Gridiron Football Preview-Cherokee County 2022 | Page 14


squeeze down blocks , take on pullers , keep your outside arm and leg free , if you ’ re a nose guard take up A gap , take a double team … I mean just all the basics .
“ They have to have an understanding of who they are and they ’ re not trying to be a guy that ’ s making plays on their own because right now they don ’ t have the ability . I ’ m not saying that they won ’ t , but right now with where they ’ re at , they ’ re not there . They ’ ve first got to buy into the system and do what we need them to do .”
The Tigers have the bodies to fill roles , but it ’ s going to be work in progress with the lack of experience .
“ It ’ s just a bunch of names . We have numbers ,” Gilbert said . “ They ’ ve got to be team first … we , not me . I ’ m not saying we ’ ve got ‘ me ’ guys . They ’ ve got to do what we ’ ve asked them to do to
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be successful . They ’ ve just got to keep coming to work every day , keep coming to practice , and get better . We ’ ve probably got nine to 10 guys that we rotate through . It ’ s just going to be a process .”
Perhaps the strongest position group on either side of the ball , Tahlequah will be in good hands at the linebacker position .
Injuries forced a young group to learn in the heat of the moment last season , especially with the exit of Eli McWilliams , who suffered what would be a season-ending knee injury in week two .
Gilbert has plenty of praise for Jayden Moore and Mason Watkins , both juniors who will fill the inside spots .
“ You start with the guys on the inside ,” Gilbert said . “ When Eli went down in week two on the first possession , those guys were in there every snap going forward . Man , was it a learning curve . But they got better with each week . I ’ ve said this before , and as a tandem , those two together have a chance to be the best two that we ’ ve had together since I ’ ve been here , and we ’ ve had some really good ones , and they ’ re just going to be juniors .”
Watkins and Moore were the top two tacklers on the team last season as sophomores .
Watkins posted a team-high 87 total tackles , including two for losses , and had two quarterback sacks .
“ Mason is very strong , and he ’ s fast and quick ,” Gilbert said . “ He brings that element . He ’ s a kid that ’ s 5-foot- 10 , 198 pounds . He ’ s also a hard-nosed kid .”
Moore followed with 62 tackles and had four tackles for losses .
“ Jayden is more of a hammer ,” Gilbert said . “ He ’ s going to come downhill , hit you in the mouth and take on those linemen . He ’ s not as quick and as fast as Mason , but he ’ s a physical kid .
“ There ’ s a little bit of a difference , but they are both good football players and they both have a chance to be really good football players when it ’ s all said and done . It goes back to … they ’ ve just got to keep coming every day and get better .”
Another injury midway through last season allowed Brayden Northington to take over full duties at one of the outside positions when the now-graduated Khaidyn Spoonemoore went down with an injury .
Northington , like Moore and Watkins , will be entering his junior year . He recorded 45 total tackles , three tackles for losses , and had three pass breakups last year .
“ With Brayden , you ’ ve got length ,” Gilbert said . “ He ’ s tall and he ’ s a very smart young man . He ’ s also athletic .”
Munoz will be the lone senior of the group and has the most experience . He finished with 42 tackles , three tackles for losses , two quarterback sacks and had a pass breakup in 2021 .
“ Josh is a guy that ’ s athletic , has good body movement , is very strong , and he ’ s explosive ,” Gilbert said .
“ Those four guys [ Moore , Watkins , Munoz and Northington ] are pretty good ,” Gilbert said .
Like its linebacker group , Tahlequah will have a similar strength in its sec-
See TIGERS , page 15
14 • Fall 2022

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