Philipsburg-Osceola coach Mike Soyster is aiming to build confidence in his players in his first season leading the program.
That’s why Soyster spent his first practice asking every player the same question.
What’s your belief as a football player?
“They didn’t know,” Soyster said. “I spent about a half an hour talking to them about what they should be. Now I had one kid say he’s the best player in the state. I think he went last and that got me excited, so I think the kid’s got an idea that’s what I’m looking for.
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“I think every practice I try to ask them, what’s your belief as a football player? One kid said just today, I’m the toughest kid in the conference. Before he didn’t say anything, but he actually believes that right now. If I can get 11 guys on the field that feel that way in every fiber in their bodies, we’ll be very, very competitive.”
Confidence was lacking as the Mounties went 1-19 in the last two seasons under former coach Jeff Vroman. Philipsburg-Osceola will be relying on a new group of playmakers to fuel the spread offense Soyster is putting in place. Ten days before the Mounties’ season opener, the new coach said nearly every starting spot was up for grabs.
Jake Anderson and Tanner Lamb are competing for the quarterback job after Curtis Matsko’s graduation.
Matsko threw for 840 yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was second on the team with 302 rushing yards and tied for first with six touchdowns. Anderson went 11 for 22 with a touchdown and an interception in 2013, while Lamb’s lone pass was picked off.
The Mounties also lost four of their top rushers. Soyster said Ty Laird and Levi Hughes are in the mix to start at running back. Laird had just five carries in 2013. At wide receiver, Soyster said Caleb Belinda has enjoyed a strong preseason after making six catches for 92 yards last fall.
The inexperienced group is expected to power the Mounties’ spread attack.
“P-O kids are pretty fast, and getting these kids out in space I think is going to be key,” Soyster said. “Defensively, we’re really going to focus on stopping the run. I think the key to be successful is holding onto the ball (and) stopping the run, so that’s our points of emphasis this year.”
Soyster pointed to quarterbacks Anderson and Lamb as players to watch going into the season.
Anderson worked hard in the offseason to get bigger and stronger and will be making the switch from cornerback to linebacker on defense. Lamb will line up at safety defensively. The coach believes both are capable of leading the offense.
“They both bring different things to the table,” Soyster said. “We have an offense that’s pretty dynamic in the sense that we can do a lot of different things very easily so it’s easy to plug in a quarterback at any time. They both throw the ball extremely well. They both move extremely well. They do some things a little bit different, so we’ll see. They’re going to both be on the field a lot.”
Philipsburg-Osceola also has a weapon at kicker in Aaron Boumerhi.
Boumerhi’s kicking videos caught Soyster’s eye, and the junior has impressed at kicking camps.
“I saw some videos of him kicking six 50-yard field goals in a row,” Soyster said. “So it’s something you don’t think as a football coach, especially as a first coach coming in trying to build a program to have something like that, that can change a game.”
“Look, we get it to the 35, we can put three points on the board,” Soyster added. “That adds a whole different dimension to the game.”
Soyster said seniors Logan Day and Ben Johnson will anchor the offensive and defensive lines.
Beyond those positions, Soyster said competition is wide open.
Philipsburg-Osceola also has a handful of players getting ready for their first-ever season of organized football.
Soyster said some newcomers are in competition for starting spots.
“The good thing is they don’t have any bad habits,” Soyster said. “The bad thing is it takes a while to get used to making contact with people. That’s a hump we’re going to have to get by very quickly.”
And Soyster said the faster the players develop belief in themselves on the field, the better off they’ll be.
“If you get 11 guys on the field that think they’re the best, you’re going to have tremendous success,” Soyster said. “If there’s doubt in any one of those 11 on the field, then you can have breakdowns.”