MIAMI — Miami has won only 21 games in the past nine seasons.
Zach Gardner, who guided Afton to the Class A state championship, hopes to change that.
He realizes it won’t happen over night, but a little success early can go a long way.
“We want to come out and let our kids know that hard work pays off and give ourselves a chance to win,” Gardner said. “We’ve taken baby steps as far as getting the whole thing turned around for the long scheme. Right now, I think success can happen early and if it happens early, it can escalate from there.”
Gardner succeeds Andrew Rice — now offensive coordinator at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
The Wardogs were 1-9 in Rice’s only season.
Miami hasn’t had a winning season since 2008. That’s also the last time the Dogs qualified for post-season play.
The lone win in ’17 was 32-19 against Vinita in Week 9.
Miami’s 2017 schedule included five playoff teams — Wagoner, Tulsa Cascia Hall, Catoosa, Oologah and Hilldale.
Three of those reached the quarterfinals of their respective classifications, Wagoner and Oologah in 4A and Hilldale in 3A.
Things don’t get any easier in 2018 as Bristow, Claremore Sequoyah and Tahlequah Sequoyah have been added to the schedule.
Tahlequah Sequoyah went 10-4 and reached the Class 3A quarterfinals, Bristow was 9-3 and made it to the second round in 3A and Claremore Sequoyah was 7-4 and was eliminated in the first round in 3A post-season play.
Bristow now is a member of District 4A-3, which now includes MHS, Wagoner, Oologah, Catoosa, Grove, Tulsa McLain and Cleveland.
“Those are three programs that have been solid for the last few years,” said Gardner, who was 99-33 in 11 seasons at Afton.
The Wardogs, who mustered only 154.6 yards per game in offense a year ago, will run a one-back offense with Jordon Freeman and Caden Folks sharing time at tailback.
“They are two different styles of runner — the thunder and lightning type situation with those two,” Gardner said. “We are pretty excited about what they bring to the table.”
Folks, a 5-11, 190 pound senior, was the Dogs’ leading rusher in 2017 with 266 yards and one TD in 106 carries.
Freeman is a 5-7, 155-pound senior.
Junior Gavin Payton will be the triggerman at quarterback.
He completed 51 of 113 pass attempts for 565 yards and three touchdowns in eight games.
He also had 22 carries for 29 yards.
“They had a lot of changes back and forth (between starters), but he knows he’s our guy and that we are going to win and lose with him,” Gardner said. “We need to stand behind him and watch him mature.”
The Dogs will rotate receivers in and out.
Junior slot Damion Burris caught 50 passes for 630 yards and three scores.
Outside receivers will be sophomore Josh Thronebury, senior Zach Cravens, junior Gabe McClary and junior Josh Armstrong, “several kids that that are pretty versatile at the receiver position,” Gardner said.
The guys up front that make everything happen are senior Destry Allen at left tackle, senior Brad Hartman at left guard, sophomore Clay McCormick at center, senior Hunter Hartman at right guard and sophomore Trenton Spunaugle at right tackle.
Defensively, the Hartman brothers will be the ends and McCormick, Spunaugle and Allen will rotate on the interior.
The middle linebackers will be junior Tanner Maple and senior Michael Hayburn, with junior Matt Horn logging significant playing time.
Horn was Miami’s defensive leader last season with 50 solo and 13 assisted tackles.
“He’s undersized (5-9, 170 pounds), but he plays big,” Gardner said. “His mentality is rodeo-type kid and bull riding. He’s not going to back down from anybody.
“We like the way his motor runs.”
Folks and senior Jorge Moreno will line up at the outside linebackers.
The corners will be junior Joseph Armstrong and McClary, with junior Issac Lacy at free safety.
Freshman Christian Reavis also will log significant playing time there.
Gardner has reshaped the coaching staff, adding five new faces.
Newcomers Choo Thomas, Brad Homer, Adam Teal and Zach Henry join veterans Rick Simpson, Matt LeFay, Pete Overman and Joseph Bryson.
Teal and Henry joined Gardner from Afton, Thomas, who has experience on the high school, junior college and NCAA levels, will be defensive coordinator and Homer has returned home.
The defensive back coach, Homer is a 1993 graduate of MHS.
Teal will coach the offensive line and Henry will be an offensive assistant.
Simpson is assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and inside linebacker coach while LeFay works with the defensive line, Overman the wide receivers and Bryson the running backs.