By NICK McQUEEN
Last season, the Victoria High School football team had some key injuries in vital spots -- including losing starting quarterback Sam Ottley in Week 4.
Still the silver lining in the situation, is that several backups came in to fill the void, and the Knights managed a 10-1 season, and quarterfinal appearance in the Eight-Man Division II state playoffs.
It was the Knights' 12th straight playoff appearance, the longest running streak among eight-man programs.
Now, the bulk of those skill players are back for the Knights, as they enter 2014 with the intention of keeping that streak alive, despite playing in arguably one of the toughest schedules in Division II.
The question isn't whether or not ninth-year Knights coach Doug Oberle has the talent to get the job done, it's a question of whether or not they can find enough depth on the line to give the playmakers an opportunity.
"We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience," said Oberle. "I tell people we have a lot of numbers coming back. By that, we have a lot of guys with offensive stats."
But the Knights did lose to graduation a starting center, a starting left guard and starting left end, something the coaching staff has been working on this preseason to try to make the Knights a complete team.
"That's where the concern is right now," Oberle said. "As a team, we still have a long ways to go. We have to continue to try and build some depth up front, and get some young guys involved."
Still it will help having the entire starting backfield, one starting guard, and a starting tight end back in 2014.
Junior Brady Dinkel, who started the final six games in place of Ottley, returns after completing 28 passes for 333 yards and 14 TDs. He also had 47 carries for 320 yards and six scores.
"We were trying to bring him along a little bit, and utilize the players around him (last season)," Oberle said of Dinkel. "This year, we look for him to step up. He just needs to step up and be a leader on the offensive side of the ball, and we need to make sure to get guys in good positions, and putting the ball where it needs to be put."
Dinkel will have a pair of returning running backs to hand the ball to as well in senior tailback Bryan Dome, and junior fullback Lane Kisner.
Dome had 855 rushing yards and 11 TDs. Kisner added 10 scores and 759 yards.
"I really feel like we can be pretty diverse," said Oberle. "I feel really comfortable with any number of guys carrying the ball.
"Bryan is going to be a kid we want to showcase, getting him the ball in different spots, but we don't really have to hang on him. He doesn't have to carry us, but we have to get the ball in his hands."
Oberle added they were able to install a little bit more to the offense this season, helped out by the fact most of this year's starters saw considerable time for a 10-1 squad.
"Confidence-wise, understanding what we're doing offensively, knowing the plays and knowing our schemes defensively, it helps last year those guys playing a lot," Oberle said.
Junior guard Brandon Brungardt and senior tight end Noah Dreiling are the two returners on the line, but the other three spots are up for grabs. The Knights find out real quick what they will have. Just as in the past when Victoria would open up with perennially tough Macksville, the Knights have a potential Division I playoff team in Claflin-Central Plains. The Oilers were 9-2 a season ago with a loss to Victoria (66-28), and eventual state runner-up Jetmore-Hodgeman County in the playoffs (44-36).
"We're definitely going to know where we are at right away," Oberle said. "Our guys should be motivated and should be up for that."
It won't get any easier from that point. The Knights have eight-man newcomer Ellinwood, St. John and Ness City the next three weeks. Then begin district play with Northern Valley and Beloit/St. John's-Tipton, the team that knocked the Knights out of the playoffs last season. The Knights' district features three playoffs teams from a season ago, adding Thunder Ridge to the equation.