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Silverstreaks hope bigger is better

Osakis sophomore Gage Larson takes a handoff during a practice last Friday as the Silverstreaks ran through plays to end the field portion of their practice. Larson is expected to get a lot of carries for Osakis this season after getting some experience as a freshman and testing out as the fastest player on the team in fall camp this year. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)1 / 2
Osakis assistant coach Chris Stroup talks to the team after practice wraps up during day five of fall practices in Minnesota last week. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)2 / 2

One thing jumped out about the Osakis football team immediately when watching this group run through plays during the fifth day of fall camp last Friday morning.

The Silverstreaks should no longer be at a size disadvantage against their opponents. Across the board, Osakis looked the part of a big and physical team as the offense and defense wrapped up the field portion of its practice late last week.

“This is the biggest football team I’ve had since I’ve been coaching here, just physical size,” head coach Bill Infanger said. “We’ve got a lot of kids over six feet tall.”

BUSY OFFSEASON PAYS OFF

That added size and strength was a popular theme among Infanger and his players during camp. There’s no doubt that with that comes added confidence for the guys on the field.

“Everything is looking really good,” bruising fullback Wyatt Olson said. “We got a lot of big guys. We got big guys on the line. We got Skyler Windhorst [at tight end]. He’s going to be huge this year. It will be nice to keep the edge for our fast guys, and we’re strong up the middle. We should be good everywhere.”

The addition of Windhorst, a senior who is more than 6’0” tall and around 230 pounds, will give Osakis another physical presence at tight end and linebacker. Windhorst is from Alexandria and had to sit out last year by Minnesota State High School League rules after transferring to Osakis.

“To get a player as big and as physical as Skyler dropped in your lap, we wish we had him for more than one year,” Infanger said. “He’s a good kid too, hard worker. He’s put as much time into the weight room as anyone we have in the program, so for him to work that hard and be a leader his first year is pretty impressive.”

The players who are returning from a year ago were right there with him in the weight room. They had to be if they wanted to see the field this season after being given an ultimatum after a 49-30 loss to Pelican Rapids in the first round of the playoffs in 2013.

“Our whole team has been in the weight room,” senior linebacker Tyler Spanswick said. “Right now, we’re going to be the biggest team out there. Last year we had young kids that were small. They came out this year and they’re bigger than a lot of seniors. We’re a tough team. Last year, coach told us you better be in the weight room otherwise you’re not starting, and we saw everybody come in.”

Osakis found out firsthand how important that size and strength is when it comes to playing good AA teams in the playoffs. The Silverstreaks put up enough points to beat Pelican Rapids last fall but couldn’t get the Vikings’ senior running back Ryan Bruggeman to the ground. He finished with 245 yards and four touchdowns on just 23 carries.

DEPTH IN THE BACKFIELD

The Silverstreaks hope to deliver that kind of punishment on the ground this year with a big offensive line and a good combination of speed and power in the backfield.

Olson and fellow senior Ryan Engfer are two of the leaders of that group who can pick up tough yards between the tackles at fullback. Osakis will rely on a couple of underclassmen to provide the speed element in Gage Larson as a sophomore and Grant Backes as a junior.

Backes was hurt last year, but Infanger expects big things out of him in 2014 if he stays healthy. Those same expectations apply for Larson, who tested out as the fastest guy on the team in camp.

“You have to really have three legitimate threats to carry the ball for this [offense] to work the way it’s supposed to,” Infanger said. “Right now, if we all stay healthy, we’ve got that. We’ve got a halfback and wingback that we can really move the ball left to right, spread the field out with and then we’ve got our big fullbacks who had a lot of success last year that we know we can count on to run the ball between the tackles.”

BLESSING IN DISGUISE

Larson is one of the players who got some experience last year as a freshman due to the fact that Osakis could not stay healthy.

The Silverstreaks were crippled with injuries from the get-go in 2013. Spanswick was in the middle of a big game where he forced a fumble that went for a touchdown when he suffered a broken leg against Browerville in the season opener. He didn’t play again all season, and things spiraled from there as Osakis was forced to play young players at many positions.

It was a curse at the time. Now it seems like a blessing with many of those same players moving into prominent roles on varsity who are ready for that promotion.

“I was out the first game and there were a lot of younger kids who stepped it up,” Spanswick said. “Right now, they’re starting on varsity. They’re going to be good.”

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

With the added size at so many positions, it’s clear that Osakis enters the season optimistic about what it could do in the Prairie Conference.

“We talked about it the first day of practice,” Olson said. “We’re going into this season and we want to win the Prairie Conference. That’s our goal for the year. It would be nice to go to state but just take it one step at a time. We’re looking at the Prairie Conference right now.”

The door has opened a bit for every team with perennial power Barnesville no longer in the league after moving to the Heart O’ Lakes Conference this season. Upsala-Swanville Area is also off Osakis’ schedule after the Patriots went 10-2 a year ago.

“We feel good about our chances, but there are definitely still tough games on our schedule,” Infanger said. “Browerville has historically given us fits, and we got our work cut out for us week one…We have a lot of games where we got to come out and play hard, and we have something to prove, I think.”

After conference play, it’s about trying to win the team’s first AA playoff game since beating OTC in the first round in 2009. After years of struggling with that, this team is optimistic that it can finally stand up physically to the teams the Silverstreaks will meet in the playoffs.

“Succeeding at that level has been tough for us,” Infanger said. “Our [enrollment] numbers continue to creep up, and I really don’t think we can use that as an excuse anymore. We feel like we’ve got the size and the kids who have put the work in in the weight room, and this could be our year to make a little run in the playoffs.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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