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Football 2012: Otis-Bison light on returning starters

Published on -8/30/2012, 10:32 AM

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Travis Starr is entering his eight year as Otis-Bison High School head football coach. In his first four seasons, the Cougars won just 12 games. In the last three falls, Otis-Bison is the only area team to win at least 10 games each year. The Cougars are 31-4 in that span, including a 2010 Eight-Man, Division II state runner-up finish and a sub-state championship game appearance last fall.

This year, Otis-Bison returns just three full-time starters on both sides of the ball: senior linemen Sam Higgason and Matt Demel and senior running back/linebacker Dylan Wissman, arguably the state's top eight-man player.

Higgason was first team all-Central Prairie League last season, while Wissman was second team on both sides of the ball. Demel collected second-team all-league honors.

Past that, Otis-Bison has some Cougars, such as juniors Kole Urban and Jordan Hoffman, who played some last year.

However, it's a much different roster construction than the last three seasons. But the high expectations remain. Starr has 19 players out -- all 19 were in summer weights and camp.

"It's a whole different atmosphere than it was a few years ago," Starr said. "You step out there, you expect to win. You better not be satisfied with anything else. It's been a lot of time and effort on everybody's part. Obviously, it comes with a lot of talent."

Wissman, a four-year player, will be the focal point of the offense after sharing carries with a variety of players the last few seasons. He has collected 3,076 all-purpose yards in his career, including 2,488 rushing yards and 55 touchdowns. Last year, he rushed for 1,203 yards and had 331 receiving yards.

"Just a hard-nosed runner," Moscow coach Travis Johnson said. "He is not going to make a lot of cuts. He is just going to get up in the hole and just lower your shoulder and run you over."

No other returning player rushed for more than 100 yards or caught more than one pass.

"Usually we have more people coming back, but I think what we have coming back is fine," Wissman said. "State is going to be our goal every season. That is what we are looking for at the end."

Wissman was the backup quarterback earlier in his high school career, but Starr wanted to keep Wissman at running back. Fullback is a question mark, but Otis-Bisonlikely will run some one-back sets with just Wissman. Starr isn't concerned about the number of carries Wissman gets, but is more focused on limiting the hits Wissman takes.

"He will get the majority of the runs," Starr said.

Urban, who completed 2-of-6 passes for 74 yards in backup duty last year, has impressed in the summer and fall camp.

"He is doing a real good job of maturing and leadership, which at that position, we needed really bad," Starr said.

Starr believes Urban, known for his speed and shiftness, will give the Cougars "a little more" in the run game than Trevor Keller, who started for the last two seasons and had a 39/11 TD/INT ratio.

"We didn't really have to talk to him a lot about anything," Starr said. "I think he knows now that he is a junior, and he is going to be counted upon. I think he has kind of taken the leadership upon himself. He hadn't taken any snaps really in the varsity level at that position, so I think it was just him. He knew that he had to get with it and put in the time. I think he is growing into that position pretty well."

Defensively, Otis-Bison graduated five of its top six tacklers. Wissman ranked third with 68 stops. Higgason collected 41, Urban had 39, Demel collected 31 and Hoffman had 29. Urban and Hoffman each substantial playing time on defense last year because of injuries. Senior Justus Bartonek will start at middle linebacker in the Cougars' traditional 3-1 defense. Hoffman and Wissman will be on the outside, while Urban and senior Justin Jecha will be the safeties.

Higgason, Demel and senior Tyler Maier will start on both lines. Starr said the offensive line will "definitely have to be the leaders" of the team behind a run-heavy attack. As well, Higgason/Demel/Maier could match the dominant, all-state group of Robert Kolas, Josh Krom and Dominic Trapp from two years ago. Hoffman will start at tight end.

"A couple of those guys didn't play many snaps (in the past), like Tyler Maier," Starr said. "He played behind Dominic Manley for a couple of years. He played behind Krom for a year. He just hasn't been able to get on the field because the guys in front of him were just better than he was, but he is a heck of an offensive lineman for us."

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