When it comes to absorbing information, Owatonna football coach Jeff Williams hopes his players will be drenched by the end of the first week.
Basically, Monday may have initiated the first phase in galvanizing the team in preparation for the 2019 campaign, but the OHS staff isn’t proceeding with kid gloves. It’s all about learning and asking questions now so mistakes aren’t made later.
Williams — who has been the head coach since 1996, has won back-to-back state championships and three titles in the last six years — has nurtured an atmosphere that rewards those who are not afraid to fail. He doesn’t expect perfect execution during preseason practice. He just expects perfect attention.
“We really, really douse them with a lot of stuff in the first week,” Williams said after practice on Monday afternoon. “That allows the guys with experience to accelerate and get back to the speed to which we were playing when they left the field last year. I think it also exposes the younger kids to another level from what they have been playing, and I think that motivates them to get their nose in the playbook, spend a little extra time with the play sheets, ask questions and be a student. If you don’t know what’s going on, we have six position coaches on each side of the ball. There are plenty of guys to ask if you don’t know something. We are on the side of overwhelming some of the less experienced kids.”
After a slow burn that included a number of 7-on-7 tournaments in June, a team camp in late July and a youth camp last week, the high school season officially began on Monday morning with a team meeting at 8 a.m. in the locker room. From there, the squad spent the first of two practice sessions installing the defensive principals until concluding with a team meal at noon.
The afternoon practice focused on the offensive side of the ball as Williams plans to have the entire playbook installed by the end of the week.
“It’s a lot of learning going on,” he said. “And until we can get the pads on, it’s really about what kids can learn because our playbook will be inserted by the end of the week — the whole thing. Are we going to be perfect? No. Because then the focus (next week) will be refining that and continuing to get better, but then we will have to see who is willing to hit someone. Hopefully we come out of the scrimmage (on Aug. 24) and have that combination of, ‘I know some things and I’m willing to hit,’ and then we can start sharpening the sword for Rochester Century in this case.”
The Huskies still have more than two weeks until their season-opener against the Panthers on Friday, Aug. 30 at home, and there’s a lot to be decided before then. First and foremost, the offensive backfield needs to be stabilized. Two-time Gatorade Player of the Year, Jason Williamson, is gone and no player with more than 26 carries is on the current roster.
On the other end of the spectrum, the quarterback position is especially crowded as both of last season’s leading passers — Brayden Truelson and Sol Havelka — return and are upperclassmen. Havelka started every playoff game in 2018, but Truelson completed 50 of 81 attempts for a team-high 864 yards as a sophomore in 2018.
Other major position-battles will be on the defensive line where the team will need to find a way to compensate following the departures of Chris Lewis (5-11, 285 pounds) and Joseph Stransky (6-1, 255). Two high-level linebackers return in Isaac Gefre and Carson DeKam, but all-district performers Mason Oland and Nick Staska have since graduated. The defensive backfield returns a couple of starters, but one of them — Zach Stransky — might shift exclusively to offense at running back.
As for who will fill the vacant spots, that competition probably started in June during 7-on-7, but will ramp-up considerably in the next couple weeks.
“Boys in particular, I think they sort of understand how pecking orders work,” Williams said. “They are constantly looking and competing (and) figuring out where they fit and asking ‘where can I play and what’s going to be my role?’” Williams said. “We don’t make decisions in the summer. This is the time to get better. But the kids start getting things figured out and they are internally competing for jobs and looking for ways to get the field.”
Owatonna, which will be in full pads by the end of this week, will participate in its third different scrimmage in three years as it heads to Prior Lake to tangle with the Class 6A Lakers and Eastview as well as Class 5A Mounds View on Saturday, Aug. 24. Two years ago, they went to Lakeville and last fall they squared off against Cretin Derham-Hall.