Special to The Sun
Every Friday night, opponents will search for chinks in the Edmond Santa Fe armor. But, they simply won’t find many.
The Wolves have the look and feel of a championship squad. And come December, they believe they will be playing like one.
“We have a lot of experienced kids and we’re really excited about this season,” Santa Fe head coach Lance Manning said.
That optimism stems from a potent offense and improved defense.
The explosive Wolves’ offense will again be led by standout quarterback Justice Hansen. Last year, he passed for 3,079 yards and 36 touchdowns, while adding 773 yards and 14 scores on the ground. In April, the highly-recruited prep star committed to play for the Sooners.
“He doesn’t care about the numbers,” Manning said. “He had really good numbers last year. I’m not sure if he’s going to surpass that, but he’s a better, stronger, more confident quarterback who makes better decisions.”
Hansen lost some key targets this year, but has quickly developed a report with his new receiving corps. Malik Earl has overcome nagging injuries to become the team’s go-to outside receiver.
“It’s not necessarily his speed that makes him standout, but it’s his ability to go up and get a ball and take it from people,” said Manning about Earl.
The Wolves also have a solid backup quarterback in Keaton Torre. The sophomore has great arm strength and will see action this year.
Quinzell Jones, Kaden Mendenhall, Ryan Sanderson, Malcolm Dade, and Tyler Rose, a move-in from Minco, will provide depth at receiver.
“He (Rose) moved in early summer and continues to impress us with his work ethic, his hands and his ability to cut,” Manning said. “I know Minco was sad to see him go.”
Santa Fe also has a deep backfield led by senior Cameron Westbrook, who gained 17 pounds in the weight room. He averaged nearly 5 yards per carry last year.
“He’s explosive, he’s fast and now he’s going to be more physically imposing,” Manning said.
New additions Ke’Marrie Carter-Hartfield and Michael Farmer also will see time at running back. Carter-Hartfield, who played at Santa Fe as a freshmen, is a slasher. Farmer, a transfer from Edmond North, is a powerful runner who has drawn Division I offers.
While Santa Fe has developed plenty of skill players over the years, the offensive line has always been a concern. Not this year. The Wolves return four starters up front including J.R. Hensley, who is drawing looks from several Big 12 and SEC schools.
“He’s getting attention from everyone,” Manning said. “He’s big, he’s physical and has all the intangibles. He’s going to be a big-time lineman.”
Chris Morgensen, Mitch Hill and John Wynn also return on the offensive line. Mitch Hill, Cedric Jones and Justin Richardson are battling for the final spot at left guard.
Santa Fe’s offense will also feature a tight end in 2013. Both Austin Zackery and Garrett Russell give the Wolves good size and hands downfield.
Defensively, the Wolves have made strides in the offseason. The team has improved its strength and become more comfortable with defensive coordinator Chris Rose’s system.
“For our seniors, this is the first time they’ve had the same defensive coordinator two years in a row,” Rose said. “So, hopefully we see a major improvement from year one to year two.”
Michael Onwuchuruba, Chase Hilmon, Hayden Ball, Jeremy Cox, Ken Harris, Garrett Russell, Felix Depona and Austin Zachery will anchor the defensive line.
“With the style of defense we play we have to have a legitimate two-deep,” Rose said.
Austin Mack is the lone returning starter at linebacker. Blake Ashcraft, Zach Hill, Darren Talley and Farmer will round out the unit.
The Wolves’ secondary is still taking shape. Aaron Jones, Ashton Preston, Rose and Quinzell Jones are fighting for cornerback spots. Westbrook, Tyler Smith, Mendenhall and Carter-Hartfield will play safety.
Ed Smith and Cameron Kay are competing at place kicker.
Hansen will handle punting duties.
The Wolves are looking for its third straight district title. They appear to be the favorite in the highly competitive District Class 6A-4. Lawton, Southmoore, Mustang, Edmond Memorial are also expected to contend for a district crown.
“We’ve won two years in a row and that’s going to be a difficult task to repeat because of the quality in our district,” Rose said.
Santa Fe finished 10-2 last season and advanced to the state semifinals for the second year in a row. They were eliminated by Tulsa Union.
The Wolves open the regular season Thursday against the Midwest City Bombers at Wantland Stadium.