By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s something all players want — a chance to shine on the biggest and brightest stages.
Well, the stage doesn’t get much bigger than the one at Tulsa Union, where the Stillwater High School football team will travel for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday against the eight-time state champions.
“I’m sure it will be hostile over there,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “This is my third year here and this will be our first trip to Tulsa Union. We know that they have a great crowd and great student section.”
Rock music blared out of Pioneer Stadium during Wednesday’s practice, but it wasn’t so much used to deal with the large crowd that’s expected for Union’s homecoming. It was to give the Pioneers that little extra this week.
“It was more for us,” Barnard said. “We’re trying to create a better atmosphere in practice. We want something to kind of help break our focus a little bit and make them listen a little harder and just liven up practice a little bit.”
Communication — especially in the secondary — will be the key if Stillwater (1-3, 1-0 in district) wants to pull off a huge upset and take that next step toward a district championship. Union (2-2, 1-0 in district) boasts a corps of athletes at nearly all the skill positions, including 6-foot-5-inch receiver Jeffery Mead.
“Obviously there’s pressure on everybody,” Barnard said. “They’ve got a great run game — three tailbacks, two of which have been hurt. They throw the ball well. They have four receivers that catch the ball a lot and make plays with it. It’s definitely a great challenge and that’s why they’re a good football team.”
But while Union’s vaunted offense and stellar defense will no doubt challenge the Pioneer players and coaches, Barnard is hoping a different challenge will energize his team — the challenge of being the underdog.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to do this as a player — to go play a team at that caliber at their stadium,” Barnard said. “As players, those are challenges that you live for. That’s why we play, because we embrace those challenges. I’m looking forward to it. I know the players are looking forward to it and we’re going to go give it everything we have.”
If that’s not enough, just knowing the fact that this may be the last time the Pioneers will see the Redskins with Class 6A being split into two divisions next season.
“I hope they take this opportunity seriously,” Barnard said. “I’ve told our guys that this could be the last time Stillwater High School ever plays Tulsa Union. We want to play well, represent our school, represent our town, represent our families and give it the effort that the game deserves.”
And while it may be one last chance for Stillwater to take down a team that seemingly beat them every season since 1997, Barnard said the focus hasn’t necessarily been on Union or the fact that the Redskins have already lost two games.
“All we’ve really talked about is about us,” Barnard said. “We have to go give it a great effort. We got to prepare to the best of our ability, play as hard as we can play, execute the best that we can execute and then we’ll see what happens.”