Originally Published: Aug 31, 2010 9:36 PM CDT
Oklahoma Sports Mobile Journalist
TULSA, Oklahoma – The trigger word around the Tulsa Central Braves this offseason was ‘change’. Not much from 2009’s playoff squad remains on the 2010 roster.
Perhaps most notably, they have a new head coach. Corey Russell left for Idabel after getting the Braves to the playoffs a year ago. He helped mold one of that state’s best players in quarterback Demarco Cobbs.
Cobbs is now wearing burnt orange in Austin for the Texas Longhorns. His departure means a brand new look on offense for Central this season.
Dan Phillips takes over for Russell and named junior Milton Harper the heir apparent to Cobbs’ throne. Cobbs led the team in passing and rushing a season ago and could change the game by himself. Had he not injured his ankle in the Braves’ round one matchup with Bixby, Central could have made a deep run in the playoffs. Replacing that kind of productivity won’t be easy.
“I’m up to the task,” said Harper. “I just want to get this team to the playoffs and win.”
The Braves will battle with teams like East Central, Claremore (who moved down from 6A), and Coweta. Preseason publications pick Central to finish anywhere from fifth to eighth. The new head coach has high hopes for a team that will compete in a difficult 5A District 4.
“It’s a solid district. It’s as good as anybody in the state,” Phillips said. “It’s going to be competitive.
“It’ll be a different step for me.”
Phillips joins the Central staff after learning under Ron Lancaster at Broken Arrow, and at West Virginia and Rice Universities under Todd Graham. He helped the Tigers make it to the semifinals in 6A a season ago.
Speed is one thing that will stay the same at Central. The Braves have speed all over the field on both sides of the ball. Harper will serve as a dual-threat guy out of the backfield. Central will run a lot of option and designed quarterback runs this season.
On defense, linebackers Deion Fipps and Wesley Smith will make life difficult for opposing running backs. The duo is capable of clogging up running lanes in Central’s blitz-happy scheme. Fipps finished with nearly 120 tackles a season ago.
Central returns ten total starters but didn’t have as many students out for spring football as in the past. They started with just 15 players, but are now up to over 50.
“I believe that kids will meet expectations and we’ve set them high,” said Phillips. “We want to be district champions and we want to contend for a state title.”
The Braves may be seen as an underdog in 5A. After finishing 8-3 a season ago, the underdog tag fits the players just fine.
“We’re the underdogs. I kind of like it,” smiled senior wide receiver Bomani Bell. “If we play disciplined and play as a team, we can go far.”
Tulsa Central Braves
2009: 8-3/ 5-2 record, third in 5A-District 4.
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Bixby in the first round of the 2009 postseason.
BEST PLAYER: Deion Fipps. The linebacker must be the go-to player for Central if the defense wants to have success on that side of the ball. In 2009, the unit allowed nine points or less in six of its games. Fipps will be the anchor for the Braves again this season with his speed and great tackling ability.
BIGGEST GAME: Week 6 vs. East Central, October 8th. The Cardinals and Braves play in the same division and many think that East Central is the team to best. Central has aspirations of competing for a district championship in Dan Phillips’ first year as head coach. If they have a shot at a district crown, they have to win this one.