Game of the Week -- Knights deal with injury
By CONOR NICHOLL
Victoria High School senior quarterback Sam Ottley got loose on a run last Friday against Claflin-Central Plains. Ottley went down the sideline and a player came at him from an angle and grabbed his uniform mid-back. Ottley planted his foot and fell awkwardly.
The play broke Ottley's kneecap in two places and ended his football career.
"Very freak accident," coach Doug Oberle said. "Wasn't really even a direct hit or anything like that. It's one of those things in life, you scratch your head, and you wonder why."
On Saturday morning, senior lineman Tanner Hobbs had his appendix flare up. He went to the hospital and discovered it was swollen and infected. The doctors took out Hobbs' appendix; recovery time is at least four weeks. Plus, senior defensive back Clayton Roth hasn't played since he hurt his collarbone early in Week 1. The trio combined for nine and a half years of starting experience.
"You wake up Saturday and you get that news and you start looking around waiting for the lightning to strike the house, and the car to blow up in the driveway and every other bad thing that can happen," Oberle said. "It's difficult."
The Knights, 4-0 and ranked No. 4 in Eight-Man Division II in the statewide media poll, have to regroup for district play starting Friday. Victoria travels to Sylvan-Lucas (0-4), a program that has played the classification's second-hardest schedule, according to preppowerindex.com. Sophomore Brady Dinkel will step in at quarterback.
"We are definitely going to miss watching Sam play, but we know that the sophomore class, somebody else will step up, Brady Dinkel is a very talented athlete," said Sam's father, Dave Ottley, Victoria's elementary school principal and a longtime former coach. "He is just a sophomore, but he is going to come in and do a nice job. The Knights still have a very good team. As a parent, it's devastating to see your son's season come to an end so soon."
The Knights will have two seniors, linemen Nathan Kuhn and Trenton Klaus, two juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.
"I feel like we have to step up even more than what we did when just Clayton was down and then once Sam went down, we have to step up even more," Kuhn said. "I feel like there is a lot more weight on our shoulders now."
Even with the injuries, Kuhn said the goal of a state title remains.
"We have put in a lot of time, a lot of effort, dating back to December for this year and this season," Oberle said. "We have got to continue to work hard, we have got to continue to stay positive and enter each game with the intent that we are going to play well, and we are going to have success on the scoreboard at the end of it. We can't think any other way at this point."
Ottley delivered a big season as a junior. This year, he improved and led the Knights to the classification's No. 2 ranked offense at 220 points. The Knights have defeated four solid Central Prairie League teams in Macksville, St. John, Ness City and Central Plains and permitted just 80 points.
Victoria moved Ottley from cornerback to linebacker, a position where Oberle said Ottley "made tremendous amounts" of improvement the last two weeks.
"Sam and I have been playing football together ever since we were little," said Kuhn, the starting center. "I have snapped to him since middle school. Not really an emptiness, but it just doesn't feel the same. Brady Dinkel, I think he will step up and be fine."
Ottley weighs about 185 pounds and could run and pass effectively. Because of his size, Victoria ran some short-yardage packages with Ottley, too. Dinkel is about 155 pounds. In film study, Sylvan-Lucas coach Ben Labertew said Dinkel showed good speed and a good arm.
"The Ottley kid is a great kid, a great quarterback, but the kid that they have got coming in, he is going to do the job," Labertew said.
Ottley, normally calm and collected, remained that way even as he went onto a stretcher last Friday. Dave Ottley coached for 20 years and saw something new with his youngest of three sons.
"I don't remember ever loading anybody onto an ambulance and have them smile and try to make it easier on people around him like he did Friday night," Dave Ottley said. "His knee is still dislocated, and we have got him in an air splint. We are loading him on a stretcher to put him in the ambulance. He is still smiling, making sure mom is OK."
Around 12:30 a.m. Saturday, the Knight coaches sat in the coaches' office. Oberle planned to move Hobbs from defensive end to linebacker. Hobbs had given Victoria athleticism at defensive end that Oberle hadn't seen in some time.
"Tanner, holy cow, the last two weeks had been playing well," Oberle said.
That changed with the news Saturday morning. Klaus will take Hobbs' place at defensive end. Sophomore Taylor Corley will move to linebacker.
"We are going to have fight and claw, and we are going to have to grind out some stuff at times," Oberle said. "Our depth is not what it was. We are not going to throw away what we worked so hard for to this point."