By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — McAlester’s freshman football team began its 2013 season with low numbers and questions at several positions, according to 10-year freshman coach Richard Carney.
The freshman Buffs ended their season with a 28-16 win at home Monday against Broken Bow, finishing with an 8-0 record and the first undefeated freshman season in approximately 10 years.
“They were consistent on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively,” Carney said. “We tackled when we needed to make plays. Offensively, we caught the ball when we needed to."
Though the freshman Buffs cruised through their first three wins, Carney said the team really came together in the second half of an Oct. 7 game at Durant. Durant had beaten this freshman class as eighth graders last year to spoil what would’ve been an undefeated season.
“We played real bad one quarter against Durant when we played down there,” Carney said. “We were behind at the time, and then we played the second half real well and we ended up beating them by two touchdowns. That was probably the key thing — we just had like one game where we didn’t play well.
“We just talked about that we were a better team than they were. We told them that we were a better team, that we had better players and we just weren’t playing up to our capabilities. We didn’t really make any kind of adjustments. We just kind of got them hooked up.”
Carney said most of McAlester’s 23-man freshman team played both offense and defense, with some also spending time on special teams. That demanded a high level of physical conditioning from the Buffs, but Carney said a core of about 16 freshman began gaining that conditioning as early as the summer, attending every day of McAlester’s Summer Pride offseason conditioning program.
“They bought into the program by being there every day,” Carney said.
"We’re always proud of our kids that come out here and work hard. It’s not easy for them — if it was easy, a whole lot of people would be out here. We’re proud of these kids for all the work they put in.”
Chase McNutt led the Buffs as starting quarterback for the freshman team. The backup quarterback last year, McNutt took over a team that, like McAlester’s varsity, worked out of a spread offense and threw often.
“Chase did an outstanding job,” Carney said. “He really worked hard at it and did the things that were necessary. Threw the ball well, got better at throwing the ball, making the calls, making the reads. He did a really good job for us, stepping in and having to take on that leadership role.”
Deon Smith and Braden Klusak also helped as the Buffs’ starting running back and inside receiver, respectively. Both Smith and Klusak recorded touchdowns Monday, with Smith rushing one in and Klusak returning the opening kickoff of the game for a touchdown.
Smith doubled as a Buffs linebacker and Klusak doubled as a cornerback.
“He made a big difference,” Carney said of Smith. “He was a big playmaker for us. And then Braden Klusak, he really started getting better at the end of the year. He started becoming dominant at the end. ... Offensively, (Klusak’s) a horse. If he stays on track, he’s going to be a good, good high school player.”
The freshman Buffs also benefited from defensive lineman Graham Eaton, who played all eight freshman games and has also seen minutes on varsity. Because the Buffs’ freshmen try to play the same way as the varsity — spread offense, 3-4 defense — Carney said he’s always proud to see his players succeed at the next level, either as freshmen or as upperclassmen.
“Another thing that helps is that our varsity kids treat them the same, because they practice with us,” Carney said.
“They support (the freshman) and make them a part of the team, and I think that’s a big attribute to their success.”
With the freshman season over, Carney said all but one of his players have opted to continue practicing with the varsity, and the player who hasn’t is training for basketball season. Carney said his freshmen could still help out the varsity in several ways, including as scout players and on special teams.
“They go through the drills, they’re going to get a little better,” Carney said. “That’s what we try to emphasize to them: by practicing, they’re going to get more practice time than these kids that just stop.”
Carney said he’s already begun scouting this year’s eighth grade team to better understand the personnel he’ll have next year.
With another good mix of skill-position players and linemen, Carney said McAlester’s freshman team looks poised for another great season in 2014.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.