Courier Staff Writer
Zach Pfantz took to the practice field to prepare the Ottumwa Bulldogs his second OHS football squad for the upcoming season a couple of weeks ago.
Since then, he’s had to answer the same question from his son Tate.
“He keeps asking me ‘when’s football season going to start,’” Pfantz said.
Last Friday, Pfantz went home after school and couldn’t wait to answer his son’s question. He didn’t even wait for Tate to ask it.
“I said to him, ‘Tate! Football season starts tonight!” Pfantz said.
That’s certainly how several the rest of the Bulldog football players felt after the annual "Meet The Bulldogs" preseason intra-squad scrimmage wrapped up. The night provided several OHS players a chance to experience the first Friday night under the lights of Schafer Stadium.
Before the night began, that was a prospect that might have unnerved some of those Ottumwa stars. After the night was over, all it did was pump them up for the many Friday nights that await them this fall starting this Friday night against Keokuk.
“I was nervous just to come out here just because of everyone that was out here (in the stands),” sophomore running back Isaiah Cox said after participating in the first varsity scrimmage portion of "Meet The Bulldogs." “It was pretty unnerving the first time with everything going on, but now I can’t wait to go against Keokuk.”
“It felt good to get out here on this field, finally,” sophomore Isaiah Hutchinson said. “I’m ready for Friday night.”
Of course, scoring touchdowns always helps ease a young player into the game. Cox and Hutchinson were, by the end of the night, moving with the greatest of ease up and down the gridiron as both young backs scored three touchdowns during the scrimmage.
Showcasing elusiveness and speed, both of which are keys to being successful weapons in the "pistol" offense, both running backs as well as Greig Duo gave OHS fans plenty of reasons to be hopeful. That was a big positive from the preseason scrimmage for a Bulldog offense that will enter 2013 needing to replace its starting quarterback and leading rusher from last season.
“I like this offense. It’s very exciting to run it,” Cox said. “Once you get out here and you start to get hit, you start to feel the game a little bit and you feel that flow of the game. That’s when this offense really begins to start rolling.”
Hutchinson talked about his running style, which was on display several times Friday including on a pair of long touchdown runs. It’s a style that can be very key to helping the deceptive option-style "pistol" work.
“I just kind of get slacked down (low to the ground) when I’m running,” Hutchinson said. “I love to run the ball. That’s all there really is to it. I didn’t have as many carries as everybody else, but I got enough. I feel like I’m ready for Friday’s opener.”
Duo popped the first big runs of the night out of the pistol, including a 60-yard touchdown as the small back popped around the right side of the line and dashed home for the score. The night also featured several snaps at quarterback from junior Shane Frazier, who within the pistol showed an ability to both run the ball with success as well as the confidence to pass the ball highlighted by a late 28-yard touchdown strike to Sam Kramer.
For Pfantz, however, the most important factors about "Meet The Bulldogs" was that each member of the team got to play and will be have a valuable learning tool heading into Friday’s opening game against the Purple Chiefs.
“We did make some mistakes, but I think that’s good because at this time of the year we don’t have pay for those mistakes. We only have to learn from them,” Pfantz said. “The biggest key about this night is the guys will be to look at the film of the scrimmage and see what they did well, but most importantly they’ll see the things we still need to work on and improve on. That makes this a very good night. It’s something we can get a lot out of.”
Before Pfantz took the reins off the Bulldogs’ pistol offense, the first series of plays featured perhaps the strength of this year’s OHS football team. Ottumwa’s stout defense, which features seven returning starters, stymied the Bulldogs offense without yielding a first down and not giving up a play longer than three yards.
“You could tell the kids were ready to get out in full pads and be in that live situation in front of fans,” Pfantz said. “We’ve been going pretty hard ever since we started practice. I think you could tell in those first few plays that needed a night like this to officially raise the level of our intensity up.”
And now, with football season officially under way, the Ottumwa football team is ready to lead by the example of its second-year head coach. Pfantz, however, may not even be the most pumped-up person in his own household about a new football year starting up.
“When I told my son (Tate) that football season is starting on Friday, he was just so jacked up,” Pfantz said. “You can tell all the kids on the team are jacked up. That just makes it official. It really is football season and we’re all really excited about that.”