Skiatook High School Athletics


Bulldogs have created a winning culture


Vance Miller and the Skiatook Bulldogs were understandably heartbroken after their semifinal loss to Collinsville in the Class 5A tackle football playoffs. They love tackle football. But even as they walked out of a cold, rainy field in Owasso, they knew they had no reason to hang their heads. Twenty-four wins, three losses. That’s what the record will show for the 2014 and 2015 seasons — a remarkable turnaround from the 2012 Skiatook team that lost all 10 games. “I think it’s here to stay,” Miller, head coach of the Bulldogs, said. Safe bet. Skiatook’s football revival seems unlikely from the outside, but to those who put on the pads, it was destiny, and destiny isn’t complete. Laben Fisher was one of 19 seniors, and one of six or seven whose performance each game made those 12 wins reality. He recalled the infamous 0-10 season his freshman year from a different perspective. “We went 8-0 on the freshman team,” Fisher said. “We told ourselves, ‘All right, we’re going to change this program.’” The next year, several sophomores started, and the Bulldogs improved to 4-7. They knew they weren’t done yet. As juniors, that group helped the Bulldogs mount a 12-2 season and a state runner-up finish. There were myriad factors at play in the program’s comeback, starting with some inward reflection. “When we went 0-10, it really makes you step back and evaluate everything,” Miller said. “What are we doing? “At the time, I was calling the offense, trying to be the head coach, probably wearing too many hats.” Miller embraced a change of direction. He hired an offensive coordinator — Bobby Cooper. He hired a defensive coordinator — his brother Brian Miller. “Brian had a big impact on our team, just by his mentality,” Vance Miller said. “You’ve got kids who want to play defense now instead of offense.” Hunter Gnose, Billy Beyen and Bryce Shook make it look fun. Most everyone does. Since Cooper and Miller joined the staff, the Bulldogs have been 8.7 points better than the competition, per game. The numbers are more flattering when reduced to the previous two seasons. In that time, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 765-396, or by 13 points per game. “People in the community call us and text and congratulate us on a good year, they like to see where the program’s at now, it’s come a long way in a few years,” Miller said. “It’s nice to get feedback and support from the community, they’re proud, too.” The 2015 season was punctuated with early wins against three gritty, competitive teams and a continual undefeated surge, all the way to the semifinals. “We beat Oologah, we thought that was a big win for us,” Miller said. “Week three, we beat Collinsville by three at their place. Beating Shawnee, it was a big victory for us because we hadn’t beaten them in 5A. “Then we go beat McAlester, I think it was just a big confidence boost, they knew they could play with anybody. Then as the year went on, we beat Memorial, Bishop Kelley, and then on into the playoffs, got Deer Creek.” Skiatook climbed all the way to the No. 2 ranking, 12-0 for the first time since the 1974 state championship team. “Week to week, our kids just found ways to win,” Miller said. “But for the most part, the way we practiced, the effort we gave, just the conditioning we did, I think it helped us prevail each week. There were several times we were behind or just barely ahead and held on to win. It shows they believed they could do it.” Injuries to Fisher, Shook, Stephen Upton, Mikey Watson, and others amounted to what Miller called, “more key injuries than I’ve ever had in 17 years of coaching.” Watson’s came at an especially bad time. After beating Collinsville 13-10 at Sallee Field in September, No. 2 Skiatook found themselves facing the 100-year-old rivals in the playoffs for the first time. Watson went down before halftime, when the Bulldogs had a 3-0 lead. It was all the scoring they would get. Tough loss? Absolutely. But Power of One turned out to be more than a slogan. “Red Nation, the fans were big for us,” junior running back Shae Garner said. “The fans had it packed almost every game. They had a lot to do with it.” Red Nation, Skiatook’s student section, helped bring in FOX 23 Tulsa’s 2015 Fans of the Year award. They will return in 2016, and so will a well-prepared group of players who will have to replace Brandon Babb, Grant Appleberg, Beau Wooden and the aforementioned seniors. “We just wanted to change it all, go after a better outcome,” Fisher said, “Our strength is being able to come out as a team.”