Following back-to-back 6-5 seasons, there are legitimate reasons to be overly optimistic about Oakland’s chances in 2013 to be the fifth different school to win the District 7-AAA title.
The Patriots return 17 starters — nine on offense and eight on defense. There are five players with college football offers — two of which have committed to schools.
But there may be a level of doubt following three consecutive first-round exits from the Class 6A playoffs.
After backing up Emmanuel Smith last season, Rhett Stacey has moved up the quarterback depth chart allowing Smith to focus more on defense at free safety as well as let the Vanderbilt commitment play wide receiver.
The move brings more athleticism to the Patriots receiving corps. Smith will take some snaps in the team’s wildcat package.
“We’ll be more traditional pro-I than we were last year,” Oakland coach Thomas McDaniel said. “We won’t be in the gun as much. We’ve got to manage reps for several different individuals, including Emmanuel.
“Emmanuel still has to be a focal point of our offense. When he is in there (at quarterback), we will be in the gun.”
Stacey threw for 376 yards in 2012. Smith threw for 628 and rushed for 777 yards.
The duo of Fred Wade and D.J. Hood (735 rushing yards) will split time at running back. Both are coming off injuries. Wade missed the season with a torn ACL. Hood missed some time with a foot injury. David Newman and Jacob Hill will be at fullback.
The receiving corps includes Smith (196 receiving yards), Kyle Oliver (395 receiving yards), Chris Stokes and Tyler Black (74 receiving yards). Sam Hawkins and Hudson Smith will share time at tight end.
The offensive line should be a strength for the Patriots. It includes Tennessee commitment Jack Jones at right tackle, Caleb Yates at right guard, Trent Roediger at center, Jeff Benson at left guard and Tejuan Henderson at left tackle. Four of the five played together a year ago.
Carson Blakely, Jacob Lowrey, Patrick Ridley, Rakeem Murphy and Keenan Kayser also could see time on the line.
Defensive tackles Austin Barrett and Ty Nix will plug holes up front for the Patriots. Hudson Smith and John Ralston also will play some at tackle.
Anthony Akers moved from defensive tackle to end in the offseason. He will team up with Devon Newman. Curtis Gaines and Chad McCarver will also see time.
Second-year starter Kevin Prather (72 tackles) and Josh Smith headline the Patriots’ linebackers. Malek Holman will join them at linebacker. Cameron Neewman, Dexter Hurd and E.J. Frazier will also play at linebacker.
The cornerbacks include Eric Abernathy and George Gbesee. But Stokes and Mark Pruitt will also be in the mix. Smith (77 tackles) will be joined by Black (two interceptions) to form a talented safety duo. Josh Cunningham will also have a significant role in the defensive backfield.
Hayes Foster will be the punter and kicker for the Patriots. He made 40 PATs in 2012.