By The Telegram

There are usually several key ingredients in putting together a successful football season size, speed, experience and team chemistry.

Sublette's Steve Simpson hopes this Larks team will have the complete package.

Coming off a so-so 5-5 season, the Larks are hoping to bounce back in a big way.

Despite losing some quality seniors to graduation, Simpson welcomes back 21 lettermen including eight returning starters on both offense and defense.

"Quite a few of our players got some playing time as sophomores, so I feel we've got a good amount of experience," Simpson said. "We've moved some people around to take advantage of their skills so I think we'll find out early how these changes will work."

One of the biggest switches came with the move of senior Brandon Stokes, the team's leading receiver in 2008, who will start at quarterback.

"Brandon has been playing quarterback since the eighth grade so the position is not new," Simpson said. "We just didn't have a place for him at quarterback last year because of Brett (Holloway)."

Speed comes in senior running back Mason Hibbard (6-0, 175) who will play both ways (defensive back) for the Larks. Hibbard was a member of the Larks' state championship track team and ran on the winning 400 and 1,600 relay teams as well as finishing fourth and seventh in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

"Obviously you like to have the speed, but what I like about Mason is his toughness," Simpson said. "We've got 12 seniors, so I like our experience and leadership from that group."

Midway through the 2008 season, the Larks suffered through a number of minor injuries, forcing players to miss a game here, miss a game there, and they had trouble with consistency. With added depth, Simpson hopes to have that alleviated for 2009.

"We have 32 kids out and that has given us a chance to develop a little bit of depth," Simpson said. "It's a good group of kids."

Size for the Larks will come in the presence of senior linemen Chris Villanueva (5-11, 260) and Spur Robinett (6-3, 270). Robinett played his sophomore season, but did not play his junior year. Simpson also will have senior Hayes Kellman (6-2, 190) up front and at linebacker on defense. Another senior, Nathan Birney (5-10, 190) will be counted on at both an offensive line spot and linebacker on defense.

Joining Hibbard and Stokes in the backfield will be junior Royce Williams (5-10, 165) who saw plenty of action at running back as a sophomore. Toss in a pair of 200-pound junior linemen (Max Patterson and Park Kelling) and its easy to see why Simpson is optimistic.

In preseason camp, Simpson has been impressed with junior receiver Angel Martinez.

"He's had a very good preseason for us," Simpson said of the 6-0, 160-pounder.

With the roller-coaster season a thing of the past, Simpson looks for consistency and staying healthy.

"We had some injuries in the middle of the season and we had to hold kids out from game to game," Simpson said.

Sublette won games in the first, third and fifth weeks of the season while dropping games in the second, fourth, sixth and seventh. They won their last two 2A District 14 games over Stanton County (48-6) and Satanta (70-6) before falling to potent Meade (10-28) in the first round of the state playoffs.

The Larks open their season at always-tough Class 3A Southwestern Heights and that will set the tone as they then host another 3A Hi-Plains League foe, Holcomb, in the second week of the season.