BLUEJACKET — Ronnie Simmons is excited about the prospects for his Bluejacket Chieftains, and he should be.
He’s got 19 players participating in preseason drills and every starter on both sides of the football are back.
Unfortunately, the Chieftains are in a district that includes Class C powers Cherokee, Deer Creek-Lamont and Timberlake.
“It will be a tough district for us, but we feel we’re one of the better teams,” Simmons said. “We have already played Cherokee this summer and know how good they are. We feel we could fall in there anywhere. We have the kids as long as we stay healthy.”
The Chieftains were 6-4 in 2011, just missing out on the fourth and final playoff spot in District C-3.
“We’re going to be strong,” Simmons said. “We looked good when we went to Garber (for a team camp in the summer). The guys are working hard.”
Simmons has switched up the offense to take advantage of the skill players.
“We’re stacked on the skill side of the ball,” he said. “We’re a little weak on the line with younger kids. Our whole backfield is back.”
T.K. Francis is back at quarterback while Dylan Anderson returns at tailback.
Francis completed 56 of 83 passes for 917 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also rushed for 143 yards and two scores.
Anderson had 1,581 yards on 134 carries. He scored 17 times. Anderson also had 17 receptions for 305 yards and three scores.
Chalin Rogers has been moved to fullback, allowing the Chieftains to run some Pistol formations.
“We’ll stretch the field and see if they can match up with our skill kids,” Simmons said.
The key to success will be execution, Simmons said.
“If we take care of the ball and don’t commit turnovers and have penalties, we will be fine,” he said. “Our first four games we face No 6 Class B Welch. Week 2 we play No. 2 Cherokee. Week 3 we play Cornerstone from Joplin, and they were pretty good last year, then Week 4 we play Deer Creek and I am sure they will come in ranked No. 3.
“We will be battle tested our first four games.”
Because of a lack of experience up front, and an abundance of skill players, Simmons has toyed with the idea of alternating Francis with Mason Tharp at center and Charlie Reeves at quarterback.
“We have several kids who we can throw the ball to and we have several guys who can throw it,” Simmons said.
“Our skill on our line will be some of our skill kids,“ he said. “Right now we have two freshmen playing guard but we can go with a senior in Chase (Tharp) - and he can play anywhere on the field. We can move him around. We have always used him at fullback, but we can use him as an F guard. He’s a puller. He can get out in the flats and blocks just like a fullback.”
Chalin Rogers will be the slot back with Aron Birdsell the split end. Dylan Collins will be the tight end.
While Simmons is handling the offense, new assistant coach Scott Renken is the defensive coordinator.
Renken, who doubles as boys’ basketball coach at Bluejacket, has had experience coaching eight-man football at Temple and Pond Creek-Hunter.
He’s switched the defense over to a 3-2.
Anderson and Chase Tharp spearhead the defense.
Anderson had a team-high 108 stops, including 53 tackles. He also had four interceptions.
Tharp logged 33 tackles and 70 assists. He caused three fumbles and recovered three.
“Francis and Chase are in the mix and Pete McVay looks good in practice,” Renken said. “Chalin might be our most reliable right now. He’s all over the place.”
Rogers was in on 95 tackles while recovering a fumble. He also had a sack.
Andrade is expected to be the Chieftains’ nose guard.
“We do have a lot of experience coming back and we have some skill kids that can get the job done,” Simmons said. “Teams will have trouble matching up with us. They may be bigger than we are up front, but we have one of the best running backs in the state in eight-man football. Reeves is a threat every time he gets the ball.”