MCALESTER – Coach Brandon Edwards and his 8th grade South Rock Creek Rockets were unsuccessful in pulling off the upset Saturday at the state football title game for Division II of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools (ORES). The team squared off against six-time champ Zion and lost 30-20 in a back-and-forth game as they attempted to do the unthinkable in their first time on the big stage.
The team has been hot over the previous two years, losing just two games last season and going undefeated this year before Saturday's loss for a 22-3 record over the past two seasons.
Edwards, former quarterback from 1999-2001 for the Shawnee High School team took an assistant coaching position alongside one of his former coaches at Shawnee, Joe Harvey, when South Rock Creek began their football program in 2009. Harvey retired after three years to pave the way for Edwards, who left coaching for a bit but eventually made his return. He went 10-1 in his first year back to end the Rockets' season in the state semi-finals and had this year's 8th graders from that time.
Going to 8-man ball from the typical 11-man that Edwards and Harvey were used to took a little bit of adjusting. The biggest difference is how hard it is to stop offenses, find eligible receivers and keep contained, Edwards said.
He originally started with the I-formation and primarily ran the ball for the first couple of years before converting to a spread offense to get more action through the air.
“We throw it more than a lot of teams, I think we threw it around nine times per night and were 7-9. I think my quarterback has somewhere around... 12 throwing touchdown passes. For a middle schooler, that's pretty good,” Edwards said.
The 8-man team consisted of nine eighth graders and a few underclassmen. Zane Walck was at quarterback, Jaxon Meyers played receiver and Jake Stewart provided on the offensive line. Dylan Graham, Dane Oliver, Konnor McKay, Jack Rogers, Mason Whitman and Cody Dailey made up the rest of the 8th grade squad.
The boys will make good additions wherever they decide to go to high school, Edwards said.
“We've got a good quarterback, good running back, good offensive line, all the way around,” Edwards said. “You look at our 8th grade team and every one of those kids can flat-out play football.”
Edwards expects Walck to go to Tecumseh next year and make an impact early on.
“I could see him starting as a freshman maybe late in the year. He's athletic, he can run, I think he went to OU camp this last summer,” he said.
On the offensive line was Stewart who was asked to take on the role and accepted what was asked despite wanting to catch the ball.
“He'd be a receiver if he were anywhere else, but since we're low on numbers I came to him the first year and I said, 'Hey man, can you play offensive line Jake?' and he said, 'Yeah, no problem.' So I love that about him that he's totally unselfish... for an 8th grade kid to play offensive line, not get any recognition and be one of our better athletes, that's pretty cool to me,” Edwards said.
The boys aren't just teammates though, they're a tight-knit group of friends that spend every weekend together and send group text messages non-stop, Edwards said. They are also good students who he has never been in fear of any amount of ineligility from.
“Eligibilty isn't an issue for us. We never even hear about it,” he said. “I think that it was week 8 and my athletic director was like 'Here's an eligibility list' and there was nobody on it... I totally forgot about it because our kids are all straight A and B students, for the most part.”
While Edwards time coaching his 8th grade players has come to an end, he knows they will continue to be successful wherever they end up after this year.
“They love football, they're real close, tight kids and whatever high school these kids decide to go to, they're going to help somebody out,” he said.