Tough schedule stands in way of impressive streak

The Osceola High School Kowboys play a game against Bishop Moore.

Osceola High School enters the 2019 football season with an impressive streak of eight consecutive seasons of winning nine or more games and an accompanying streak of eight consecutive post-season appearances.

If that streak is to continue this season, the Kowboys will have to successfully navigate an extremely difficult schedule, that includes five regular season games against opponents that won eight or more games last season – including non-district contests against state powers Miami Columbus (14-1) and Cocoa (10-4).

Even the tune-up games had a high degree of difficulty – as Osceola played state runner-up Edgewater in its spring game and will play state champion Lakeland (16-0) in its Pre-season Kickoff Classic on Aug. 16.

“The schedule is a by-product of several factors, including the difficulty in finding non-district teams to play,” Coach Doug Nichols said.  “I’m not smart enough to understand this point system, but if we don’t win our district, we knew we better have some good teams on our schedule if we wanted to make the playoffs.”

As the season approaches, Nichols sees both strengths and concerns in his 2019 roster.

At quarterback, the Kowboys return shifty speedster Davon Wells (5-10, 165).  Running the offense out of a multi-back set, Wells averaged more than nine yards per carry last season (64-603) and rushed for 10 touchdowns.  He passed for just 242 yards last season but threw the ball just 31 times.   

“A lot of people do not know that prior to last spring, Davon never played quarterback before in his life,” Nichols said.  “He’s a tremendous athlete that can do a lot of different things and whether we have him at quarterback or in the backfield or split out, it’s going to be important for us to make sure he gets his touches.”

His back-up will be Blake Birchler, a rising sophomore who has shown some passing ability. The presence of Birchler may allow Nichols to diversify his offense a little.  “He is not ready to be a fulltime starter right now, but he has shown some promise,” Nichols said. “I can see situations where we will have Blake at quarterback and Davon in the game at the same time this season.”

Despite having two running backs transfer out of the program, the Kowboys return the bulk of its rushing attack from a year ago, which averaged more than 320 yards per game. In addition to Wells, Nichols will welcome back senior DeWayne McGee, who led the team in rushing with 1075 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.  Look for sophomores Jamison Jones (43-258-4 TD) and Roshaun Dudley (63-426-8 TD) to get their share of carries.  

“Both Dudley and Jones were freshman last year and were serviceable despite having to make a huge step up in competition. With a year’s experience they should be able to take some of the pressure we had to put on DeWayne McGee last year,” Nichols said.

Although primarily a running team, Nichols did hint in the spring that his team may pass the ball a little more.  McGee and Coleman are both capable receivers, whether circling out of the backfield or being split out pre-snap.

One area of concern was the offensive line, as Nichols hopes to build some depth from the spring. He only had six offensive lineman dress for spring football, with only three having game  experience.  

Still with the return Ryan Chesser (6-2, 250) from injury , and starters Cody Carter (6-1, 270), Sevien Martin (6-3, 340) and Logan Owens (6-0, 260) returning; the first unit will be solid.

The Kowboys return all of their front four on defense with tackles Jacob McKenney and Treyven Vernado, and ends Bryce Barrett and Dylan Ruiz, but are faced with the prospect of having three new starters at linebacker. Nolin Eaddy and Alvin Lee did get plenty of reps there last season, and Nichols added that he is excited about the future of sophomore Lamont Lee.  

“He came in at 6-2, 195-lbs. as a freshman last year and really had a great spring.  He is definitely an up-and-comer for us and someone to keep an eye on,” Nichols added.

Daniel Cooper (S) returns as the lone starter in the defensive backfield, but the Kowboys get Christian Contreras back from an injury-riddled 2018 season and a pair of sophomores – Jerry Wilson and Kaylon Walters – appear ready to move into a starting role.

The Kowboys should be fine in the kicking department as junior Rhys Marsh returns to handle both field goal and punting chores.

Even though the Kowboys have won 89 games in the last eight years, Nichols says his team has possibly under-achieved the last three seasons.

“Obviously we like to say our goal every year is to play for a state championship.  That starts with winning the district.  That said, I’m not so sure we’ve been as hungry as we have been in the past.  I told our kids this spring and I will remind them of it again this fall, we’ve won exactly one playoff game in the last three years.  This is the first since 2015 that our seniors did not play in the final four game and hopefully they are beginning to understand that just because they play for Osceola, success is not a guarantee.”