Osage had some struggles and wound up 2-8 for the program’s first losing season since 2015 and the fewest amount of wins since a 3-7 finish in 2013. Head Coach Devin Johnson stepped in and took the reigns after that 2013 season and led the program to a district title. To get back to that level, the coach noted how imperative it was to learn from previous mistakes.

The journey was a tough one for School of the Osage in 2018. 

After finishing the previous season 5-5, the Indians had some struggles and wound up 2-8 for the program’s first losing season since 2015 and the fewest amount of wins since a 3-7 finish in 2013. Head Coach Devin Johnson stepped in and took the reigns after that 2013 season and led the program to a district title. To get back to that level, the coach noted how imperative it was to learn from previous mistakes. 

“We learned that we have to finish, we cannot leave points on the board with turnovers and we have to get off the field on third downs,” Johnson mentioned to Game Night. “It is just really basic stuff that changes games. If you look back at the film, there might be two or three plays that where they go differently and the outcome goes differently for us so we just have to win those plays.”

But as tough as it may have been for the players, it was also a good opportunity to reflect as a coach.

“I think last year actually validated in me my belief that coaching is not about wins or losses, but about kids. Nobody is going to know what that group of seniors went through over a 6-year span,” Johnson remarked. “Some of the hardest moments I’ve had in coaching was being able to guide them and get them through that. Honestly at the end of the season the wins and losses did not matter, it was just about making sure those guys were good. They are good people, they are going to be very successful and I’m proud of them.”

Now, a new journey is about to begin and the good news is that Osage brings back some veteran experience ready to make those needed improvements. All six returning offensive starters and all eight defensive returning starters are seniors and the Indians have a total of 26 returning lettermen. Johnson said this current batch of seniors quickly learned to never take anything for granted.

“Nothing has ever come easy to them. They have to work for everything they get and I like that about them,” the coach stated. “Ever since their seventh grade year, if you look at their past records they’ve improved every single year. It is not a group where any one or two kids stand out, it is just 15 solid kids that play with each other and want to do well for each other. 

“That is the main thing, this group will fight for everything they get.”

The Osage offense will use multiple pro formations and seek to move the chains more often after producing 193.8 rushing yards, 68.6 passing yards and 13.8 points per game a year ago. 

Senior Drew Edwards will handle the duties at quarterback in 2019 after playing the tight end position a season ago where he finished with six catches for 68 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Sophomore Brockton McLaughlin may also take a few snaps to keep defenses off guard as Johnson likes the young quarterback’s ability to “throw the ball very well downfield.”

Jack Dulle returns as the team’s leading rusher after a junior campaign where he put up 246 yards on the ground averaging 3.8 yards per carry. James Hutchcraft will also get some looks as he powered ahead for 237 yards averaging 4.2 yards per rush and Matt Hans will be eager to return after an injury ended his season in week four. Hans will also be used as a receiver and before his injury, he had put up 116 rushing yards and a score (3.5 yards per carry) while hauling in six receptions for 45 yards and another touchdown.

Logan Havner is back as the team’s top receiving threat and his 6-foot-2 frame is favorable when it comes to going up and snagging some passes out of the air. The senior caught 15 passes for 166 yards and a score as a junior. Time will soon tell who also may emerge as a key target in the passing game.

Leading the offensive line is guard Rudy Escobar and Johnson appreciates the senior’s ability to be “powerful and explosive as a blocker who moves well.” Fellow senior Aaron Hancock, junior Jace Hills and sophomore David Sallee are newcomers who will also look to be force in the trenches and together, the quartet averages 246 pounds. 

“This year we bring back a lot of weapons and should be able to use our versatility. We are also excited about our offensive line and their ability to make a push,” Johnson mentioned to Mid-Missouri Pigskin Preview, a magazine featuring over 40 high school teams around mid-Missouri. “With the changes in our staff last year we are more seasoned and have a better feel for what we are trying to accomplish.”

Meanwhile, Osage will primarily line up in a 4-3 defensive formation and hope to improve upon the 33.5 points per game allowed in 2018. 

The first line of defense will feature Escobar on the defensive line (68 total tackles, two tackles for a loss) along with fellow senior Matt McCubbin who produced 24 total tackles and a tackle for a loss. The size and strength of Sallee, Hancock and Hills will also be counted upon up front to disrupt opposing offenses. 

Hutchcraft (2nd Team All-Conference) is back as the team’s top tackler at linebacker where he finished with 97 total tackles and two tackles for a loss last year. Edwards (77 tackles, three sacks) and Havner (15 total tackles) will round out the linebacking corps in the 4-3 formation and keep their eyes peeled for the pigskin as well.

Hans returns to the secondary as a defensive back where he produced 14 tackles before his injury and joining him will be fellow seniors Luke Funderburk (51 total tackles, one interception) and Jack Dulle (25 total tackles). Another player to keep an eye on in this group is sophomore safety Connor Kinder who Johnson referred to as a “good athlete with instincts to get to the ball.” 

After a year of experience in the new defensive formation, the coach told Mid-Missouri Pigskin Preview that the returning starters feel more comfortable with the scheme and a heavy emphasis over the summer has been getting stops on third down. Johnson also feels like his club should be able to control the line scrimmage as it seeks to create defensive pressure and create turnovers. 

Overall, one major theme on both sides of the ball is consistency and the coach likes what he has seen in terms of the effort in meeting that standard. 

“I like our excitement and our sense of urgency- especially from our upperclassmen- the eagerness to kind of get in there and continue to get more and more reps,” Johnson noted to Game Night. “The one thing we have to get better at is just being consistent every single rep, but I like our guys’ eagerness to go in there and learn.”

The program’s motto this season is “Be The Example” and whether it is a returning starter who has played all four years or someone stepping beneath the lights for the first time, it falls upon everyone to be accountable.

“If we can get everybody on board and all 11 guys on the field doing the same thing we are going to be fine. Really, it is just going to be about us understanding our grand scheme on both sides of the ball from all 11,” Johnson stated to Game Night.

Osage opens the season at Fulton on August 30 with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. Then, the Indians come back to face Moberly in the home opener and one new feature standing proudly by the field is the new field house. Complete with offices and a new locker room, it is a place the program can be proud to call home.

“The kids are really excited about it. It is one of the nicest locker rooms for any class in the state of Missouri for a high school football team,” Johnson said of the new addition that was part of a $23 million bond approved by voters for school improvements. “It is something our kids take pride in and they enjoy being there. From my perspective it is a much safer and cleaner environment where there is more air circulation and it was very much needed. I’m glad the community saw that and stepped up in such a big way.”