Osage coach Devin Johnson believes the way his team practices will go a long way in determining their fate on Friday nights in 2018.
It has been said that practice makes perfect.
While true perfection is likely unattainable for any team, Osage coach Devin Johnson believes the way his team practices will go a long way in determining their fate on Friday nights in 2018. With a 9-2 finish in 2016 that saw the Indians in the hunt for a Tri-County Conference title, there was plenty of reason for optimism as a significant number of returners were back on the gridiron a season ago. However, a 5-5 finish that included an early first-round exit in the district playoffs left Osage wanting more.
That is why practice is of the utmost importance as the Indians get ready to embark on a new campaign and Johnson has been pretty pleased with the response so far this summer.
“One of the biggest things I think we learned is that you cannot be complacent and happy with where you are at. I thought we had a team that was talented, had a lot of great kids and I love them to death, but we got a little comfortable with who we were and what we were capable of doing,” Johnson told Game Night of the lessons 2017 provided.
“We just have to make sure we always have great attention to detail and are trying to maintain a sense of urgency in everything we do. We to some new guys on the staff to help bring some new enthusiasm and energy which is a lot of fun and has helped the direction of our team, but really our goal this year is just to get back to the basics and do things right that we do well.”
It will certainly help to have some familiar faces around in pursuit of that goal as Osage brings back five returning starters on offense and six on defense.
The offensive side of the ball will feature a new quarterback taking the snaps in 2018 as senior Dalton Depeé transitions from wide receiver to replace three-year starter Zach Wheeler who will be playing collegiate football at William Jewell this fall. Johnson is confident in the new gunslinger he describes as “explosive” though, who may know a thing or two about making the right reads and finding the open route after pulling in 41 receptions for 566 yards and seven total touchdowns in 2017.
Depeé will not have the luxury of a receiver in Drake Gaines who produced 640 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior last year, but he will have a host of new targets he will be looking to develop some camaraderie with. Two primary targets he will keep an eye on are two of his taller weapons in senior tight ends Garrett Sutherland and Mason Etter. The 6-foot-4 Sutherland will also get some time at wide receiver after racking up four receptions for 36 yards and a score last season and Etter hauled in two receptions for 21 yards of his own, but will also be counted upon to provide some running room as Johnson describes him as a “good blocking tight end.” Meanwhile, a newcomer that will look to break out for his senior season in 2018 and replace the running of Nick Riley and Austin Magnuson (1,050 yards, 15 touchdowns) is the “quick and powerful” running back Hunter Neiman who rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns of his own last year.
Of course, a solid offensive will be necessary for any of these weapons to be utilized and the Indians will look for a pair of returning starters in seniors Jacob Smith and Robert Custer to lead the way. After missing the entire season last season due to injury, junior Rudy Escobar will be eager to push some people around as well. Together, the three experienced veterans Osage will be counting on to move the chains average 208 pounds.
Time will soon tell how it all comes together in the pro-style offense that saw the Indians average 153 yards on the ground and 199 through the air while producing 31.4 points per game respectively in 2017.
“Similar to the last few seasons, the one strength that we have is multiple weapons that can hurt a defense. There is no one guy that you have to key in on in order to beat us,” Johnson told Mid-Missouri Pigskin Preview. “It all starts up front for us. We believe that we have a tough unit that will develop into a good offensive force.”
And with a multitude of weapons, the idea is to simply make opposing defenses a little too tired.
“We are going to be physical, grind out some first downs and hopefully turn those first downs into some points every now and then or at least be able to flip the field,” the coach explained to Game Night. “We are getting away from the idea that every play has to be a big play. By the fourth quarter, we want to just wear some people down to where we are hopefully doing some good things.”
Defensively, Osage will implement a 4-3 defensive look that will seek to improve upon the 27 points allowed per game that included an average of 164 rushing yards and 152 passing yards per outing. The front seven between the defensive line and linebackers should provide the most strength with five starters back between those two spots.
The line up front will feature Etter and Smith who produced 29 total tackles, including four for a loss, with a sack and fumble recovery between them. Escobar will also be in the mix and hungry to make opposing offenses pay.
It will not be easy to replace a tackling machine like Magnuson (147 tackles), but the return of a trio of senior linebackers in Traygen Whittle, Sutherland and Depeé also have a nose for the ball. Whittle comes back as the leading tackler after a year in which he produced 87 total tackles with eight tackles for a loss and an interception. Meanwhile, Sutherland (84 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, five sacks) and Depeé (75 tackles, six tackles for a loss, one sack, one interception) can be just as disruptive. Junior James Hutchcraft will also be hungry to make even more of an impact after recording 45 tackles with two of those resulting in a loss.
The secondary has one returning starter in junior defensive back Matt Hans (24 tackles and one interception), but he will be joined by a couple of players who bring back some experience in senior defensive back Trevor Ralston (28 tackles, one interception) and senior free safety Matt Kinnison (seven tackles).
There is a new maestro of the defense in defensive coordinator Shawn Fowler and Johnson is excited to see what the defense will bring under new leadership.
“It has been a lot of fun for him, everyone on the staff and all the kids. It is a lot of different stuff, new terminology and different roles and it has been exciting to see the defense develop in that way,” the coach remarked to Game Night. “We allow them to be really aggressive, communicate and make their own calls and give them a lot of ownership over what they are going to do.”
However, the core beliefs of the Indian defense remain unchanged.
“We believe in applying pressure and swarming the football. We believe in creating turnovers and those are caused by relentless plays to the ball,” Johnson explained to Mid-Missouri Pigskin Preview. “This is a unit hungry to prove themselves this fall.”
Other important factors vital to Osage’s overall success in 2018 will be staying healthy and constant improvement. Of course, it all goes back to practice.
“You have to have constant improvement,” Johnson told Game Night of the first factor. “You see it every year honestly in the state playoffs where teams might be .500 or a little bit above .500 and all of a sudden they get on a roll… so it is not about where you start, but how you finish. As happy as we are with our progression right now, we still want to get better each and every week and especially develop our younger kids incase there is a time on Friday night where they have to step in and make some plays.”
Now, it is time to see if all of that practice and preparation throughout the summer has paid off. The Indians will take their first test on August 24 when they welcome Fulton at 7 p.m.
“The group we have returning is a gritty group that will fight for each other. I love their determination and am excited to see how that translates over to the playing field,” the coach told Mid-Missouri Pigskin Preview. “I love each and everyone of the guys on our team and cannot wait to see how they grow and mature over the year.”
WEEK ONE TALE OF THE TAPE
Osage 2017 Finish: 5-5
Fulton 2017 Finish: 3-7
Osage 2017 PF: 31.4
Osage 2017 PA: 27
Fulton 2017 PF: 20.3
Fulton 2017 PA: 26.5