Aug. 26—If defense indeed wins championships, the 2023 Ada High football team should be in good shape.
With a ton of returning talent on that side of the football — around eight or nine starters — the Cougars will look to make a deep playoff run this season.
"I think the defense is going to be our backbone. We have a lot of those starters back," said Ada head coach Brad O'Steen, who begins his third year at the helm of the Ada High football program. "We played a lot of kids. Last year when we had our team meeting (at the end of the season), I think there were 15 kids that stood up and started at least one game. We have a lot of experience coming back."
The Cougars won seven games last year, their best win total since going 10-4 in 2017. O'Steen hopes that trend continues this season. The 2022 Ada campaign came to an end after a first-round playoff loss to eventual state champion Wagoner.
"The goal is to go win the district and that sets you up for a couple of games at home," he said.
The Cougar Offense
The biggest question mark on offense for the Cougars is who is ready to step up at the receiver spots. Ada has a grand total of four catches for 21 yards and zero touchdowns coming back. Everyone is gone, including one of the best one-two WR combinations in Class 4A last year — Andrew Hughes and Jack Morris.
"We lost a lot of productivity, statistically 100 percent," O'Steen said.
The leading candidates to catch footballs this season include senior Case Stafford, who had two catches for 17 yards in 2022, junior speedster Deante Lindsay, sophomores Lakievin Richardson and Camariee Richardson and senior Carter Colombe, who is a good athlete but has no varsity football experience.
"Once the lights come on, we'll see who will show up and get after it. We're eager to find out what those guys can do on Friday night," he said.
Slinging the ball around and running the Cougar offense will be quarterbacks Brock Boyles, a sophomore and Kolten Carlock, a junior. Boyles completed 21-of-43 passes for 475 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions while being thrown into the fire after regular starter Carter Freeland missed games due to an injury. Carlock has never attempted a pass in a varsity game.
"We're probably going to have a two-quarterback system. Brock is the starter right now for us. He's been the most consistent and knows the offense real well," O'Steen explained. "But Kolten Carlock is going to play a lot at quarterback this year. He's a Wildcat-type back but he can throw it too. Having that combination is something we're excited about."
Ada also lost the bulk of its ground game to graduation, but O'Steen likes the top three running back candidates. Senior Xander Rhynes, junior Chauncy Conway and sophomore Caron Richardson — who stood out in Ada's scrimmage against Marlow — should all see their fair share of snaps at tailback.
"It looks like we have a three-headed monster developing at running back," O'Steen said. "Xander's the speed guy in that group and Caron and Chauncy bring physicality to that spot. They're both big and strong and athletic and hard to bring down. We feel like we're going to have a lot better running game this year."
O'Steen is ready to see the cream rise to the top with all his young and inexperienced skill position players.
"I'm really excited about our young guys skill-wise. They're just unproven on Friday night. We just have to keep developing those guys and they have to show up on Friday nights and go get after it," he said. "We have some good athletes back there we just have to see what they're going to do under the lights on Friday nights.
It's not just the talent of his skill guys that has O'Steen confidence. The Ada offensive line is probably the most experienced unit on that side of the ball.
"We don't start any seniors right now, but we bring back a lot of experience in our offensive line," he said.
Those returners include the junior trio Makir Sanusi, Isaiah Hayden and Kale Fuller and much-improved sophomore Dawson Matthews.
"Some of them have 11 starts under their belt or 15 starts under their belt," O'Steen said. "We've always said you can't run a dollar back through a dime hole."
Senior tight ends George Maddox and Cord Coffee will help open holes and protect the quarterback and O'Steen said both of those players could catch passes here and there.
The Cougar defense
Some things never change and one of those things is Ada defensive coordinator Colby Shamley's love of the 3-4 defense.
"We're basically going to run the same defense we have the past two years. We've tweaked a few things defensively, but overall it's the same 3-4 scheme," O'Steen said.
Two of the biggest leaders on defense will be returning inside linebackers Maddox and Fisher Marr. Affectionately known as the "M&M Brothers", that duo could be one of the best linebacker combos in Class 4A, if not the entire state.
"Those two guys have bought into our strength and conditioning program. They've worked their butts off in the weight room and also worked their butts off in the track program," O'Steen said.
Marr placed second in regionals and seventh at state in the shot put — and also performed well in the 100 and the discus. Maddox spent the early portion of track season competing in the 800 Meter Run.
"They're just really, really good football players and love to play the game. They're really good leaders on the field and they're our cowbells on defense," O'Steen said.
Two other playmakers on defense include Cord Coffee and JB Coyle. Coffee is an explosive defensive lineman and Coyle is the team's noseguard.
Brendon Riddle, who moved in from Byng and had to sit out last year, is expected to be a force at one of the outside linebacker spots.
Rhynes assumes the team's "Star" outside linebacker position. He won a Class 5A state championship in the 400 Meter Run last spring.
"He's just a phenomenal football player and a phenomenal athlete. He's another kid that has bought into the system and has really flourished," O'Steen said.
Lindsay will be a ball hawk in the Ada secondary after a strong campaign last season.
"He was our best corner last year as a sophomore and I think he has a chance to have a breakout year and just do a lot of great things," O'Steen said.
Carlock will roam the field from his free safety position and Camariee Richardson and Collin Christian will both spend time at the other cornerback slot.
"We have some younger guys that I think are going to do a great job, it's just that they're young," O'Steen said. "We're hoping to reap the rewards of playing a lot of young guys (over the last two years). We now have some seasoned guys that know what it's like on Friday night."
Ada returns a pair of experienced kickers in seniors Caden Mitchell and Tyler Walker.
Deep snappers include Owen Wofford and Marr and taking over the punting duties will be JD Dugan and Boyles. Lakievin Richardson and Lindsay will return kicks for the Cougars.
Sizing up the district
Poteau, like Ada, saw its season end after getting beat by Wagoner in the Class 4A semifinals. O'Steen said the Pirates, who finished 10-3 in 2022, are loaded again this year.
"I think Poteau has won the district four or five years in a row. They're the team to beat and they have a lot of guys back," he said.
Other District 4A-4 teams include Broken Bow, Fort Gibson, Hilldale, Madill, Sallisaw and Stilwell.
"You never know with Hilldale. They graduated a lot," O'Steen continued.
"I think the team that could surprise some people is Fort Gibson. I know they didn't win a lot of games last year, but they had a lot of big kids," he said. "Broken Bow also graduated a lot and you have a new coach at Sallisaw in Brandon Tyler. He does a great job and they're going to be well-coached. Madill lost a lot of seniors and Stilwell has a new coach (Bryan Ross) and I think Sallisaw will be quite a bit better. There are some unknowns for sure."
The Ada coach said the Cougars can't afford to take any 4A-4 team for granted this season.
"Overall I think the district is still going to be really tough. It may not be as top-heavy as it was last year. We were able to finish third last and got the luck of the draw and played the eventual state champion (Wagoner) in the first round," O'Steen said. "Our kids understand what it takes after that game."
Ada opened the season at Durant during Zero Week and hosts Ardmore on Sept. 1.
1. Poteau (10-3)
2. Ada (7-4)
3. Broken Bow (7-4)
4. Hilldale (9-3)
5. Fort Gibson (1-9)
6. Sallisaw (0-10)
7. Madill (4-6)
8. Stilwell (5-5)