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Before spending the last three seasons as an assistant at Bellefontaine, Cotner served as head coach at Benjamin Logan from 2007-13, going 26-44. He was also head coach at Fairbanks and spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach at the collegiate level.
He is the third coach for Urbana in five seasons and replaces Jon Daniels, who led the Hillclimbers to consecutive 2-8 campaigns.
But this is a program that was 7-3 three seasons ago and boasts of 27 conference championships on the board by the football field. The first came nearly 90 years ago. Winning football is the rule rather than the exception for this Champaign County school.
“It’s a place well known around the state,” Cotner said. “It’s a football town. To me, that’s very exciting.”
Cotner plans to run a spread offense built around the talents of senior quarterback Preston Shields, and he praised the preseason work of junior Nic Dorsey at running back.
“He has shown great speed and vision,” Cotner said of Dorsey. “He is going to be a threat. I am also encouraged about our offensive line. They are really starting to come together.”
The tackles will be senior Bailey Ullah and freshman Dylan Johnson with senior Luis Ramirez and junior Dalton Sexton at guard and sophomore Austin Fisher at center. Another senior, Brandon Vogel, will start at tight end.
Defensively, the Hillclimbers will move from a 4-2-5 defense to a 3-3-5.
Ullah, who led the CBC in tackles last season as a linebacker, will start on the defensive line with Vogel and junior Isaac Craft.
Cotner said senior Adam Gaver has had a good camp while classmate Kaleb Bowdle will join him at inside linebacker and senior Devin Trent and junior Ezra Lee handle the outside.
“Our class has been through three different coaches so it’s not a good thing, but it’s something we’re used to,” Ullah said. “We’re used to not being comfortable. I mean, you never want to be comfortable, but I think there’s a lot of opportunity.”
Fellow senior Preston said their class is anxious to go out on a high note.
“We just all have to accept (the new coach) as a group instead of some being all in and some being out,” Preston said. “Everybody has to come in as a team and play together.
“(Cotner) trusts his players. He gives them more leeway than other coaches would, but he wants you to work hard more than anything else. It doesn’t matter if you have talent. He wants you to work hard.”
Urbana opens the season at home against London (3-7 last season) on Aug. 25 before travelling to Stebbins in Week 2.
This season Urbana moves to the Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division.
The Hillclimbers, who went 0-4 in the Kenton Trail Division last season, will draw Benjamin Logan, Graham, Indian Lake and Northwestern in league divisional play this season. The Raiders and Lakers were playoff teams in 2016.
Urbana will also be in a new group for the playoff chase, moving from Region 14 to 16 in Division IV.