Little Axe looking to grow behind second-year starting QB Collin Gibson
In 2018, the Little Axe Indians moved down from 3A to District 7 of 2A, which is arguably one of the most difficult districts in all of Oklahoma high school football. After a season mired by injuries and coupled with a tough schedule, the Indians fell short of the playoffs with a 4-6 record.
“In the first half of the season, we had some things that didn’t necessarily go our way,” head coach Matt Lane said. “We had some injuries and other things that were beyond our control that didn’t go right for us. I liked what I saw out of our guys the second half of the season because they never quit.”
The 2019 schedule won’t get any easier as the Indians will have district foes Lexington, Washington and Millwood coming off of playoff bids last season.
Leading the offense for the second year will be junior quarterback Collin Gibson (6’0, 165). In addition to being the team’s leading passer a year ago, Gibson also led the team in rushing. While Lane says Gibson has a chance to be truly special, the part of his game his coach would like to see grow is his confidence and becoming more of a team leader.
“You couldn’t really ask for a better job than what he (Gibson) did for us last year,” Lane said. “He kind of deferred to other guys since he was just a sophomore last year, but since those guys have graduated, you’ve seen him kind of take the initiative and leadership role we want to see him take.”
The running game will be ever important for the up-tempo rushing attack Lane has established. The backfield is a group of playmakers with junior Corey Shackleford (5’8, 165), junior Micah Helie (5’6, 140), senior Caeden Guthary (5’11, 185). The group also includes sophomore Kody Dellinger (6’0, 175), who is a transfer from Midwest City.
Lane says Shackleford has a chance to be an impact player for the offense this year.
“He was averaging over eight yards per carry,” Lane said. “He’s a dynamic kid, and he didn’t get to play in three games last year, so we are hoping to see him on the field all season. He’s the kind of kid that when he touches the ball, you hold your breath because he can turn a five-yard loss into a 15-yard gain.”
While the offense really emphasizes the run game, Lane says the receiving corps is as strong as it’s ever been. Junior Andrew Hanna (5’10, 165) and senior Travis Loving (6’5, 170) will be the top wideouts for the Indians’ offense.
Clearing the way for the Indians’ run-attack will be three seniors: center Ethan Nusser (5’8, 220), guard Weston Early (5’11, 300) and tackle Johnathan Price (6’2, 215). The other side of the offensive line is likely to be filled out by junior Tristan Castrillo (5’10, 240) and sophomore Kameron Farris (5’10, 220).
“I’m really excited about our offensive line and that really starts with the right side, where we have our seniors,” Lane said. “I would honestly put that right side of the line against anyone else’s in the state. It’s that good.”
The Indians’ defensive scheme is shifting to a 3-3-5-stack style, and Lane hopes it helps keep his line fresh.
“We don’t have a ton of depth on the defensive line, but the depth we do have is very athletic,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is take advantage of our more athletic kids and also be able to help keep our depth from being an issue.”
Typical of smaller schools, Little Axe has many of their offensive starters playing defense as well. Weston Early, Castrillo, Guthary and Price will all do so on the line and in the linebacker group. Senior defensive end Lucas Buchanan (6’0, 190) is also one of the game changers for the defensive line.
“We are really excited about the line and the linebackers, but we really like the 3-3-5 style with the kids we have coming back,” Lane said. “We have a chance to really dominate and keep offenses guessing with our blitz packages.”
The secondary, or as they like to refer to themselves, “L.A.P.D.: Little Axe Pass Defense”, is set to be experienced after an unfortunate run of injuries last season. Those injuries allowed Shackleford, Hanna, Helie, junior David Benge (5’8, 140) and junior Jorge Lopez (5’7, 190) to play last year. All of them are set to start going into 2019.
Little Axe opens the season on the road Sept. 6 against Bridge Creek and starts district play at Lexington on Sept. 27.– BSM