SEMINOLE — Mike Snyder did some serious soul searching after his 2016 Seminole squad slumped to 3-7, just the third losing campaign in an illustrious Chieftain coaching career.
“I’m one of those guys that believes when things go bad, it goes directly back to the head coach,’ said Snyder one year ago.
Considering his Hall of Fame numbers, Snyder shouldn’t have to apologize for much of anything. Last year’s 8-4 comeback brought his career mark to a sparkling 353-114 since taking the helm in 1980, including a state championship (1986), five state runner-ups (1989, 1993, 2000, 2001, 2002) and 12 district titles.
“Last year, we got a few more breaks than the year before and the kids concentrated on getting back to where we should and need to be,” Snyder said. “I think we pretty much won every game we should have.”
Snyder, with 14 seniors this year compared to six in 2017, is optimistic entering his 39th year at he helm.
“I thought we had a great spring and a good Tulsa team camp. We got more mature.
“We are hopefully ahead of the game offensively with six or seven starters coming back. When your starting quarterback is back, you should be ahead of the game.”
Senior signal caller Cade Hammond is coming off a 13-touchdown, 1,264 passing resume despite missing three games.
“Cade’s arm is exceptional and there isn’t a ball he can’t throw,” Snyder said. “He needs to improve on reading defenses. Our passing foundation is built on a lot of level routes, deep and underneath. He just needs to know where to throw the ball.”
Hammond has drawn scholarship offers from Northeastern at Tahlequah and East Central at Ada.
Snyder has two quality running backs in senior Jamon Dennis and junior Cameron Gunville.
Dennis, a starter the last two seasons, rushed for 870 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2017. “Jamon has the ability to make people miss,” Snyder said. ‘He is a pretty smart, intelligent player who has good quickness and lateral movement.”
Gunville, a starter since his freshman campaign, produced 12 touchdowns and 978 rushing yards in 2017, despite missing 2 ½ games because of an injury. “Cameron is more of a downhill rusher with a lot of strength and speed,” Snyder said. “He’s capable of playing at the Division 1 level.”
Four returning offensive line standouts are back, including three-year starter Callen Rigney at right tackle. “Callen needs to be the guy up front that corrects things and gets things going,” Snyder said. “He has good size and is fundamentally sound.”
Other returning offensive line starters are right guard Terry Walker, center Luke Wieck and left guard Kaden Allison. Returning wide receiver Chico Baker is probably Seminole’s most versatile player.
Defensively, Seminole is anchored by its four down linemen — junior tackles Steven Johnson and Amauyn Conley along with ends Derek Wolf, a senior, and Jared Stewart, a junior.
Conley has big-time size (6-3, 265). “He has good feet. He just needs to be a little more aggressive,” Snyder said. “We’re pretty good up front.”
Senior Mark Beauford, a three-year starter, heads the linebacker corps. Beauford recorded 93 tackles last year.
Three of four secondary performers — Baker, Justin Hamilton and Hunter Wurtz — are returning starters. Hamilton, the News-Star Small School Player of the Year, is coming off a six-interception campaign.
Baker returned two interceptions and one fumble recovery for touchdowns.
“We need to find two linebackers and one secondary guy to shore up our defense," Snyder said.
Kaiden Johnson, who played at Seminole as a sophomore before moving to Shawnee, is back at Seminole for his senior year. Johnson could see wide receiver and linebacking duties.
A freshman, Jackson Smith, will handle kickoff and point-after attempts. Gunville will again handle punting duties.
“Our kicking game will be better,” Snyder said.
• Seminole has moved from District 3A-4 to District 3A-3. In a preseason coaches poll, Idabel was voted No. 1, followed by Seminole, Lincoln Christian, Stigler, Checotah, Roland, Okmulgee and Tulsa Webster.
• Snyder’s staff is comprised of offensive coordinator Shawn Snyder, defensive coordinator Blake Johnson, Wade Rigney, Shane Stanfill, Brian McAlvain, Bobby Sanford, Keaton Hernandez and Thomas Bare. Bare, son of former Wewoka coach Tommy Bare, replaces Eric Phillips. Tommy Bare presently coaches at Kingston.
• In the 2017 playoffs, Seminole defeated Anadarko 8-6 in the opening round, followed by a 32-16 setback to Oklahoma Christian. The Chieftains were 4-2 in district play with losses to Plainview and Sulphur.
• The Chieftains will launch the season Aug. 31 by hosting Harrah.