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All-Area 2012: Wissman tabbed top offensive player

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Otis-Bison High School football team entered the fall with plenty of question marks.

The Cougars returned just three players with starting experience. Otis-Bison had spent months putting in a new offense, a one-back set Cougar coach Travis Starr learned from Madison coach Fred McClain, who won Eight-Man Division I championships in 2010 and '11.

However, senior running back Dylan Wissman couldn't participate in summer drills and offensive implementation because of a foot injury suffered in track season.

In Week 1, Otis-Bison earned a 22-20 victory against St. John, a team the Cougars had defeated handily in the past, but ended up 8-2 this fall. Wissman finished with 37 carries for 158 yards and two scores, then a career-high for carries. He accounted for all but 33 of the Cougars' total yards. Starr said the team made "a lot of mistakes," but paced by Wissman, pulled off the victory.

"He was the rock," Starr said. "He was the main force. We knew what he was able to bring us, so we relied on him."

Otis-Bison's new starters, especially junior quarterback Kole Urban, improved after the first contest. But the Cougars' mode of operation never changed: Put the ball in No. 2's hands.

"Give credit to St. John because everyone thought that we might roll past them considering that we had in years before, but they were a very good team," Wissman said. "The game kind of set us up, kind of showed us that we needed to be a lot tougher. We played good, but we didn't think that we played to the best of our abilities, but then afterwards, we really worked hard during practice and it kind of set ourselves up for the rest of the season."

Otis-Bison finished 9-2 and ranked fifth in the final Eight-Man, Division II statewide media poll. Running behind a line that included all-state senior center Sam Higgason, Wissman collected 246 carries for 1,871 yards and 40 rushing TDs, and caught 14 passes for 216 yards and two scores. Wissman, who collected more than 5,000 total yards in his career, earned Offensive Player of the Year honors on the 29th Annual HDN Super 11 team.

"People knew that when we walked into the stadium what our game plan was," Starr said. "We were going to give the ball to Dylan Wissman, and then obviously the line in front of him provided great holes, but then there were some times when he had to carry it 40 times for us. People knew exactly where he was going, and he was still able to pick up yards, and I think he went better as the game went along."

Helped by a blend of athleticism, intelligence and vision, Wissman finished fifth in Kansas in rushing yards, regardless of classification, and ranked second in the eight-man ranks in carries, according to maxpreps.com. He is on a short list for the state's best eight-man player.

"For what he has been able to accomplish for us, I wouldn't trade him for anybody," Starr said.

Wissman finished with 62.4 percent of his team's total yards and accounted for 44 of the squad's 67 TDs. In the four seasons, Otis-Bison went 10-1, 11-1, 10-2 and 9-2 and is believed to be the winningest class in Cougar football history.

"Nothing takes more out of you than when teams can simply do that, run the same play over and over, so it was nice to be able to stay simple and just be able to be dominate with just those simple plays," Higgason said.

Starr thought about putting in Madison's one-back offense during the 2011 season. He saw Madison when two state crowns with the rarely-used look that relies heavily on one back and doesn't use a fullback. Starr went to clinics and talked with McClain several times, including once at the state track meet last May. Otis-Bison's three players with experience were senior lineman Matt Demel and Wissman and Higgason, considered two of Kansas' best at running back and center, respectively. Higgason handled every nose guard without a double team, which helped open holes for Wissman.

"I would like to find a better center in the state in eight-man than him," Starr said.

Before the season, Wissman was known as an explosive player, but not a workhorse back. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Wissman had never collected more than 23 carries in a game.

Because of the squad's inexperience at the skill positions, Wissman knew he was going to have to handle a big workload. He worked on staying in shape, did some extra running and focused on his diet.

"I will admit that I have got a little bit of a sweet tooth," Wissman said. "Nothing drastic, just trying to cut down more."

After Week 1, Wissman believed he could handle the workload. He cleared 30 carries three times and 21 carries seven times.

"I was a little bit worried coming into the season, because I know that I don't have the greatest stamina and so if I was going to be able to hold up the whole season," Wissman said. "After getting 40 carries a game, it kind of showed that I was capable of doing that."

On Oct. 5, he finished with a career-high 41 carries for 276 yards and five scores in a 44-12 victory against Victoria. Similar to other contests, Wissman was basically the offense. Including a five-yard reception, he touched the ball but seven offensive plays and accounted for all but 13 yards.

"Dylan was running better than I had ever seen him run before," Starr said. "He would get up, come back and there he would go again."