By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
BACKYARD BRAWL: Union running back Shamari Brooks, a sophomore, gains valuable yardage in the 2014 Backyard Bowl on Sept. 12. Union won the game 23-14 but lost in the Dec. 9 rematch for the 6A state championship 21-14.
TERREL LESTER for GTR Newspapers
Once it was an autumn exercise. Three months of Friday night and Saturday afternoon football confrontations.
High schools and colleges dominated the sporting calendar from September to October to November.
December was reserved for a handful of special games. Army-Navy. A couple of holiday bowl games.
And the only football going on in January were the New Year’s Day bowls.Pro football changed that. Television, too.
Football now is a sport that knows no season.
Football is a season unto itself.
The first college game this season is scheduled Aug. 29. Games are scheduled this season on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays. And, of course, finally, on Saturdays.
Tulsa’s high-school Grady Skillern All-City Preview is scheduled Aug. 27-28. For the most part, high schools limit their regular-season schedules to Thursdays and Fridays.
The Oklahoma high-school state playoffs will stretch into the first two weeks of December.
College conference championship games are penciled in for about the same time. Some three-dozen bowl games will be played over three or four weeks, extending into January. The national championship won’t be decided until Jan. 11. In other words, the college football season will be spread out over 19 weekends.
At one time, the National Football League confined its regular-season schedule to Sundays. Now, the league plays games on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. The Super Bowl is slated for Feb. 7, the latest date ever. That will be five months after the season-opener.
The proliferation of games available to a demanding fan base lends support to the suggestion that football has become the national pastime.
Mary McGrory, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who covered the Washington D.C. political scene, acknowledged as much when she succinctly observed: “Baseball is what we were. Football is what we have become.”
In Oklahoma, the landscape of sports has long been defined by 100-yard stretches of sweat-stained turf.
A total of 341 member schools of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association field varsity football teams. They will compete for championships in nine classifications.
In no classification is the competition as top heavy as it is in the largest division. For the last 19 years, the state championship in the state’s top classification has been won by two schools.
Jenks owns 12 of those titles in 19 years, including the last three in a row. Union has won the remaining seven.
Last season, the OSSAA, governing body of high-school athletics, divided Class 6A into two divisions, 6A-I and 6A-II, with the state’s 16 largest schools by enrollment in the former and the next 16 schools in the latter.
Jenks continued to dominate all large schools with its 21-14 championship decision over Union. Bixby won the 6A-II title, the school’s first, with a 35-21 win over Lawton.
There are a number of indicators that would point to Jenks and Bixby having the ability to repeat in 2015, extending that eastern Oklahoma domination.
Allan Trimble is entering his 20th season as head coach at Jenks. With 12 state championships in that span, he is the most successful high-school football coach in Oklahoma history.
His returning headline-making operative is senior quarterback Cooper Nunley. He ran for two touchdowns and threw the decisive scoring pass in the title game against Union. He is 25-2 as a two-year starter.
Bixby, under sixth-year head coach Loren Montgomery, returns a pair of game-changers at crucial positions. Running back Nic Roller gained 233 yards and scored twice against Lawton. Quarterback Tanner Griffin passed for a touchdown and 220 yards in the same game, capping a season in which he accumulated 3,027 aerial yards.
Over the years, the Union-Jenks regular-season matchup has commanded as much attention as a state-title game. Routinely, it is among the nation’s top schoolboy rivalries. The intensity is sure to remain at a high level this year when they meet on Sept. 11 at Chapman Stadium on the University of Tulsa campus.
However, a week before that game, Jenks will be at Bixby for the Sept. 4 season-opener that could be the most highly anticipated contest of the year. Surely no other game in the history of this long and storied rivalry can match the showdown of reigning state champions.
The high-school season could not open with a stronger brace of games. While Jenks and Bixby are doing battle, Broken Arrow travels to Owasso on Sept. 4.
