MOORE — Following Wednesday's 7-on-7 scrimmage against Putnam City North and Moore, Southmoore safety Donovan Gaines shouted, “This is our field, and if you don't want to be here, get off it.”
His words echoed across the empty field, not directed at anyone in particular. At least not anyone present.
It's been a disruptive offseason for the SaberCats. Players have left for other schools and the coaching staff has been redrawn. They have made the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, yet now face challenges they couldn't have predicted.
“We know that this stuff is taken for granted most of the time,” Gaines said. “It's a great program. Everybody has their own work ethic. If you come in and start working, they're going to automatically love you. They love young people that like to be hungry and like to get on the field. They don't like people that are individuals, play for themselves and play just to get their stats.”
The players don't want to talk about their former teammates who have left.
Linebacker Perry Olsen, a Navy commit who led the team with nine tackles for loss last season, was the first to go. Entering his senior year behind Casey Thompson, he was going to have to look elsewhere for playing time at quarterback, his other position. He is expected to be the starting signal caller for Yukon under new coach Jeremy Reed, this fall.
The real unraveling came when offensive coordinator Jeff Brickman took over as head coach at Newcastle in January. Rumors sprouted that quarterback Casey Thompson, who has committed to Texas, was thinking about joining him. Brickman, who had served as Southmoore's head coach in 2012 and 2013, left for Oklahoma Baptist University in 2014 and returned as Southmoore's offensive coordinator in 2015.
When Thompson pulled the trigger, the dominoes started to fall. His brother, Cade, a tight end, and receivers Orlando Green and Jacob Morris also joined the Racers. Linebacker Doug Collins, who registered 123 tackles, left for Norman North, and Oklahoma-bound offensive tackle Brey Walker was cleared to play for Westmoore Monday.
“If guys don't want to do things the way they're supposed to do things here, then they don't need to be here,” Southmoore coach Jeremy Stark said Wednesday. “There's a good group of kids that want to be here and want to play for Southmoore, who aren't interested in other things and so, we're going to go coach those guys up and go play with them. At the end of the day, Southmoore football is going to be here when I'm gone and when these other guys are gone. They are still going to continue to play football without us.
“We're going to go play with the guys who want to be here and the guys we have.”
It's not just the players, though. The coaching staff has undergone a shakeup as well.
Jess Powell and Jason Aubrey, the quarterbacks coach, take over for Brickman as Co-offensive coordinators. Roderick Jenkins is the new linebackers coach. Defensive line coach Charles Redman departed and a hire has been made but the paperwork is yet to be finalized. The wide receivers coach position is still open.
Defensive coordinator Rodney Henning spoke to a group of about 20 Southmoore skill players after Wednesday's 7-on-7 session, telling them to believe in themselves. He wants Southmoore's season to be defined by the players who have remained, not those who have departed.
It's going to be a bumpy road, but the players appear ready to face the challenge.
“We keep pushing forward with the guys we have, and if you're with us, you're with us, if you're not, you're not,” running back Rae'Quan Wicks said. “I love the guys that I'm playing with, and I wouldn't trade them for anything.”
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