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Choctaw Football Expected to Look Different in 2023
As the 2023 football season approaches, Choctaw football is embracing several changes as it approaches a tough schedule.
The Gulf South Conference hosted its 2023 Football Media Day on Thursday, July 27, in Birmingham, Alabama. The Choctaws were represented by ninth-year head coach John Bland and junior running back Marcus Williams. With the 2023 season opening in just over a month, here are some things Choctaw football fans can look forward to in the new season.
In 2023, change is not exclusive to just the Choctaws. The Gulf South Conference as a whole announced several changes during the media day festivities, including a new media deal with FloSport, an online streaming service that carries primarily college sports. Now in addition to football broadcasts, FloSport will broadcast a variety of sports for the conference. Additionally, after adding instant replay to basketball last season, the GSC has also decided to add it to all football contests. Bland expressed excitement at this change, saying that last season he had a few calls he would have liked to intervene on himself and that he hoped it would allow for officials to see some things that they might not have otherwise.
Without a doubt, the most evident changes for the Choctaws this season will be on the offensive side of the ball. First of all, long-time offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine is no longer part of the program after moving on to become fullbacks coach at the Naval Academy. In his place, the Choctaws brought in Courtland Hays, who previously served as offensive coordinator at Southwest Mississippi Community College. With a new offensive coordinator comes a new offensive system, and although it has been promised before, the Choctaws are once again looking to diversify their offensive approach.
Both Bland and Williams hinted at the fact that the Choctaws would be adding some spread looks to their playbook in 2023.
“The triple is a great offense,” said Bland. “It’s hard to prepare for. Teams in our league would be glad if we went to the spread, they get to see it every week. When they see us it's something unique.”
He went on to say, “This spread though is going to help us…we’re going to have a little mix and hopefully make things difficult for defenses to prepare for us.”
“I’m excited about that, I came from a spread team out of high school,” said Williams. “I’m kind of comfortable with it already.”
There will also be plenty of new faces on the field for the offense this season. Notably, with the departure of Cole Fagan, they will be looking to fill a hole at fullback. Poised to fill that hole is junior Ron Craten, who rushed for 282 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in relief of Fagan last season.
Last season, the Choctaws suffered a major loss during their road win against West Georgia when quarterback Deante Smith-Moore went down with a knee injury. That was before then-freshman John Henry White burst onto the scene, rushing for 834 yards and being named GSC Freshman of the Year. Now going into his sophomore season, Bland spoke highly of his signal-caller, saying that he had garnered the respect of his teammates and worked hard throughout the spring to get better as a passer, an area where Bland said he had “room for improvement.” Bland said he hopes to see White be a more complete quarterback in the upcoming season.
Last season, the Choctaw defense struggled at times, especially in the run game, giving up an average of 235 yards per game and 6.6 yards per carry. However, Bland expressed optimism about the defense this season, saying that they had brought in several promising recruits and were returning several standout players. Williams gave a more concrete description of the defense's improvement based on his experience with them in spring practice, noting that their work in the weight room had resulted in a more physical style of play: they had become more active and were flying around the field in practice.
Once again, the Choctaws are staring at a brutal schedule to begin their season. They begin their season on August 31 on the road in West Palm Beach, Florida against Keiser University, one of the best football programs at the NAIA level. Then, they will embark on yet another road trip the next week to face Lone Star Conference foe Midwestern State on September 9 in Wichita Falls, Texas. All of this is before the Choctaws even start conference play, where they will face several tough opponents, including Delta State and West Florida, who both made the Division II playoffs last season.
After finishing last season 4-6 with several impressive wins and some equally disappointing losses, the Choctaws look to once again be competitive in a stacked GSC. Although the Choctaws’ schedule is tough every year, this one may prove to be one of their easiest in recent memory. They have not scheduled the usual annual game against a Division I opponent that often sees the Choctaws blown out. They also do not have a game the week of October 7, their first real bye week since 2021, which will allow much-needed time to heal and rest as the team approaches the heart of their GSC schedule.
The Choctaws' first game will be on Thursday,
August 31, in West Palm Beach, Florida against Keiser University, with their first home game scheduled for Saturday, September 16 against West Georgia, kicking off at 7 p.m. Central Time.