Losing Connor Owings and Collins Shirley from last year’s squad was a big hit for the Gilbert Indians, but coach Barry Harley hopes the team will absorb it and move on as the Indians prepare for their first season in Class 3A.
Harley prefers not to dwell on the fact that Owings, the quarterback, and Shirley — who constituted a huge part of the Indians’ offense — are gone. Instead, he is accentuating the positive.
“Well there’s no doubt that losing Connor and Collins was big for us but, fortunately, we’ve got Omar (Bethea) back and he’s going to tote a lot of the yards for us,” Harley said.
Bethea, a senior, is more than fit for the task.
Never miss a local story.
“He just has to be,” Harley said. “He didn’t get much more than 600 yards last season, but he didn’t get any easy yards. I mean, he got tough, physical yards. He got the hard yards for us.”
This season, Bethea’s job could be made easier by a big and experienced offensive line, led by 6-foot-7 tackle Davis Farmer.
“We like the guys we have up there, and that ought to make it a lot better,” Harley said.
The Indians lost only Pat McGee from last year’s offensive front, and the combined efforts of Farmer with 6-foot-3 guards Christian Black and Gage Smith should create a solid front.
“I’m pretty excited about our offensive linemen. We’ve only lost one guy from last year, and I’ve been working with most of these guys for four years, so I feel pretty good about what we can do,” Farmer said.
Under center could be either Mitch Spires, a wide receiver who stepped in at quarterback a few times last season, or freshman Nick Hendricks.
“Mitch is a highly intelligent kid. He played some for us last year and was able to do well. Nick, we think he’s going to be pretty special for us once he learns the offense,” Harley said. “I hope one of them settles in, but right now neither one of them has stepped out and said, ‘I’m the guy.’ It could take into the first few games.”
Farmer said the linemen are prepared no matter who they are protecting.
“Coach has done a pretty good job of switching them out in practice so we have a pretty good relationship with both of the quarterbacks, so we will be fine,” Farmer said.
Meanwhile, Harley said the Indians have a stronger footing on defense than they did last season.
“I think our defense is going to be much better this year,” he said. “Our secondary is much improved, and we like that aspect of it.”
The Indians are especially confident because of the return of linebacker Bo Wooten and defensive ends Mark Greico and younger brother Drew Greico.
The Indians have a tough schedule, with Airport and Strom Thurmond in their new region.