Editors note: Altus Times sports editor Mark Glenn talked with Altus High Head Football Coach Chad Stone, who reviewed the 2013 season and look toward the 2014 season. Here is how that interview went.
Q: Three straight years of 3-7. Is that getting old?
A: I don’t want to sound like a broken record but I didn’t expect it. I thought we had the potential to be better. The struggle is if the kids believe we are a good football team. And do they have enough confidence early to not go down the same path the previous two years. I was checking out Vernon’s bracket and they were going to be at least looks like two rounds in the Texas state playoffs. Lawton Eisenhower was right on the brink of earning a 6A playoff berth and was extremely competitive in their district. And of course Lawton (Lawton High) is the pride of the west side of the state. When you go out and play those teams bang, bang, bang, any confidence that you had after that first scrimmage kind of goes out the window.
Q: So you felt like the team would be better?
A: I think so. I think if we had the opportunity to be more competitive in two or three of those non conference games, that would help us. It was a couple of years before I got here they were in the playoffs (2009). The last time they won a playoff game was in 2001. When a program is kind of down like that even if the kids are having success at the lower levels when they get to the high school, there mind set is that they wonder whether or not they are going to fit in, whether they are going to be successful, whether they are going down the same road. Up until this year we played the toughest non conference schedule that you can. There’s advantages to that. I think when your good and competitive year in and year out it makes you battle tested going into the district. When you try to build confidence it’s not.
Q:Let’s talk about the non-district schedule for the next year. You’re dropping Lawton Eisenhower and Lawton High for Anadarko and Elk City. What was thought process in doing that?
A: The initial plan we had Cache set up to take that second game. It was going to be the Highway 62 battle of the Bulldogs with a traveling trophy. Their second game of the season they play Sante Fe South. I know that can’t be a good gate for them. I guess it’s a game they feel the same as we do that they will win that one. So they wouldn’t schedule us. I was looking down the barre ll at Clinton and Anadarko. Both of those are prominent big time 4A schools as of right now. At the same time you have to feel you are going to be more competitive with one of them than your going to be with Lawton. We went ahead and chose Anadarko. They are undefeated right now, ranked number one in 4A. They are going to be losing a little bit next year. I think we have had difficulty competing up front with our linemen. When I first got here, we averaged under 200 pounds per offensive linemen. I think that our line is blossoming, we’re getting some bigger kids into our program. and turning those guys into linemen. The difference between a big time 6A school like Lawton and a big time 4A school up is up front. I think we’re going to be more able to compete with Anadarko up front than with Lawton. When we host Elk City in anything, it’s a good gate for us. Lawton hasn’t been bringing very many fans for the last several years. It’s going to help out our overall program, budget wise to have those two schools, And obviously we’re at a state as a program we need some early confidence going into district play. We don’t need to be battle tested necessarily. I think having Anadarko, they are going to be as good as any 5A team we are going to face. So we are going to get our battle test right there. Hopefully those other two schools we can build some confidence.
Q: Lets talk about the season. Offensively I think you got better. Would you agree?
A: I would definitely agree with that. The decision to move out of the gun to a split back veer which is the base of where we were going with the evolution of the veer to the gun. We just took a step back from that formation wise. When we did that it suited our personnel a little bit bet. The line didn’t have to sustain blocks quite as long. We didn’t have that 4.4 kid. When I first got the job you go to the state track meet and you see these two sophomores Diquon Woodhouse and Maurice Chandler running you think man we have some burners. DeMaurie Randle was another one. Who would have known that one of those guys would move away and both the other ones would have torn ACLs over the next couple of years. As of right now we have some special backs playing into their strengths, getting back under center playing more smash mouth better suited our kids.
Q: A large part of the reason you were better offensively was Taven Birdow. He broke both the single game single season rushing records. He’s a special player?
A: He is. He has great vision. I don’t know that I have had a sophomore that has the type of vision that he has. At the same time we talked about this with the kids, all of those records when those offensive linemen come back with their kids 20 years from now they can see that in the record book. They know they are responsible for that just as much. I think we were much improved up front this year and the backs were blocking hard for each other. Wide receivers did a good job. I think the only run we broke last year that was over 40 yards was against an Oklahoma City school. We broke at 35 or 40 yarder in every single game we were in. That speaks to a couple of different things. But it speaks to the receivers blocking well down field.
Q: Let’s look at the other side of the ball. You have to get better defensively?
A: We do. It has to be a point of emphasis. We try to make it a point of emphasis by starting off practice with defense. Defense first, because it’s the first priority. We had a couple of injuries early on up front with Albert Anguiano and Nathan Buddenhagen and that hampered us a little bit. But the other part came with the inexperience. Having to move Matthew Hawkins and Damon Welch from being a linebacker. Avery Reuter hadn’t played since he was a freshman, Shannon Ybarra is a sophomore, Mikeal Abuan and Taven Birdow both sophomores. We had a couple injury problems with the inside linebackers so you ask a sophomore Baylor Feller to come in quite a bit and play there. There was bad combination of youth and inexperience that started off the season pretty bad for us as far as defense is concerned. As the season wore on I thought they got better. The defense played pretty well against Del City. The offense that night didn’t put them in very good shape and the special teams were suspect. We have to come together and have the whole package. The offense, defense and special teams come together at once. I think once the kids experience that a couple of times, they are going to be more focus on making that happen on a regular basis.
Q: I look back at the Duncan which was a critical game. You have to think you could have won that game. Duncan gets beat by Chickasha, a team you beat and Chickasha goes to the playoffs. That had to be a disappointing loss?
