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Tigers looking to build off playoff appearance with deeper run in 2019

Proud but not satisfied was said a lot around Norman High this offseason. After the Tigers made an incredible run in the final weeks of the regular season to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012, NHS can certainly smile about what they accomplished in 2018.

But head coach Rocky Martin knows his team is capable of more than a 3-point loss on the road to Owasso in the first round.

“That’s how we’ve approached the offseason,” said Martin. “We’re really proud of the accomplishments we had last season, but at the same time, we’ve got to build on it. Not only do we want to make the playoffs, but we want a deep run, too. We’ve got some big goals this year.”

The lofty expectations for the Tigers are centered on the return of Cade Horton at quarterback. Going into his third year as the starter, Horton has complete command of the offense and is poised to have the best season a Norman High quarterback has had in a long time.

“I truly believe he’s the best quarterback in the state,” said Martin. “I know there’s a lot of good ones, but not only can he make every throw in the book, he’s really a dual threat guy. He rushed for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He’s just a phenomenal athlete.”

There won’t be many times that NHS doesn’t have the best quarterback on the field. But as good as Horton might be, the play of the offensive line is as equally important. The good news is three starters return, including SMU commit Ben Sparks.

“I’ve told a number of colleges that I think Ben Sparks could play anywhere,” Martin said. “He’s smart enough to play every position. We put him at left tackle because he’s our guy. He’s as physical as I’ve seen and constantly pushing guys back until the whistle blows. You don’t ever have to worry about his effort.”

Across the line from Sparks at right tackle will be returning starter Grant Goodson. A load at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, Goodson will routinely out-size his opponent on the defensive line and make both life for Horton and the run game much easier. Along with the return of Brandon Andrews at guard, NHS feels extremely confident about its talent on the offensive line.

After a late-season emergence at running back that saw him averaging 7.5 yards per carry, Joe Willie is ready to put it all together for a complete season. Though the Tigers have used multiple backs in years past, and may do so again this year, Willie is clearly the focal point of the rushing attack. Combine his abilities with Andrew Young’s at wide receiver, and you’ll find a skill position group that’s not only talented, but experienced in big games. Offensively, NHS has the pieces to be as potent as any other in 6A-1.

Defensively, it all starts with the linebackers. OSU commit Cole Thompson followed Martin from PC West to Norman two years ago in the hopes that both football and school would be better.

“He’s as good as I’ve seen,” said Martin. “He’s the most impressive kid I’ve ever seen in the weight room. The linebacker position is like the quarterback of the defense and that’s what we need Cole to be for us. I think he’ll do it.”

With Tyren Robb and his family moving out of town, Cedric Seals joins Thompson as the other returner at linebacker. Their combo of speed and physicality will be a handful for opposing offenses this season.

Defensive line play could also be a strength for NHS as Braden Woods returns as the anchor. A strong player with exceptional hands, Woods can play several positions, but will most likely find a home at nose guard. He’ll be joined by the Prince brothers, Charles and Willie, who can really run at defensive end. The potential to be both a strong pass rushing and run stuffing line is certainly in the cards for the Tigers.

With so many teams in 6A-1 running the spread offense, it’s imperative to have play makers in the secondary. Safety Jackson Caldwell and cornerback Kevin Randle are back as starters and they bring a wealth of ability. Though it’s fair to say NHS will be somewhat undersized in the secondary, don’t count out their knack for making the big play. If things come together at corner and safety, there’s no reason to doubt the big expectations that follow this team into the season.– BSM

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