retain all that information from the fall, and that’s going to allow us to progress at a faster rate.”
Quarterback Tate Christian, running backs Dae Dae Leathers and Carson Ferguson, receivers Simeon Armstrong, Jaxon Jones, Kobey Baker and Trae Patrick, and offensive linemen Blake Corn and Hayden Napier provide that know-how on offense.
On the defensive side, it’s Corn at defensive end, Dylan Parish at linebacker, and defensive backs Qua’shon Leathers, Dae Dae Leathers, Baker and Patrick.
Those names form a nucleus that knows how to win football games. It’s a group that provides the expertise that Gilbert talked about.
Gilbert also pinpointed the development of Qua’shon Leathers from his free safety position, Armstrong, and linebacker/fullback Angel Quezada following the first week.
“A guy that came on late last year and has had a really good offseason is Qua’shon Leathers at free safety,” Gilbert said. “He’s where we thought he would be and has a chance to be really good. He started the last three games last season and came on really strong. I see his production only going up and he goes about things the right way.
“Another guy that’s had a really good spring is Simeon Armstrong at receiver. He’s done some really good things, which has been good to see.
“Angel Quezada is playing a couple of positions [inside linebacker and fullback] and he’s really playing well early in the spring and has a good grasp of what we’re trying to do and wanting to do. I think he’s going to be one of those guys that allows us to be successful.”
Quezada plays into a role that defines the program that Gilbert has built in his seven years.
“We have those kind of guys every year,” Gilbert said. “That’s what our program is built upon. It isn’t built on these marquee names that you hear week in and week out. It’s all the guys that come to work and do what they’re asked to do as well as they can, which allows us to be successful. If I would say Tahlequah football, I think that’s who we are. We have a lot of those kids.”
The Tigers will be back on the field Monday and close spring practice on Friday, May 24 with a visit to the Claremore Team Camp.