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Reloaded Owls eyeing NSL title, playoff spot

OSCODA — It’s not every year that a football team can graduate several top players and reload with players who are just as talented.

But that’s the situation the Oscoda football team finds itself in for the 2019 season: flush with talented, athletic players who are eager to make another run at a conference title and a playoff spot.

“We lost a few players that were vital in what we do, but we reloaded, got in the weight room and I think we’re going to be ok,” Oscoda coach Mark Whitley said. “We’re pretty talented. We’re not a physically huge team, but we’re fast.”

While Oscoda did lose some playmakers from a team that went 8-2 last season, the Owls return a great deal of talent and athleticism all over the field and are considered a favorite to win North Star League title again.

Oscoda’s experience and talent starts at the quarterback position where senior Brayden Mallak returns under center. Mallak led the area in passing last season with 1,152 yards and 15 touchdowns with a 54% competition percentage. He showed off his dual threat ability by adding 473 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground and the Owls are hoping to see more of that big-play ability this season.

“We’re looking for big things out of his senior year,” Whitley said. “He’s a real talented kid. He’s not a burner, but he’s real elusive.”

In the backfield, seniors Andrew Dault and Robert Host return with plenty of playmaking ability. Dault led his team in rushing last season with 758 yards and four touchdowns and was also a capable receiver with 189 yards and three touchdown catches. Host racked up yards too, rushing for 576 yards and nine scores.

At wideout, Owen Franklin returns after leading the area in receiving last year. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior was Mallak’s favorite target in 2018, catching 28 balls for 649 yards and nine touchdowns. Also in the receiver mix is Gabe Kellstrom, who converted from kicker and spent all summer in the weight room to make the transition.

Up front, senior Christian Ward will anchor an impressive offensive line. The Owls lost a pair of lineman from last year’s team, including first team all-conference pick Jacob Condor. But Whitley thinks this year’s line has the potential to be even better and more athletic than last season’s group.

Ward–5-foot-11, 230 pounds–will anchor the line and will be joined by returning senior Adam Hein (6-foot, 225 pounds), Caleb Foster (5-foot-11, 220 pounds), sophomore Cayden Schirmer (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) and Gavin Lueck.

Ward, a first-team all-NSL selection last season, is considered by some to be one of the conference’s best defensive players and Whitley is counting on him to make a big impact on Oscoda’s defensive line. Ward recorded 50.5 tackles last season and 4.5 sacks.

Hein, Schirmer and Foster will be among those in the mix for spots on the defensive line as well.

In the middle, Host, Nagel and Vinny Calles will be in the rotation at linebacker and Mallak, Franklin, Zach Ouillette and Anthony Ward will vie for time in the secondary.

Oscoda has its sights on a fourth playoff appearance in five seasons, but that will hopefully come after a challenging regular season schedule that includes traditional NSL opponents Rogers City, Whittemore-Prescott and Alcona and a Week 8 non-conference matchup with Breckenridge, the Division 8 runner-up last season. In Week 4, the Owls will travel out of state to play West Unity Hilltop, a team out of Ohio.

In addition to earning a postseason berth, the Owls are hoping to get the program to a second playoff game for the first time since 2000.

“If the kids play hard and if you end up 7-2, 8-1, you’ve had a great year and you just keep playing,” Whitley said. “Week 8 is a featured game as far as I’m concerned. We played them two years ago (in the playoffs) and got beat, so I think our kids would love to play them again.”

Editor’s Note: At press time, an Oscoda team photo and team roster were not available