Most football coaches, at any level, has one basic philosophy — in order to succeed on the playing field, you have to be able to run the football.
That was true for the Green Bay Packers of Vince Lombardi and the Pittsburgh Steelers of Chuck Noll, among others.
Oskaloosa’s recent success on the gridiron has a direct correlation to how well it runs the football.
In two of the past three years, the Indians have rushed for nearly 6,000 yards and 77 touchdowns while making the Class 3A playoffs with records of 8-3 and 7-3 in those two seasons.
Last season, they only ran the ball for 1,687 yards and just scored 19 touchdowns in compiling a 2-7 record.
So far this season, it appears like Oskaloosa, currently 4-2, may be headed to a successful campaign with 2,048 yards and 30 TDs in the first five games of the season.
Much of that success goes to assistant coach Nick Reed’s offensive line, which has opened up big holes for the Indian running backs.
Occupying the offensive line spots are Philip Ringgenberg, Hunter Simmons, Morgan Reed, Zayne McKay, Ethan Huyser, Brandon Crile, Brett Kindley, Jeff Campbell, Joe VerSteegh, Jon Burke, Cody Tuttle, Saif Grafke, Cole Bossard, Mason Shrader, Andy Ruiz, Trevor Mabee, Brandon DenHartog, Dylan Tuttle, Stephen Shannon, Matt Presley and Michael Hendrickson.
Reed expected the offensive line to be improved coming into the season.
“These young men have been working extremely hard since the final snap of last season,” he said. “As strength and conditioning coach, I have the honor of putting in a lot of hours with our athletes all year long and these offensive linemen definitely made their offseason count. The linemen on both sides of the ball started doing extra conditioning together after their normal workouts to prepare for this season.
“I know this will come as a shocker, but most of us linemen don’t enjoy extra running. That should tell you how driven, focused, and excited these men were to put on the pads this fall.”
One player who does enjoy the extra running is senior Andrew Landgrebe, who has been tearing through opponent defenses all season long.
He leads Class 3A in rushing with 1,167 yards and has reached the end zone 18 times. Landgrebe has also had help from Nate VanVeldhuizen with 267 yards and five TDs and Mason Wisse with 258 yards and three touchdowns.
VerSteegh, the team’s senior center, said it’s been a lot of fun blocking for such a talented group of running backs.
“It’s a heck of a lot of fun. As linemen, we know we just have to give any of our backs a crease and they’re gone,” he said. “It makes us feel unstoppable. If we’re ripping off runs of 20-plus yards, it means we’re doing our job as best we can, and thats what we try for every play, our best.”
Dylan Tuttle, a junior tackle, and Kindley, a senior guard, concur with their teammate.
“It’s pretty encouraging and an honor to block for them,” Tuttle said. “I know that when I execute my job, they will get yards and battle for every inch. It’s a two-way street, when our line blocks well and the backs hit the holes we make, spectacular things happen. If one or the other doesn’t do their 1/11th, it’s not as successful. Our success this year shows that everybody is doing their job correctly.”
“It’s very gratifying! Our backs appreciate it too and will come and tell us thanks for the great blocking,” Kindley said. “It really gives me the chills to watch them run through the holes we make. It means we’re doing our jobs as offensive linemen.”
It didn’t start out particularly well in the season opener for the line as the Indians had 202 yards in the loss to Indianola.
Still, Reed was excited about the performances against Indianola and Grinnell, which posted a win over Oskaloosa the following week.
“A great effort, great attitude and TIME!” Reed said. “There’s a great quote I like to share with our kids, ‘Football goals are attained not by strength but by perseverance.’ We fell short on the scoreboard against Indianola and Grinnell, but after those performances, I left the locker room excited, not discouraged because of the way our young men were responding in such a short time to learning an entirely new way of blocking, a new defense, and a totally new offense. Each week, we have gotten better and better at each doing our 1/11th on offense and our young men do a great job of making every down and drill in practice count.”
The Indians are running their third different offensive scheme in the last three years, going with the single-wing two years ago and a slightly different system last season under former coach Mark Schilb.
This year, Oskaloosa coach Mike Sterner is incorporating a quicker style of offense with the linemen shifting to their positions.
That brought a bit of uncertainty among the linemen.
“Honestly, it was mostly uncertainty,” VerSteegh said. “We didn’t know what type of offense we were going to run, where we were going to play, or who was playing where. We knew that we had to find our identity, and I think we’re starting to figure that out.”
“We had good attitudes coming in, we had three returning O-Linemen from last season we also had Joe VerSteegh and Andy Ruiz coming, those two are also good linemen,” Kindley said. “We came into the season with the attitude that we’re going to do our jobs and be the powerhouses on the field and dominate the line of scrimmage.”
“We came in uncertain of who was going to play which position on the line,” Tuttle said. “Obviously, we were put in the spots that suited us to the best of our abilities. Our specific attitude was hunger, after the result of last season. We knew it was our time to shine.”
Besides opening holes for Landgrebe, VanVeldhuizen and company, the offensive line has also done a very good job of keeping senior quarterback Jesse VanDalen upright.
The line has allowed VanDalen to be sacked just three times this season and VanDalen has not been sacked in the last two games — coincidently victories for Oskaloosa.
“Great offensive linemen are smart, technical and deliberate with every block they make,” Reed said. “Our young men up front work very hard every day to improve on each of these aspects which, in turn, translates into success no matter what type of block we ask them to make. These young men really take pride in trying to do their 1/11th with passion on every down.”
With the way Oskaloosa has been running the football, its offensive line may be near the head of the class.