OTTAWA – With 19 winning seasons in the last 21 years, there are big expectations for Ottawa-Glandorf football teams even in years when the number of returning starters is small.
The Titans have only seven returning starters this season. But turning the clock back just one year shows that number is not necessarily a roadblock to success.
Last year’s O-G team brought back only five starters from 2014 and it finished 8-4 and went two rounds deep into the playoffs.
“It’s always a goal of ours to win the WBL and get to the playoffs,” senior running back Connor Niese said. “O-G expects a lot out of its football team.”
The Titans have just two returning starters on offense – lineman Alex Hoehn and Niese. On defense, linemen Daniel Beemer and Brett Llewellyn, linebackers Jay Kaufman and Logan Balbaugh and defensive back Trent Basinger are returning starters.
For years, Ottawa-Glandorf was known as a power running team but the Titans will run a spread offense again this year, as they did last season when Zac Unterbrink threw for 2,323 yards.
“Things have changed. It’s definitely a different world,” Ottawa-Glandorf coach Ken Schriner said.
But the Titans might bring back a little of the old world this season after Unterbrink and his top two receivers, Logan McDermott and Bryce Utrup, graduated.
Niese, a 6-foot, 1-inch, 175-pound senior, rushed for 1,081 yards last season and returned three punts for touchdowns. He could be getting the football even more this season and first-year quarterback Jay Kaufman could be involved in the running game more, or at least in different ways, than Unterbrink was.
“We’re going to have to concentrate more on the run this year with the inexperience of Jay and the receivers are inexperienced too,” Schriner said. “Connor Niese is probably our main weapon as a running back right now. He had a heck of a year last year. We’re going to lean on him pretty heavily.”
Kaufman, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 210-pound junior, was honorable mention All-WBL as a linebacker last season. He played quarterback at younger levels but did not play that position last season.
“Zac had some great scramble ability. He had a knack of getting outside and making plays. Jay is a powerful runner, we are going to utilize him in the running game. We’re probably going to use him more as a runner than we did with Zac. But he also has a strong arm,” Schriner said.
Ottawa-Glandorf got into the playoffs last season after a two-year absence from the postseason.
The Titans beat Indian Lake 23-15 in their postseason opener, then lost 42-14 to Columbus Hartley.
O-G was third in the WBL in overall defense and led the league in turnover margin at plus-10. The Titans had 24 takeaways and 14 turnovers themselves, including only one lost fumble in 10 regular-season games.
“We do emphasize that a lot and we were very fortunate,” Schriner said. “I’ve been here 21 years and I keep track of those stats and we are plus (in turnover margin) every year except two years and those are the two years I’ve had losing seasons.”
The Titans will open the season Friday night at home against a Canadian team, North Academy Clarkson Prep, located in surburban Toronto.
Reach Jim Naveau at567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Navaeu.