These guys know what they’re doing.
Dick Duval and Cully Welter, the football coaches whose teams will oppose one another Saturday in a Class 3A game, are well-versed on preparing successful teams.
Duval has guided 23 consecutive St. Joseph-Ogden teams into the postseason.
Welter has a streak of 19 straight years coaching in the playoffs, including the last five at Monticello.
Between this dynamic duo, they have coached in nine state championship games and have 398 total wins.
It should be no surprise that they are approaching Saturday’s 2 p.m. game in Monticello in the same manner. Though it’s not a school day, that makes no difference to Duval or Welter.
“We’ll treat it like a normal school day on a regular Friday,” Duval said.
The SJ-O students typically would arrive at the school about 8 a.m. Saturday’s call time is also 8 a.m., but they don’t report to the high school.
A team breakfast is planned at the Prince of Peace Church.
It’s not just that the coach doesn’t want his athletes skipping a meal, he doesn’t want them groggy from sleeping in most of the morning.
If the menu is like other game-day Saturdays, Duval said, the choices will include “eggs, biscuits and gravy, and pancakes,” to be washed down with milk or water.
The only difference for Welter and the Sages is that he allows his players an extra hour before they gather at 9 a.m. in the school cafeteria.
“The moms (of players) put our breakfast together,” Welter said. “The biggest point of emphasis is getting them out of bed. We don’t want them sleeping until they come to the game.”
Before he gives the players some free time to return home and get themselves mentally prepared, Welter said, “Usually we walk through some things, go through the game plan. It doesn’t take long. They’re usually out by 10 or 10:30 and expected back at noon.”
Because the Spartans are traveling this week, Duval won’t give his players as long of a break as they’d have for a home game. By 10:30 a.m., the bus will be loaded and leaving.
Welter’s Sages will use the first hour that they return to the school getting taped and adjusting equipment. By 1 p.m. — an hour before kickoff — he wants them on the field, loosening up and stretching.
SJ-O and Monticello have expanded rosters for the playoffs. Duval and Welter invite freshmen, who haven’t been part of the varsity during the regular season, to experience the postseason atmosphere.
“We tell the freshmen that anyone who wants to continue practicing gets the right to dress for the (playoff) games,” Welter said. “We’re a big believer of taking advantage of these extra weeks.”
Eleven of Monticello’s 14 ninth-graders will be in uniform on the sidelines Saturday afternoon.
Duval’s 57-player traveling squad will include eight freshmen who have committed themselves to the postseason workouts. It’s not mandatory participation.
“I leave it up to the freshmen,” Duval said.
The additional practice players are a benefit to both schools, each of which have starters out for the season.
SJ-O’s woes started even before practice began. Promising sophomore Ty Brown suffered a quadriceps injury while running the day before preseason practice started.
“We look at him as the next great tailback, but this year we thought he’d see significant time as a receiver or defensive back,” Duval said.
In-season injuries have sidelined starters Nick Barnes, a lineman, and Austin Hedrick, the Spartans’ rushing leader.
Monticello’s Josh Burton — one of the area leaders in interceptions — suffered a season-ending broken arm in the regular season finale against St. Teresa. The status of backup quarterback Brandon Wildman is “up in the air,” Welter said.
For Monticello, this week’s playoff game is the second in a row with an opponent that will be on the regular season schedule starting in 2014. Monticello and SJ-O will be part of the revamped Okaw Valley Conference that will include the Sages’ first-week playoff foe, St. Thomas More, along with Unity, Rantoul and Maroa-Forsyth next year.
Duval has nothing against local rivalries — which generally promote more spectator interest — but he’d rather see those teams only in the regular season.
“To me, it’s more fun for the coaches and kids to play someone you’re not even aware of,” Duval said. “It’s like getting into a college bowl game.”
Duval said the Sages’ defense will “be one of the best we’ve played. They’re so aggressive and stingy.”
Welter isn’t as concerned with where his opponent is from as others in the community.
“I get the sense it means a little more to compete favorably with teams people are more familiar with than teams they’ve never heard of,” Welter said.
The Sages’ scouting report indicates a need to be prepared for anything.
“They always throw the ball well, but they will run it at you if you don’t stop them,” Welter said. “They are very well-balanced.”
Saturday’s starting lineups won’t look drastically different for Monticello — which is 5-0 at home this season — than they did for the Aug. 30 opener.
Sophomore Sutton Winterbottom has taken over for Burton in the secondary, and Ryan Burns has earned a spot at defensive end.
On offense, Blake Champion has moved into the line at right guard. Daniel Welling and Noah Freemon are the receivers who alternate as play messengers.
The Spartans’ biggest change came in the backfield, where Orion Ciota replaced Hedrick and has rushed for nearly 800 yards while averaging 9.3 yards per carry. Ciota suffered a thumb injury in last week’s win against Petersburg PORTA, but Duval said, “We’ve been cautious with him in practice this week,” and he is expected to play.
The Monticello/SJ-O winner will advance to the quarterfinals Nov. 16 and face the survivor of Saturday’s 5 p.m. Unity at Williamsville game.
Of the original 32 teams in the Class 3A field, Williamsville (7.6) and Monticello (8.3) had the best defensive averages.
“Coming into the season, we felt the defensive side would be a little stronger, and that has definitely panned out,” Welter said.
Duval said practices this week had a twofold purpose.
“You try to concentrate on the things you do best, things that have made you successful, but you also make adjustments for who you’re playing,” he said.