During the offseason, we’ll check out one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation for next fall.
This week’s team: Union (Tulsa, Okla.)
Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 15. Though one of Union’s two wins against longtime rival Jenks (Okla.) was by just one point, the Redskins have without question become the state’s dominant program and no longer have to share top billing with the Trojans. Twelve starters that helped Union edge Broken Arrow (Okla.) 23-22 in the state final are underclassmen, so the 2012 team could be one of the best in school history. Coach Kirk Fridrich will also take next season’s team on a challenging road trip to face Texas powerhouse and three-time state champ Trinity (Euless, Texas).
Team Strengths: Junior quarterback Hunter Atyia tops a very talented cast of skill players, while junior defensive end Dalton Rodriguez is one of many standouts expected back to lead the defense. Atyia accounted for nearly 2,300 yards of total offense this past season. He’ll be helped out by freshman running back Terrel Buchanan, who excelled late in the season after standout running back Kendall Holmes was suspended. Buchanan became an instant star and was one of the best freshmen in the nation. Junior receivers Chris Hall and Kahlil Barnett will help Atyia in the passing game. Rodriguez will likely be the team’s top recruit next season, while sophomore linebacker Coleby Evans was second on the team in tackles. Evans was a star in the state final, returning a fumble 30 yards for a touchdown that tied the game (the ensuing extra point was the game-winner) and picking off a pass earlier in the fourth quarter to set up another score.
Another Oklahoma team to watch: MacArthur (Lawton) reached the Class 5A state final last year and lost in a battle of undefeated teams to Guthrie (Okla.) 24-7. The Highlanders will return 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back Darius Graham, one of the top college prospects in the state for the Class of 2013. Graham rushed for nearly 1,500 yards as a junior. Second-leading tackler Derek Block also will be back. You can never count out Jenks, of course, in Class 6A and the Trojans will have another big-time running back in junior Trey’Vonne Barr’e, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season.