I was checking how many other 5A teams who are not in the playoffs but beat a playoff team. As far as my calculations are concerned we are the only team to do that. It was the only time we had been shut down offensively all year long. Of course it was homecoming week. You hate to throw any excuses out there. Watching how our homecoming week goes, there is a lot of energy that goes into it. The fluff aspects of homecoming, the different nightly events, man cheer, the tug of war and all of the classes going against each other. We went out and played flat and they looked fatigued. I don’t know that had anything to do with it or not. I hope we are to take a game like maybe Elk City our third game of the year and turn that into homecoming.
Q: Then you look at Ardmore. You lose to them the fourth ranked team in the state by a score of 35-34. You played very well in that game. Do you think that was an indicator of what might have been?
A: I think that is exactly what it was. Their (the players) back was up against the wall completely. They knew they had to win out and get some help (to get into the playoffs). They went out and played with passion. They were focused on the task at hand. If your in one of those games, the one touchdown games throughout the season, your probably a little bit better at handling it. The kids played their hearts out that night. A high powered offense like MacArthur has, they only put up 30 points and that’s our district champ. The kids if they get to a point to where they believe in their ability to compete and the believe in each others ability to compete as a team, then we can be extremely dangerous. It’s been a tough three years as far as coming and trying to change around the culture a little bit. I’m exactly sure whether it was anyone’s fault that the culture was the way that it is. I think there are a lot of schools that are fighting a change in culture as a whole. The me generation, the I generation, there’s a lot kids especially we have had the last two year me guys, I guys. It’s just kind of the culture they are in. It’s kind of the way they were raised. After three years of working very hard, we’re on the verge of having everyone together on the same page.
Q: It seemed to me the team got off to slow start in a lot of games. Do you?
A: I don’t like talking about it because it’s a record you don’t like talking about. There were five games in a row that we started with a turnover in the first two minutes. When your struggling with confidence to boot, then something goes out and happens that early, it takes any wind out of your sail right from the get go. Much these kids credit, I never ever saw them quit in a football game. Even when we had four touchdowns given up by our offense and another one given up by the special teams in the Del City game at the end the kids were still playing hard. They went down and scored a late touchdown. They didn’t quit at any point during the season. At the same time those continued slow starts, we are going to have to find a way to cut that out.
Q: Let’s look at next year. Everybody loves to talk about the quarterback more than any other position on the team. Tanner Cross had his good moments. Jayden Benway comes on an had good games against Ardmore and Capitol Hill. Is the position open?
A: It is open. I have my exit interviews with the kids before they go into different sports. Even when they go to off-season we talk about goals for off season. We talk about our program, things they like to see changed. Because in the end we believe it is about the kids. The kids are going to work harder for something they are invested in. I set down and talked to both Tanner and Jayden. I let them know that this the quarterback position was settled in the pre-season around spring ball. Tanner took most of the reps all summer long in everything we did as far reps with 1’s (first team). I told them this year that the quarterback position is going to be decided on the field. We hope we can raise enough money for our kids to go back up to Mustang and compete in that team camp. It’s a phenomenal thing for the kids. They get tons of reps. I want those guys to earn that position under fire. I think that is going to be the true make of who our quarterback is going to be is how they perform under pressure in game type situations. , when we go to the seven on sevens, when we go to team camp, in our scrimmages. It’s probably going to be a thing going into the Tuesday before the Vernon game we will pick a starter. It will probably be that late. I want them to have an opportunity to win that job on the field. I talked to both of them. Tanner the last three games of the season year before last played cornerback and did a great job. Jayden came on as a freshman and had a couple of interceptions playing the cornerback position. It’s not like the loser of this battle is going to be regulated to the sidelines. I think both of them understood exactly what’s going to be at stake and how to approach that, what their strengths and what their weaknesses are.
Do you anticipate doing any thing different offensively or defensively?
A: There a couple plays that are inside this offense we didn’t quite get to or we didn’t perfect. Obviously I felt pretty good about our our inside veer and our quick pitch. The pop didn’t look as good as it should and there is a couple of option things we need to work on. But the offense will be the same but we will expand it. This will be the second year in this offense and hopefully there is going to be a couple of steps we can take that can make us a little bit more dangerous.
Defensively when I got here we were basing out of a four man front from the stand point we didn’t feel we had the one or two gap nose guard player. If we had a nose guard that could dominate that center, I would be more inclined to go to a three man front. With the kind of hybrid athletes that we have, we don’t have the huge guy, we don’t have the crazy fast guy. We have all these linebacker types. I would feel more comfortable going to something like that if we had that nose guard. I think the added depth we’re going to get with this freshman class that’s coming up mixed with the fact that every offensive starter we have is coming back for next season, we may be able to develop one of those. I was extremely surprised even with run oriented teams that we were able to to hop in a three man front and have some defensive success. You may see us in three man front a little more that almost turns into a five man front depending on how many backs you have in the backfield. You may see a little change as far as that is concerned. Other than that we will pretty much stay the same.
Q: One more question. I’m going out on a limb and say you will be a better football team next season and get into the playoffs. Am I crazy?
A: I don’t think so. We were so close this year. We lose Capitol Hill and Southeast from our district. Capitol Hill is going independent and Southeast is going to the northern district. We get El Reno and Northwest Classen. It’s not necessarily a great trade for us. Your still going to have to go through the same places to get into the playoffs that you had to go through this year. You have to go through Lawton MacArthur, Ardmore, Duncan and Del City. I think a combination of what we have coming back and how focused these kids are going to be to get into the playoffs and what some of these other schools are losing with their seniors, we’re going to have a chance to make some noise next year. I truly believe that.