Russell Cook is trying something new this year in his sixth year of coaching his alma mater.
The Pawnee High football coach will be kicking off this year’s season a week earlier than he’s ever done. For the first time in his tenure, the Black Bears will be playing a Zero Week game.
The Class A Black Bears will be hosting 2A Crooked Oak at 7 p.m. Friday at Pawnee Memorial Stadium.
“Zero Week is new to us, because we’ve never played a Zero Week before,” Cook said. “You can feel it at practice, the kids have a little bit more pep to their step and they’re excited to be at practice each and every day. They’re staying and lifting weights and watching film after practice, so I think they’re anxious and excited. It should be good Friday night football here in Pawnee.”
Recently retired Pawnee High principal and athletic director Bobby Miller was the primary reason the Black Bears are playing Crooked Oak. They needed a game to fill the schedule and Miller made it possible.
“We got this game scheduled because Wellston dropped down to eight man,” Cook said. “Coach (Bobby) Miller, this was his alma mater, so he knew some people there, so that’s how we got them scheduled.”
Crooked Oak has fallen on hard times since its last winning season in 2013. The Ruf-Nex have won only five games during the past five years, and are coming off a 1-9 season a year ago.
Mark Ryan has taken over as the team’s coach and he looks to rebuild the program. Despite the team’s lack of success in recent years, Cook said he’s ignoring previous records and only focused on Friday night’s contest.
“We’re going to prepare each and every week to go and get a win,” Cook said. “We’ll be as physical as we can possibly be.”
Pawnee is coming off its only scrimmage before the Zero Week game. The Black Bears played Stroud in one of the tougher, more physical scrimmages Cook has seen as a coach.
He thought his team played well. There were several solid performances, but overall, he was happy with the effort and result in the team’s lone scrimmage before Friday’s opener.
“Stroud came down for a Thursday night scrimmage and both teams were really physical and both teams looked really good,” Cook said. “I’m looking forward to this week with Crooked Oak coming to town. They’re pretty athletic. There’s not a lot of film to watch on them from their scrimmage last week. The storms came through last week where they were scrimmaging, so we have very limited film on them. They look like a bigger, physical team that’s very athletic. Our kids have to step up to the challenge and go play well.”
Pawnee returns a solid 1-2 punch with junior quarterback Blake Skidgel and junior running back Trevor Mitchell. Both started last year and helped Pawnee to a 7-3 season.
Skidgel has grown, gotten bigger and stronger and matured heading into his junior season, according to his coach. He’s anxious to see Skidgel lead this year’s squad.
“Just based upon practice day in and day out, he’s grown and matured,” Cook said. “The other day, with as hot as it was, he didn’t have a good throwing and catching day. I don’t know if it was the heat or what it was, but he came out (Tuesday) and pulled the receivers aside and threw the ball around and ran some routes. Blake has really matured, as far as his leadership goes. He’s pulling those kids in to him to work on the things that need to be worked on.”
After playing the Zero Week game, Pawnee will have its bye week during the first week of the season for most teams. Pawnee will then host rival Morrison on Sept. 13.
Wildcats enjoy low profile
Before that Week 2 rivalry game, Morrison High will have played a pair of games, with the first coming Friday night in a Zero Week contest.
It will be the second-straight year longtime coach Cory Bales has played a Zero Week game. It’s not his preference, but he’s making the most of it when his Wildcats play host to Kiefer at 7 p.m. Friday at Dennis Casey Field.
“Everybody is champing at the bit and ready for this sucker to kick off,” Bales said. “The kids are, as well. They understand the light switch is turned on now and it’s time to start playing. We like the position we’re in being out of the radar a bit in the rankings and in our district play. We’ll get a feel for where this group is at. I’m not really concerned where we start at, but it’s where we finish.”
Bales continued, saying his players are ready to play a meaningful game Friday night.
“Oh, absolutely,” Bales said. “I think they’re getting the feel for where we need to be at. The first games right out of the chute, you really don’t know what you’re going to see from opponents. We’re going to play a team in Kiefer on Friday that is going to be really well-coached with Trent Worley, who’s been a really good friend for 20-plus years. He’ll be prepared, we hope we are and we’ll see what happens.”
Former Stillwater High assistant coach Trent Worley is coaching Kiefer after the Trojans finished last year with a 3-7 record. Their last winning season was 2015.
Morrison enters the game after just one scrimmage. The Wildcats played at Newkirk last week, and it was a success, despite starting quarterback Gage Williams sitting out to rest an injury.
Bales said backup QB Jared Harmon filled in nicely and had a good scrimmage throwing the football.
“It was a really physical scrimmage and I like how our kids matched the physicality,” Bales said. “We came out healthy, which is one of my big deal for a scrimmage. Gage is looking good for this week, so I really anticipate him being our quarterback on Friday.
“What I really like is five different kids caught passes. We threw for a 70 percent pass ratio, so I was really pleased about that. Defensively wise, I was really pleased with the back end. The front four – I think we fixed some of our issues there. We’re looking forward to play somebody and seeing where we’re at.”
Maroons ready for lone early home game
If Perry High football fans want to see their beloved Maroons at home before October, they better come to historic Daniels Field on Friday night. Perry will host Fairview at 7 p.m. for its season opener.
The Maroons enter the Zero Week game after a successful scrimmage. Coach Travis Cole was pleased with the effort, and hopes that rolls over into Friday’s contest.
“I was really pleased with our scrimmage,” Cole said. “We had your typical scrimmage stuff – first time going against another team and first time really competing. There is going to be some guys who get tired and lose some of that technique and fundamental stuff and have some mental busts.
“No matter what you do, you can’t replicate competition in practice like you can in a scrimmage or game. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of a team that had a great scrimmage. You don’t want to be at midseason form Aug. 20. But, I was pleased.”
Perry has opened its season with Fairview the past three years. The Maroons have won the past two contests, after dropping the 2016 game by two points. Last year’s contest went to overtime, and Perry won by six points.
The Maroons are coming off an 8-3 season in which they won their 2A district title. Fairview went 10-4 a year ago and ended its season in the Class A state semifinals.
Opening the season with Fairview should benefit Perry, despite the shortened practice time before playing its first game, because it’s a familiar opponent.
“It’s nice, because you can revert back to the previous seasons,” Cole said. “You have some familiarity there, so it’s a lot easier when you’re limited on film.”
After Friday’s game, Perry is on the road four of the next five weeks, with its bye week in the middle. The next home game is Oct. 4 against Hennessey.