By Mike Tupa

Last fall, Bob Craig might have felt more like a caretaker than the overseer of Nowata High School football.

But, the veteran grid skipper now has all the keys to the program.

After he turned in a solid performance — on a quasi-interim basis in 2017 — Nowata rewarded him by naming him the new head coach.

On Monday, he will preside during his first spring football practice in Ironmenland.

“The main thing is I feel like it’s my team now,” he explained. “I came in as an assistant and I inherited it after the season started.”

Although Nowata struggled to an 0-10 record, the squad displayed marked improvement during several late-season games.

Craig credits that progress to the kids buying into “my mindset of how I want things done. I’m so excited.”

With only three seniors graduated off last year’s squad — and in infusion of nearly a dozen freshmen — Craig looks forward to running fully-staffed practices.

“We’ll be able to coach and play football,” he explained.

His load already is eased by the absence of a major burden — he already knows who his quarterback will be.

“I think you’re always better when you have a returning quarterback and we have one in Skyler Thornton — and that’s a positive.”

Craig and his staff will be watching closely during spring workouts to solidify the starting positions on the offensive line — a unit that saw a different personnel grouping in each regular season game.”

His coaching staff also has been increased by two assistants.

“The administration has allowed us to improve the program,” Craig summarized.

The Ironmen will work out in pads on Monday and prepare for a team camp in Pawhuska.

Prior to last year, Nowata had recorded five-straight winning seasons, including a 14-1 mark in 2014. Craig is the Ironmen’s fourth head coach in the four seasons since.