VICTORIA, Kan. Victoria coach Doug Oberle is entering his 14th year as Knights’ head coach. He has never had a losing season, holds a 115-30 career record and is 3-1 in state title games in his head coaching tenure.
Last year, Oberle led Victoria to a 7-3 mark against the No. 1 hardest schedule in Eight-Man, Division I, according to Prep Power Index.
After the fall, Oberle reflected on a team that permitted 24.7 points per game, No. 26 in eight-man football. Two falls ago, the Knights allowed just 16 points a contest.
“I didn’t do a very good job of maintaining and teaching the basics throughout,” Oberle said of ‘18. “So really felt like this year, especially this first week, it was all about the basics. Didn’t do a whole lot of team stuff until really Friday. Really spent a lot of time on individual.”
“Spent a lot of time on the simple, little things that we need to do consistently, which I felt like especially on the defensive side of the ball, we didn’t do last year – and again that’s a coaching error on my part,” Oberle added. “And tried to rectify that this year.”
Oberle, one of the top eight-man coaches in state history, has relished the differences that come from practice. He noted “a couple of guys” had enjoyed “huge improvements” in the first week of fall camp, including some older players. Oberle labeled practice the “neat part,” the “fun part.”
This fall, Victoria has two seniors and just two Knights who were significant starters in ‘18, though has several of eight-man’s top returning players.
“You get into coaching, it’s all about Friday nights,” Oberle said. “And even though the first year or two, it’s all about Fridays, and if you stay in it, I think, to sustain it, to be able to do it, if you don’t appreciate the Monday through Thursday, if you
don’t truly enjoy the teaching aspect, if you don’t truly enjoy going to practice, you don’t make it.”
On Aug. 23, Victoria held 1-on-1, full contact drills and spent a large chunk of practice split into different position groups. Oberle worked with the linemen on small aspects, such as hand placement and steps. Veteran assistant Dan Rogers coached the backs and defensive players through plays and assignments. New assistant coach Parker Gates, a former Beloit/St. John’s-Tipton standout who played against Victoria, helped in several roles.
“We will continue to do that throughout the year,” Oberle said. “We are going to really hammer the little things, and try to get better, and keep it as simple as possible. Kids have been working hard. We’ve had good enthusiasm. We are a work in progress for sure. We’ve got a ways to go. Hopefully we are getting better each and other day, and we will be somebody toward the end of the year that’s a good football team.”
Victoria carries a 19-player roster, and both seniors are linemen: Josh Schulte and Kirk Huser. Schulte had excellent weight room attendance and also runs cross country. He will move from tight end to guard.
“Just like any other class,” Huser said. “It’s next man up for leadership.”
Huser (6-foot-1, 240) is one of eight-man’s best returning linemen and has significantly improved in the weight room. He’s bumped his squat from 365 to 425.
“Pretty good for the most part,” Huser said of camp. “Been fairly intense.”
He had several big moments in ‘18, notably a team-high six tackles in a season-opening win against Otis-Bison, an eventual eight-win team. Like many other Victoria players, Huser has watched past Knight squads and wanted to carry on the tradition.
“It means the world to me,” Huser said. “I have been dreaming of this since I was ‘yea high.’”
Juniors Trenton Engel and Malachi Wilhelm are expected to step up on line. Junior Drayden Karlin will play some on the line and in the backfield.
Huser will start at right guard and nose guard. Engel, Wilhelm and Schulte will play defensive line.
“Kirk can be very good,” Oberle said. “He is very athletic. He is a big dude. He has grown a little bit. Kirk can be as good as he wants to be. There’s no question about it. He has got to come to work everyday. He’s got to be a good leader for us.”
Sophomore quarterback Grant Schoenrock was pressed into duty in a Week 9 bracket game versus Wichita County after starter Cooper Windholz was out with injury. He delivered 134 rushing yards in a 34-28 comeback victory.
“I was nervous,” Schoenrock said. “Even when I took the first snap, I was just worried, but as we started to get going, I started to get more comfortable.”
Schoenrock will be the signal caller and safety this year. Schoenrock has never played safety before after four seniors graduated at defensive back.
This summer, he attended several high-profile camps, including KU, K-State, Nebraska and USA Football.
“It’s real nice,” Huser said. “He’s a smart player. Solid every play.”
Oberle said Victoria “is expecting big things” from Schoenrock, one of Kansas’ few impact eight-man freshmen last season. He has been timed at 4.89 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
“I’ve just been working on throwing really, because that’s really what I need to work on,” Schoenrock said.
Junior running back Jayvon Pruitt joins Huser as the only returning players who started a significant amount of ’18. Pruitt was first team all-league and led the team with more than 700 rushing yards. This summer, he was selected to attend the Blue-Grey National Super Combine in June at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
In Oberle’s eyes, Pruitt had a great year in the weight room, is stronger, quicker and more explosive. Pruitt will have to start on both sides for the first time in ’19. He and Karlin will be the starting linebackers.
Victoria was slated to go to a jamboree at Sylvan-Lucas with the host Mustangs and Tescott. The Knights will travel to Otis-Bison in Week 1, and will likely again face one of the more challenging Division I schedules.
In the last five falls, Victoria’s strength of schedule has ranked first, third, sixth, second and first in the classification, according to PPI. The Knights are 10-0 at home in the last two seasons. From ’02-18, Victoria has made the playoffs every year but once, a 5-4 mark in ’16.
“Just got to go out and play your hardest,” Huser said. “Preparation is the same whether you are playing a knock off team or the No. 1 team in the state.”