The Verdigris Cardinals (7-0) are off to their best start in nearly a decade, and the second-ranked team in Oklahoma’s Class 3A has done it with a variety of offensive playmakers and a defense that creates a lot of turnovers and gets after the quarterback.
A stellar defensive line has allowed sophomore linebacker Reese Roller to fly to the ball and chase down opposing quarterbacks in record fashion. The 5-10, 190-pound sophomore has been playing like a veteran the first half of the season, recording 21 sacks and 20 quarterback hurries in just seven games.
“He’s got a motor that doesn’t stop,” claims Verdigris head coach Travis East. “He does a great job of going after the quarterback. He’s relentless in his pursuit. That’s the big thing that he does.”
According to MaxPreps, Roller’s 21 sacks are currently the second-most in the nation and only one behind the leader. He’s recorded at least three sacks in four straight games.
“The first thing I do is read the tackle,” explained Roller on his approach to rushing the passer. “If the tackle pass blocks, then I know I usually have a one-on-one with the tackle and I use my speed to my advantage off the edge.”
It doesn’t hurt that Verdigris has defensive linemen like Yale Gray and 6-3, 250-pound senior Evan Raines to open up the pass rushing lanes for Roller.
“Evan is a big reason for my success,” admitted Roller, who likens his playing style to former Oklahoma Sooner star Eric Striker. “That dude does wonders on the line. He takes all the double teams. He’s a beast.”
Also lending a hand to Roller this season is his father, Michael. Michael wrestled at Nebraska and Oklahoma during his competitive days and he’s stepped in as a voluntary linebackers coach for the Cardinals.
“Having my dad on the sideline, he’s always looking out for me,” said Roller. He lets me know little things that I’m messing up on, which really helps me. He just helps me a lot.”
The Roller name has been synonymous with high school sports in the Bixby and now Verdigris communities for years. Playing at a smaller school like Verdigris allowed Reese and older brother, Sloan, to play on the varsity team together last year.
“That was an amazing experience,” recalled Reese. “I really look up to my brother. He set an amazing example for me. He just led me to do the right things. One of the coolest things was when we both would make a tackle and they’d come on the intercom and say ‘the Roller brothers on the tackle.'”
While Reese relished the opportunity to share the huddle with his older brother, he hasn’t forgotten the fact that Sloan took his number 11 jersey last year.
“My brother stole that number from me,” said Reese without a second of hesitation. “He was number 7 growing up his whole life and decided to be 11. So I went with 33 because that’s like a family number for us. I think he just took 11 because 7 was already taken. I think he chose it because I was 11 and he was a senior, so he just wanted to take it. I’m back to 11 this year.”
With his familiar jersey number back, Roller and the Cardinals have their sights set on making a deep run in the playoffs.
“We’ve got a good group of kids,” remarked East. “It’s really a great group of players that really take it to heart about being a family. They’re pretty close with each other. They really embody that through our team.”
#2 Verdigris battles #3 Holland Hall this Friday, October 30th, in a showdown of unbeaten teams in Class 3A. YurView will televise this Ford Game of the Week on Cox Channel 3, at 7 pm CT or watch the game online.