Two more teams with state playoff experience to go along with raging expectations, Broken Arrow and Owasso are meeting in the opener for the sixth straight year. Their rivalry dates back to 1921.
Broken Arrow, in its second season under head coach and 1982 graduate David Alexander, was 7-4 in 2014, falling in the first round of the 6A-I playoffs.
The Tigers, representing the state’s largest high school based on enrollment, boasts a game-breaker in senior running back Jamall Shaw. He rushed for 1,426 yards last season, scoring 16 touchdowns.
Owasso won last year’s opener at Broken Arrow, 14-7, ending an eight-game losing streak to the Tigers. The win was a harbinger of good things to come.
The Rams of coach Bill Patterson put together their finest season since 1986, reaching the 6A-I semifinals before falling to Jenks. They wound up at 10-2, fueling hopes and expectations for a new season.
When fans and recruiters talk Owasso football, much of the conversation centers on senior offensive lineman Brandon Scott. At 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, Scott is easy to spot, hard to stop.
Anticipation is evident in all corners of the University of Tulsa fan base. It could be the singular, definitive description of the Golden Hurricane’s football season.
Following a disappointing 2-10 performance under coach Bill Blankenship last season, TU replaced him in favor of Philip Montgomery.
The 43-year-old first-year head coach will send the Golden Hurricane out against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 5 at Chapman Stadium.
Expectations have been running high since Montgomery’s arrival, due to his reputation and accomplishments at Baylor, where he was heralded as a master of the pass.
He stirred the emotional pot among the TU faithful during his introductory press conference back in December, promising to deliver “some fun, fast and physical football.”
With a holdover quarterback Dane Evans adapting to Montgomery’s new pace and playbook, the TU offense in the spring game appeared to support the coach’s commitment.
As offensive coordinator at Baylor, Montgomery guided units led by award-winning quarterbacks that produced record-setting offensive attacks.
Incorporating that offensive philosophy into the mix at Tulsa, where passing artistry and weaponry are part of the school’s football legacy, would positively address many of the TU followers’ expectations.
The Golden Hurricane, preparing for its second season in the far-flung American Athletic Conference, will play just one home game in September, the opener, but there are three games in Chapman Stadium in October.
There always is a mountain of expectations surrounding the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma State University football programs.
Hopes are heightened at OU where a new offensive coordinator, Lincoln Riley, is charged with the task of putting points on the scoreboard.
He has at his disposal, running back Samaje Perine, the Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year in 2014, and author of the record-setting 427-yard rushing performance against Kansas.
Following what was considered a dismal and disappointing season, at 8-5, OU made a handful of changes to reignite the flame of fanaticism among its followers.
Tangible proof of the “out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new” outlook at OU is the summer-long process of replacing the turf at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. No doubt, the old turf would have been a constant reminder of a storied program turned upside down.
There are no issues with turf at Oklahoma State. The playing surface is as solid as the quarterback play of returnee Mason Rudolph.
All they need to do at Stillwater is erase the memories of a 7-6 record in 2014. A good beginning to that end was the Cowboys’ 30-22 victory over the University of Washington in the Cactus Bowl.
A freshman quarterback, Rudolph, was the offensive bellwether for the Cowboys against Washington, piling up 299 yards through the air and two touchdowns. His return for a second season has caused a spike in expectations for the faithful.
Some national publications, taking note of Rudolph’s emergence late in his rookie season, are predicting the Cowboys will finish ahead of the Sooners this season in the Big 12 race.
The schedule could be playing in OSU’s favor. The Cowboys play host to the Sooners in the Bedlam game, Nov. 28.
Coach Mike Gundy, now the all-time leader in football wins at , is entering his 11th season as head coach.
Fans know that when the temperatures of an Oklahoma August begin to heat up, the fall sport of football can’t be far away.
Actually, in Oklahoma, football never really goes away.
As Mary McGrory said, it is what we have become.