By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
It’s late July, temps are approaching triple digits in Oklahoma, which can only mean one thing: It’s football season. Well, OK, it’s always football season in Oklahoma, but now with local baseball completed, the focus really shifts to the gridiron.
So, while the first official practices aren’t until Aug. 12, let’s whet our appetites a bit and take a quick look at some early prep football storylines to keep an eye on:
• Enid. The Plainsmen came within three points of finishing 5-5 last season instead of 3-7 in Steve Chard’s first year. Heartbreaking late losses to Bartlesville (44-42) and Ponca City (21-20) kept the Plainsmen on the wrong side of .500.
The Plainsmen will be looking to replace their record-setting tailback Seth Handley (East Central), while also breaking in a new signal-caller. Can the Plainsmen put it all together in Chard’s second year and make a run for their first playoff berth since 2009? Enid’s first scrimmage is a six-way Aug. 23 at Bixby. They open the season on the road Sept. 6 at Choctaw, a team they beat 41-12 in last season’s opener.
• Chisholm: The Longhorns had a turnaround season in head coach Joey Reinart’s fourth year. Reinart entered 2012 with a 4-26 mark at CHS and the Longhorns had lost 19 of their last 20 entering last season. But the Longhorns surprised nearly everybody and finished the campaign at 5-5.
Can they keep it going and possibly turn in their first winning season since going 6-5 in 2002? Like Enid, the Longhorns will be looking to a new QB as they will need to replace Tabor Charles, who signed with Redlands to play baseball. CHS opens the season on Sept. 5 at home against Oklahoma Bible Academy.
• Hennessey. Rick Luetjen begins his second season in charge at Hennessey and expectations were a bit high last year with many folks expecting the Eagles to waltz to a third straight 2A state title. The Eagles fell short, falling 43-13 in the quarterfinals to Vian, but still went 10-3.
Hennessey does have the advantage of a returning quarterback in senior Dillon Hatchel, but will have to replace top rusher Levi Hill. Making the playoffs is expected in Hennessey, it’s a question of how far the Eagles will advance. Hennessey opens the season at Christian Heritage.
• Kingfisher. Head coach Jeff Myers, now entering his 10th season, has made the Yellowjackets into perennial playoff contenders. Kingfisher finished as 3A runner-up last season with a heartbreaking 28-21 loss to Blanchard. It was Kingfisher’s third runner-up finish in four years.
The Jackets may be one of the favorites again with game-changing tailback Landon Nault returning for his senior season. Playing in a tough district that includes Heritage Hall and Newkirk, can the Jackets make another return trip to the finals and get the runner-up monkey off their back? Kingfisher opens the season Sept. 6 at Guymon.
• Pond Creek-Hunter. The Panthers would likely be defending state champions if not for Laverne, which handed PC-H its only two losses in 2012, including a 50-19 loss in the Class B title game.
For the Panthers to make it back to the title game in head coach David Kerr’s 15th season, they are going to have to overcome the loss of all-everything Brady Krittenbrink, the 2012 Enid News & Eagle 8-man player of the year, who is heading to NEO and will get a taste of 11-man ball when he appears in the All-State football game Friday in Tulsa.
PC-H opens its season at home Sept. 5 against DCLA.
Need more? Hang in there. We will be previewing all of the area teams in-depth in our upcoming preseason preview magazine.
Plainsmen prep football fans will notice a change in home kickoff times to 7 p.m.
Traditionally, high school football has kicked off at 7:30 p.m., which was fine in the age of grind-it-out football where games were done in about 21⁄2 hours. However, with today’s pass-happy offenses, games frequently go beyond three hours, making for late night affairs.
Enid joins a growing list of 6A schools that are moving their games to 7 p.m. starts, something that also is a bit more media friendly, allowing newspapers to get the games in with a little time to spare at deadline.
Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) posted the new Average Daily Membership (ADM) numbers for 2014 on its website Thursday and it should catch the attention of Enid football fans.
EHS moved up from 19th overall in ADM in 6A to 18th for 2014, increasing from 1,678.19 to 1,730.11, surpassing Bartlesville. But what is really eye-catching is Enid’s increase of 51.92 was not only among one of the larger jumps, it pulled them to within 3.55 of catching No. 16 Putnam City (1,733.66), which gained only 1.71 over its 2013 number.
Why is that significant? With 6A set to split into two divisions starting in 2014, it means Enid is perilously close to moving into the top 16 and back into Division 1 after moving to the newly created Division II in 2014.
With a similar increase in ADM for 2015 it would most assuredly guarantee the Plainsmen will be in Division I and back to competing for a state title against the likes of ADM behemoths Tulsa Union, Broken Arrow, Owasso and Jenks.
Projections from Enid Public Schools officials indicate future jumps in ADM for Enid are very likely, meaning if the Plainsmen want to make a move in the playoffs, they may want to take on the mantra of Larry The Cable Guy and “get ‘er done” by 2014.
Enid’s Trevin Ray made his way to the World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa Thursday where he will compete as part of Team USA’s golf contingent with a good shot at winning a medal.
Ray, the recipient of a life-changing pancreas transplant, earned his spot on Team USA by winning a gold medal in golf this past summer at the Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Mich. He competed there as part of Team Oklahoma and the 25-year-old EHS grad took home an individual gold in his age division (19-29) with a two-day total of 162 (82-80).
The World Transplant Games bring together athletes from around the world who are not just top-tier performers, but organ donor recipients. The Games run through Aug. 4. Ray’s trip was subsidized through donations of supporters.
Sign him up!
Gage McNeill, who played baseball this season for the Enid Rookies and then later in the season moved up to the Enid Minors, made one of the more impressive catches you will see by a fan when he made a leaping one-handed grab of a home run hit by Baltimore Orioles superstar Manny Machado.
McNeill was in the left field stands, taking in the July 23 contest in Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium between the Royals and Orioles when Machado lifted his round-tripper into the stands. McNeill, 15, sprang to his feet from his front-row seat, and reached high to snare the homer in front of several other fans.
His catch was a featured video at MLB.com and can still be viewed by going to www.mlb.com and typing “Machado’s solo homer” in the search field.
No word on whether Royals fans tried to pressure the Orioles cap-wearing McNeill into tossing the souvenir back.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at email@example.com.䛀