MIAMI — Spring football will give the Wardogs a chance to get to know new Miami head coach Zach Gardner and for him to get to know them.
Spring football practice will start Wednesday, May 16, and will be capped by a varsity intersquad scrimmage on Friday, May 25.
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association allows member schools to have 10 two-hour practices over 21 calendar days once spring sports have concluded.
“We’re going to take baby steps and implement things as we go,” said Gardner, who won 99 games over 11 seasons at Afton. “Obviously, with a 50 percent new coaching staff at the varsity level, it’s going to be a lot of new faces and terminology.
“We’re just trying to establish a work ethic and get the kids bought in to the way we are going to run the program.”
Gardner takes over for Andrew Rice, who stepped down after one season to become offensive coordinator at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
This actually is Gardner’s second stint at Miami.
From June 2004 to June 2006, he was an assistant coach in football, wrestling and baseball and an elementary physical education instructor at Wilson and Washington schools.
He also served a spring internship in the MPS in 2004.
Gardner was 99-33 in 11 seasons at Afton, culminating in a Class A state championship.
The Eagles ran the table in the 2017 regular season, going 10-0. Their closest call was a 22-20 win against Rejoice Christian in Week 6.
Afton breezed through the post-season, beating Savanna, 48-7; No. 9 Cashion, 40-14; Minco, 30-6, and Thomas, 52-7 before blasting No. 2 Crescent 44-12 in the championship game at Owasso.
“We are excited about the opportunities and facing the challenges we are going to face,” Gardner said.
Gardner will be offensive coordinator while Adam Teal will coach the offensive line, Pete Overman the wide receivers and Jo Bryson the running backs and tight ends.
Defensively, veteran coach Choo Thomas will be coordinator, Rick Simpson the assistant head coach and Matt LeFay will coach the defensive line.
Gardner hopes to hire one more assistant for the defense and roles on that side of the ball will be shuffled depending on who is added.
“I very grateful for what the Miami administration has done as far as allowing us to make some moves and attract some different guys,” Gardner said. “They understand what it takes to being successful.”
Thomas, who has taught in Kansas this school year, has a vast amount of football knowledge.
Teal was a member of Gardner’s state championship staff at Afton.
Miami’s summer program will include the Summer Pride program, which begins Monday, June 4.
A middle school football camp will be held June 4 and Tuesday, June 5.
Varsity camps include the NEO team camp on June 7-8 and the offensive-defensive line camp at Pittsburg State on June 12.
A speed camp for players who will be in the first through sixth grades will start June 11.
The Wardogs will travel to Missouri Southern State University on June 18 and 25 and July 9 for a varsity-passing league.
The highlight of the summer will be a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the Shootout of the South, a 7-on-7 football tournament that drew elite programs from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas in 2017.
Gardner took Afton to the tournament eight straight years
The top four teams qualify for the 7on7U National Championship in Washington, D.C.
“We are going to have our hands full,” Gardner said. “We will see a handful of Division I players. It will be a good bonding experience.”
Preseason practice starts Monday, Aug. 6, and the first day with pads will be Friday, Aug. 10.
Miami will host Locust Grove, Kellyville and Dewey in a four-way scrimmage on Aug. 17 then travels to Claremore Sequoyah Friday, Aug. 24.
The season opens Friday, Aug. 31 at home with Jay.
Offensively, Gardner knows what he likes, but “we also have to have the kids that fit that mold, too. We have to be flexible as far as what we are going to do scheme-wise as well.”