CRESCENT, Okla. — J.L. Fisher might have shed a tear or two at the Crescent High School graduation ceremonies last May.
Fisher saw all but three of his starters walk through the procession line, including quarterback Hunter Bowers, who threw for more than 3,400 yards and 44 touchdowns over the past two seasons and ran for another 1,800 yards and 37 touchdowns.
“He’s going to be hard to replace,’’ said Fisher of Bowers, who will be a preferred walk-on at Oklahoma State.
That class had a record of 36-14 over their four-year careers, including three playoff trips. The Tigers were 14-1 and the Class A state runner-up in 2017.
“It’s like starting all over again,’’ Fisher said. “We’re going to be very young. We don’t have too many players with many reps under their belt.’’
Fisher compares the challenge to 2014 when Crescent went 0-10 in similar circumstances. While that was a learning season, it set the foundation for playoff campaigns of 7-5, 10-3 and 14-1.
“It’s a lot like that season,’’ Fisher said. “These kids will have to be ready to be thrown into the fire whether they are ready for it or not. We know at a small school you are going to go through years like this. The good thing is we have done it before. We know how to handle it. We can throw that out to the kids. It’s not like we haven’t done it before and can’t rebound from it. We’ll do what we do best.’’
Twenty of Crescent’s 25 players will be freshmen and sophomores.
“Our numbers are down, but the kids have been showing up and putting the work in,’’ Fisher. “This is a good group. They play well together and are very coachable. They are ready to absorb everything that will be thrown at them.’’
Bowers’ graduation will cause a major shift in the Tigers’ offense. The strong-armed Bowers is being replaced by 5-foot-5, 125-pounder junior Hunter Wilmeth, who was a slot receiver last season.
“If you had to use a word to describe him, it would be escapability,’’ Fisher said. “He has a lot of escapability. He will go through some growing pains with a young offensive line, but he can sense pressure and get away from it.
“He’s not big, but he’s hard to tackle. He can get away from people quickly and throw the ball. He’s not going to throw deep like Hunter did, but we can throw a lot of quick stuff. We’ll use him in the running game differently than Hunter. We’ll do a lot more misdirection with him.’’
Wilmeth will double at safety on defense.
Dominic Descher, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound junior, is back at both running back and linebacker. He rushed for more than 700 yards last season and was in on 60 tackles.
“We won’t have a power game like we did last season,’’ Fisher said. “He will have to adjust, but he’s a good, tough kid and a good, strong runner.’’
Trent Fisher, the coach’s son, has been moved from left tackle to tight end. The 215-pound senior had 98 tackles last season from his starting defensive end spot.
“He will give us a big (6-foot-3) target,’’ Coach Fisher said. “Being a coach’s son, he’s been around the game for a long time and knows what he’s doing. He will be more of a possession receiver, which will fit our game. He will be a big threat when we need any kind of short yardage.’’
Reese Brown, a 5-11, 240-pound junior, is the team’s most experienced interior lineman. While he didn’t start, he did see significant playing time.
“He’s one of the few kids with any kind of experience there,’’ Fisher said. “He will have to be the leader there. We’re hanging our hat on him to lead the line through the growing pains.’’
The Tigers averaged 31.1 points per game last season, while allowing 20.1. Fisher said the defense will have a “little bit of speed, but will be unproven.’’
Crescent failed to reach the playoffs last season, going 5-5 overall and 4-4 in District A-3.
Fisher said being “in the toughest district in the state’’ increases the challenge of being a young team.
“It is what it is,’’ he said. “It’s not a good combination being young and inexperienced in a district like this. Our kids will be working to get better each week and not worry about the opponent. That’s what we did the last time (in 2014). We didn’t worry about the opponent ... just getting better. It paid off. We will use the same approach this year.’’
Crescent opens the season at Woodland on Aug. 30 and hosts Morrison on Sept. 6. The Tigers will have seven instead of eight district games this season after Wellston decided to drop down a class to be an 8-man independent. Crescent beat winless Wellston, 62-0 last season.