Sapulpa football steadily improving
BY MIKE BROWN World Sports Writer
Friday, May 25, 2012
5/25/12 at 5:45 AM
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Sapulpa Chieftains football has been coming up in the world. Check the record of the past two years.
The Chieftains won four games in 2010 and five last year - not bad, compared to a combined 1-19 over the two years prior to current head coach Mike Gottsch's arrival in 2010.
Gottsch found a team and town aching to win.
"A lot of things were in place here, and that is a very supportive administration, a community that loves football and kids that were hungry," Gottsch said. "So the time was right for me."
The Chieftains' 5-5 mark in 2011 was their best in six years. Had they pulled out winnable district games against Southmoore and Muskogee, they would have reached the playoffs for the first time since going to the Class 6A quarterfinals in 2005.
"We fell a little short, but we accomplished a lot of good goals toward turning this program around," senior tight end Sam Johnson said.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Johnson should provide a big target in the passing game, and plays so well on both sides of the ball that University of Tulsa assistant coaches were in Sapulpa earlier this week to watch him practice.
"Nobody has offered a scholarship yet," Johnson said, "but I'm working hard to make other coaches want to look at me."
Johnson is one of the key returnees as the Chieftains try to build on what they've done the past two years.
But it won't be easy. The Chieftains must replace a two-year starting quarterback (Tyler Williams) and 2011's statistical leaders in receiving (Trevor Hall, Levi Pickering), tackles (Josh Fleak), sacks (Chase Duke) and interceptions (Dalton Pridemore).
The Chieftains may have lost Pridemore, but they haven't lost pride.
"On paper, it looks like we're pretty depleted." Gottsch said. "But we do have some talented kids who are very determined and team-oriented. That's exciting to me as a coach. There's not a 'Woe-is-me, look-what-we-lost' attitude. These kids want to be the group that gets over that .500 hump."
Talent? Start with Devin Swift. The senior running back is as fast as his name implies. Last year, Swift rushed for 942 yards and 11 touchdowns, and took back three kickoffs for scores. His 97-yard return helped the Chieftains rally out of a deep hole to beat arch-rival Sand Springs 28-21.
Williams threw for 3,528 yards and 40 TDs over two seasons, but Gottsch feels Williams' replacement is living under his own roof. Junior Sammy Gottsch, the coach's son, moves over from receiver and is the heir apparent. He backed up Williams last year and threw for 240 yards in the 52-49 loss to Southmoore, almost rallying the Chieftains from a 21-point deficit.
Also competing at quarterback is junior Ben Johnson. The younger brother of Sam Johnson is a 6-foot-4 basketballer who opted out of football last year. Now, he's one of the team's best athletes, the head coach said, and will have to be on the field at receiver or in the secondary - if not at quarterback.
Other key returnees include senior tackle Noah Berryhill, described by Gottsch as "one of the best offensive lineman I've had the opportunity to coach."
Inside linebacker Wes Allen is also a punishing blocker at fullback and a skilled deep snapper.
Original Print Headline: Chieftains making gains
Mike Brown 918-581-8390
Sapulpa tight end Sam Johnson (left) and running back Devin Swift are looking for continued improvement in the program. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World