By Mike Tupa
Measured progress is one of the definitions of success.
And, in his effort to build a culture of success in the rebuilding Nowata High School football program, new head coach Bob Craig has set a Night of Champions for the evening of July 20.
This special event — to which family members, in particular, are invited — will measure the conditioning improvement throughout the summer by Ironmen players.
“We’ll retest all the baseline numbers,” taken at the start of Summer Pride, explained Craig.
The main focus will include gains made in weight-lifting and agility.
“This will give us a jumping-off point,” said Craig, adding those who have improved the most will be recognized.
Craig wants to make last year’s 0-10 season — which included a head coaching change midstream — a short memory in the otherwise glorious grid tradition of Nowata.
Although his number of athletes remains suppressed — the Ironmen averaged 18 players attending Summer Pride and currently have 25 on the roster — Craig is hoping greater experience and hunger will make a positive difference in the fall.
“I think the most encouraging thing we’re starting to find kids who can do things,” he explained. “The deal is how are we going to fit them in to make the team better … and finding out how they can help the team best.”
Craig also has built in plenty of time off this summer. He wants to open their opportunities to participate in other activities, to spend time with family and also to be fresh coming into August practice.
But, even prior to preseason practice, he already has a good idea of the strengths of his players.
Skyler Thornton is the unquestioned starter at quarterback going into August, but his backup Emmett Sells is coming along very well, Craig said.
Sells thrived on the chance to get starting reps at the final 7-on-7 passing league, with Thornton away on a family vacation.
“We’re fortunate we can bring him (Sells) along slow,” said Craig. “We’ll get his mechanics down.”
Craig felt Sells gained much from the passing league experience in late June.
“I think, in a way, the game slowed down for him,” the coach said. “He led us to a touchdown against Enid at the Bixby 7-on-7 passing league.”
Among the other skills players who impressed Craig during passing league encounters were Nick Steigerwald, Jace McKisson, Dillon Barnes and Braden Humphries.
Craig utilized the words “steady” and “consistent” to praised Steigerwald and McKisson.
“They come in every day and punch the time clock and give you a full day’s work,” Craig added.
Humphries has been given looks at both runningback and receiver.
Barnes is a multi-talented force that has the coaches considering him for either receiver, runningback and in the quarterback mix.
Nowata goes into this season just four years removed from playing in 2014 for the Class 2A state championship.
But, when he was hired earlier this year as the permanent head coach (he guided the team through several games on an interim basis last season), he became the third head coach for the team in less than 12 months.
With stability, vision and a full year of off-season preparation presided by the same coach — not to forget greater experience among the players — Craig is hopeful the Ironmen program will regain its competitive balance and make a strong showing in 2018.