Aug. 10—It's a new deal, but not really new.
When it comes to focusing on the defensive side of the football, Hilldale head coach David Blevins has had his moments in what has largely been a career focused on the offensive side and particularly up front, until he became the Hornets' lead guy four seasons ago.
But due to Earnie Ragland's departure this summer to take a similar position at Adair, Blevins has had to add defensive coordinator to his duties after a couple of interviews didn't materialize in a replacement.
"At Locust Grove I was offensive coordinator and offensive line coach but we only had five coaches so I also coached defensive backs one year, defensive line one year and outside linebackers one year and also JV defense. My fifth year I called offense and defense for the ninth grade team and we went 7-1," he said.
At the time of team camp in pads early this summer, the change hadn't been made — Ragland made known his intentions after Summer Pride started — so it's only been until now that Blevins has been able to focus fully on all 11 together.
"It's brought more energy to me personally speaking," he said. "At first I was a little nervous about it but the more I got to dive into it during the summer and reps in 7 on 7 I was tickled to death to do it,."
He's coaching a unit with a little more unsettled than an offense where nine starters, including the quarterback, running back and all of the offensive line, are back. Erwin Starts will again be offensive coordinator and plugging in on the offensive line is Josh McMillan, over from a year at Warner after multiple years at Muskogee.
Key losses include All-Phoenix Defensive Player of the Year Cason Albin, who finished his football career in the All-State Game two weeks ago, Brayson Lawson at cornerback and Brayden Smith and Michael Oeser at linebackers. Lawson and Smith were All-Phoenix.
Senior outside linebackers Logan Harper and Eric Virgil will be counted on heavily, with Virgil and another senior, Isaac Gonzales, sharing time at one spot. Harper and Virgil have 4.58 and 4.56 40-yard dash speed and are also going at receiver and running back, respectively. Virgil is a third-year starter with 2,800 yards rushing the past two seasons and 50 career touchdowns.
They'll be the pressure guys off the edge, whereas last year, it came from Albin, who set a school record for sacks.
"We'll be more base in our three-man front and more gap-sound than we've been," said Blevins. "We blitzed quite a bit the past couple years and leaned on Cason a lot last year. We don't have that guy (up front)."
Evan Keefe, an offensive line commit to Air Force, will go two ways, with fellow senior Wyatt Branscum on the opposite side with senior Kayden Shoals at nose.
Mason Pickering, a sophomore, and senior Aden Jenkins are set at inside linebacker, although Virgil may also see some action there due to an increase of 20 pounds to 185. He ended the 2021 season at 165.
"He worked a lot at an outside spot in the spring but he's heavier this year and a natural inside guy and not scared to hit anybody," Blevins said.
Gonzales moving to linebacker creates a spot at safety for Alonzo Perez, who will be there with three-year regular Jace Walker, a senior. Lamarion Burton and Isaiah Patterson, both seniors, figure in at the corners, though depth comes from sophomore Hayden Pickering and Brady Scott, a freshman who Blevins called "the fastest kid on our team," running a hand-held 4.49.
"That's flying for a freshman," Blevins said. "He's someone you'll be hearing about a lot over the next four years."
The new duties has Blevins looking at more film, and while figuring out how to beat four-time district champion Poteau has been at the top of the agenda for everyone in 4A-4, it can't be something that you over focus on, given the wing-T scheme.
"It certainly draws your attention because they run it so well, but you can't focus on a benchmark that you really do see one time a year with nine other spread formations to prepare for," Blevins said. "But our focus will be stopping the run no matter who we play and we want to fly to the ball. If we have great pursuit, we'll be fine."
He just won't know that for sure as the new guy in charge of the unit for a few days.
"I want kids who will come hit you and we haven't got pads on yet," he said.
That comes at week's end when shirts and shorts are abandoned for pads.