The Urbana High School football team hit its stride during the final four games last season. The Hillclimbers, still riding that momentum, haven’t slowed down.
Urbana won three of its final four games to end the 2017 season, the lone loss a 20-13 setback in the final minute to defending Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division champion Indian Lake. That run has boosted expectations and bolstered workouts.
“The way last season ended has really been a springboard for us going into this year,” second-year coach Carleton Cotner said. “It certainly bled over into our weight room and what we did in the winter and spring. I’d say the optimism is really high and the attitudes are great.”
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Urbana finished 4-6 overall and 3-1 in the Mad River Division last season. That’s as many wins as the program had the previous two seasons combined. A second season in Cotner’s system could provide another boost. Just as long as the Hillclimbers stay healthy.
Seven players are expected to play both ways, more than usual. Overall, there are 34 players on the roster for the Division IV program. Cotner wants to build that and he’s seeing progress. For the first time in about five seasons the junior high program has enough players for separate seventh and eighth grade teams. Numbers are also good in the youth program.
Coaching stability should continue the trend. Last season’s senior class played under three head coaches – Nick Marino (2014), Jon Daniels (2015-16) and Cotner (2017).
“There was a lot of growing pains from that standpoint,” Cotner said of a slow start to last season. “Then we got hit with some injuries. It really wasn’t until the second half of the season we had everyone healthy and that’s when we started playing our best football.”
Urbana returns standouts at the skill positions and an experienced offensive line. Senior center Noah Robinson (6 feet, 240 pounds), senior guard Dalton Sexton (6-4, 230), junior tackle Austin Fisher (6-1, 245) and sophomore tackle Dylan Johnson (6-4, 245) are returning starters.
Senior quarterback Preston Shields threw for 436 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 687 yards and nine TDs in eight games. Senior Nick Dorsey led the Hillclimbers in rushing with 1,084 yards and 12 TDs.
Seniors Max Niswonger and Ezra Lee and juniors Logan Johnson, Isaiah Fonseca and Marion Krebehenne will also be counted.
“Preston did a nice job last year and he matured as a quarterback and a leader. Nick is as talented a running back and skill player as there is in the area,” Cotner said.
“We have some skill players that I think are going to give people problems. I think it will be difficult for teams to focus on one or two players on offense. We have the opportunity to spread the ball around and take advantage of some mismatches.”
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Preston and Johnson are at linebacker. Lee and Fonseca are at cornerback with Dorsey at safety.
Senior Trey Williams leads a deep defensive line that also includes junior Ezra Lynxwiler. Robinson, Sexton, Fisher and Johnson will also see time.
The schedule adds two new teams with Meadowdale (replacing Stebbins) in Week 2 and Bellefontaine (replacing Greenville) in Week 3. London remains the season opener.
“It does get tougher anytime you add Bellefontaine into the mix. It’s exciting the rivalry is going to get renewed,” Cotner said of the CBC crossover game.
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As for the Mad River Division, Indian Lake has won the past three titles. That snapped Urbana’s run of five straight.
“We feel we have as good of a chance as anybody to win it. Everybody is going into the season thinking they have a shot,” Cotner said. “We feel like we closed the gap with them in terms of being able to compete with them and having a chance to beat them.”
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The Hillclimbers will honor Bill “Skeeter” Moss, the long-time and beloved assistant coach who died in December. Moss, 59, served as the offensive coordinator and running backs coach. Urbana will open the season without Moss on the sidelines for the first time in 30 seasons.
“With the loss of Bill Moss and what he meant to the kids and the program, that’s going to be tough,” Cotner said. “A lot of kids looked up to him. He looked out for a lot of them and helped him. That’s going to be heavy on our hearts all season.”
The Hillclimbers’ helmets will have a “Skeet” decal honoring Moss’ nickname.
“He always had his sayings and different funny things he said,” Cotner said. “Every day you hear coaches or players using one of his sayings. He’s always on our minds. He’ll be missed.”