'13 Spartan Preview: Senior Leadership Stands Out
8.23.13 by Gregg Shipman
Entering his fourth season as the Spartan head coach, Loren Montgomery looks relaxed behind his desk. He looks confident and at ease at the head of the program he's built, and why shouldn't he? This is his first senior class of kids he's had since their freshman year. It's a special class. They are survivors. Leaders. Spartans.

"It starts with senior leadership," said Montgomery when asked what he expects his team strengths to be in the 2013 campaign. "We've got strong skill position players and we believe we will have a really strong defense, but the senior class leadership and chemistry is what really stands out."

These are kids who stuck with Montgomery from the beginning. Kids who bought into a rigorous off-season training program and will go down in Spartan history as the first class to have played in the grueling Oklahoma 6A classification for their entire high school careers. Why is that significant? Numbers. Bixby is one of the smallest 6A schools in Oklahoma in terms of enrollment. And over the last few years, due to attrition and injuries, it was not uncommon to see an outmanned Spartan unit dress out 35 players to challenge an Owasso or Broken Arrow team with 100-150 healthy, uniformed players. Like their cinematic counterparts in the movie "300", Bixby's Spartans gave courageous efforts and never gave up in spite of being outnumbered.

But times are changing. Four years ago, in Montgomery's rookie season as a head coach, there were 50 kids signed up for football in August. Today, there are 83. A lot of that has to do with developing a strong top-down program, but it also has to do with the fact that Montgomery has always had a philosophy of being the premier program in Oklahoma for developing a young man's character. To that end, he's had an open door for players who want to return to the team and an open eye for available talent on campus, often times seeking them out and inviting them to come out for football.

In spite of the growing numbers, Bixby is still outnumbered on many Friday nights, with the most talented Spartans having to be two-way starters on offense and defense (and often, special teams). To compete against bigger schools who can afford to go two deep at any position, Bixby counters with a unique offseason training program designed to maximize player's athletic potential and prepare them for the grind of a 6A season in Oklahoma high school football. That program is called "Club 225."

To be a member of Club 225, you must be able to power clean at least 225 pounds. A power clean is an Olympic lift where an athlete addresses a barbell lying on the ground in front of them, bends at the knees to pick it up in a deadlift, swinging the bar up to their chest and finally executing a front squat. The player only gains entry if he completes his front squat into a full standing position. This lift utilizes so many elements of balance and core strength that Montgomery believes it is the single best indicator of football strength and athleticism. As such it has become a badge of honor, with members receiving the right to wear the coveted black "Club 225" shirt and apply the black and white Club 225 sticker to their car window. Membership is gained through the ceremonial "Night of Champions" every August, where players perform their lifts on the field, under the lights in front of a cheering crowd. And while membership in this club is specifically a reward for the hard work of the Spartan players, Montgomery has also made entry available to anyone in the district who submits a video of themselves power cleaning at least 225 pounds.

Montgomery credits the branding of Club 225 - with graphic artwork by Gregg Shipman Photography of a Spartan shield, with the familiar Spartan logo "painted" on it, as being a vital component to keeping the kids motivated. "They all want to be on the poster. They all want to be in this club and wear that logo. It's a badge of honor," said Montgomery.

So after four years in this system, who are the Spartans Montgomery feels will stand out? Any such list would have to begin with Chandler Miller, the 6'3" 295 pound offensive tackle who will play Division 1 college football and is a University of Tulsa commitment. "Matt Dreyer (OL/DL) is also a guy who has a chance to play on Saturdays," said Montgomery.

Receiver/DB Kyle Rhine is also a guy Montgomery is high on. "Kyle's had a great summer, a great camp. He's really an outstanding route runner," Montgomery said. "Jon Kuhn (outside linebacker) is another guy to watch out for," he continued. "Kuhn runs a 4.6 (forty yard dash) and is just a tremendous athlete. He is really tough for blockers to deal with and is going to give people fits."

Incumbent quarterback, Marshall Ray returns for his senior year and according to Montgomery, Ray has really committed himself to being in top shape and has made a great push toward keeping that position nailed down this season. However, the future is also bright at quarterback. "Here's a name to remember," said Montgomery. "Tanner Griffin. He's a freshman but he can really run and throw. He is a phenomenal kid." Griffin will likely be Ray's backup to start the season.

While it's easy to look ahead to next year when (pending OSSA approval) the 6A classification is split into two divisions based on enrollment, Montgomery says this season actually sets up nicely for his Spartans. "If we get on a roll early and develop some confidence, we'll be in a great position as we roll into conference play," he said. "I think we're really going to surprise some people. We're going to have a really good team."

It all starts this Friday at Lee Snyder Field with a multi-team scrimmage event called "The Bixby Fall Classic" featuring Owasso, Norman, East Central, Ponca City, Sapulpa and of course, the hosting Bixby Spartans.