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Football preview: Strong offseason has program heading in right direction

Players enter 2016 with new attitude, focus

After going 2-8 in 2015 and 1-6 in the district, the Yukon coaching staff went back to the drawing board.

“Unacceptable,” Yukon coach Brian Sauser said emphatically after a preseason practice earlier this month. “This program is better than that.”

The offseason program was changed to center around finishing strong. The plan was to challenge the players mentally and physically in ways they haven’t been challenged before last season.

“We were in every game last year going into halftime,” Sauser said. “No matter who our opponent was, we were within striking distance. However, the second half of our games was a different story. Our opponents took it up a notch in the second half and we didn’t respond, so our goal this offseason was to challenge our guys to finish. We put them through a variety of workouts that are all about finishing. Our guys responded really well. We are much further along than we were a year ago at this point.”

Yukon returns 13 starters from last year’s team and Sauser said he was really happy to see the tremendous offseason transition into a good preseason.

“Sometimes you will see a team have a phenomenal offseason and then they come out for practice in the preseason and not be good at all,” Sauser said. “Fortunately for us, it has been the exact opposite. Our guys have been great. They are all bigger, stronger and faster and are working tirelessly day-in and day-out.”

The Millers competed in two scrimmages in the preseason before their season-opener at home against Mustang at 7 p.m. Friday. They traveled to Midwest City on August 19 to compete in a four-team scrimmage against the Bombers, Norman North and Southmoore and then they hosted Choctaw last Thursday night in their final tune-up before Friday.

“We intentionally made our scrimmage schedule very difficult because we wanted an accurate picture of who we are going into the regular season,” Sauser said. “I was really pleased with our scrimmages. We did get exposed in certain areas by some very good and talented football teams but we competed our tails off and didn’t get pushed around physically. I like we are at right now.”

Sauser said the schedule is going to be brutally tough but his players will be ready for it.

“In 6A-1, everyone we play is really good,” Sauser said. “There are no nights off or easy victories. You have to bring it every game or you will get beat and beat bad. With the way we have worked through the offseason and into the preseason, I am confident our guys are ready for it. The schedule is tough, but everyone’s schedule is tough.”

One of the issues Sauser wanted addressed in the offseason was the size of his players. He said he is happy with what he sees in how his players look physically this year.

“I thought we were too small last year and got pushed around by some bigger teams,” Sauser said. “It looks like everyone we wanted to put on weight has put on a good 20-30 pounds. I think that will make a difference for us this year.”

Sauser said he’s excited to have his starting quarterback Trevor Smith back for his senior year and he likes what he sees from his core of running backs and the offensive line thus far.

Craig Hubbard is taking over the defensive coordinator duties this year. Hubbard comes from coaching many years in the college ranks with Southern Nazarene University.

“We are very fortunate to have Craig Hubbard on the staff,” Sauser said. “His knowledge and experience is big for us. The guys have really responded to him in a positive way. His schemes on defense are simple, but they are extremely effective and will give any offense problems.”

As far as team leaders go for the Millers this season, Sauser named four players, who he will lean on to be leaders for his team. Along with the quarterback Smith, seniors Daunte McGee, Ethan Scott and Brett Gerber will lead Yukon this year.

McGee is a ferocious looking outside linebacker at 6-foot-4 225 pounds, but will also see time on offense, especially in red zone situations. Scott is a free safety and punt return specialist for the Millers. He will be counted on to make big plays both defensively and on special teams this year.

Gerber is a senior, who has waited patiently for his time to come with Yukon. He has worked hard his entire career and will be one of the anchors in the middle of the defense at the linebacker position for the Millers.

“We have quite a few guys who are going to be leaders for us this year,” Sauser said. “Trevor, Daunte, Ethan and Brett and several others will be very important for us this season. You have to have strong leadership to be successful and I know we have that.”

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