Each day over the 2 1/2 weeks leading up to the 2019 IHSA football season, the News-Gazette will be previewing all 37 teams in its coverage area.
SULLIVAN — Stability at the top of the Sullivan/Okaw Valley football program hasn’t existed since Gerald Temples retired at the end of the 2016 season.
Nathan Becker is hoping to change that fact, not only for this season, but future ones with the Redskins.
Becker, the third head football coach at Sullivan/OV since Temples’ departure three years ago, follows a succession of one-year head-coaching stints from Andy Kerley in 2017 and Jeff Myers in 2018.
The job won’t be easy, with the Redskins trying to reverse a 22-game losing streak when they open the 2019 season by hosting Nokomis/Ramsey on Aug. 30. The program’s last win happened on Sept. 23, 2016 with a 21-12 triumph at Meridian.
But Becker, a 2004 Sullivan graduate and former quarterback/defensive back at the school, said he can give the program something it desperately needs, in his opinion: stability.
That’s why, after Myers resigned following last season’s 0-9 campaign, that Becker broached the subject with Sullivan administrators of him being the right man to lead the program.
Becker, after all, has been a part of the Sullivan football program since 2011, starting out as a freshman football coach under Charlie Brown before working as a cornerbacks coach and also offensive and defensive play-caller under previous coaches.
“The fact that we’ve gone through four coaches in four years, it’s unfair, especially to our group of seniors who’ve had a new coach every year, had to get to know new people every year and learn new playbooks every year,” said Becker, who will also serve as the team’s defensive coordinator this season while John Bertetto, a holdover from Myers’ staff, will lead the offense. “I was really feeling like I was ready and it was a good time for me, to, like I said earlier, stabilize the program so the kids can get used to having something familiar and the same guy will hopefully be here next year and the year after that (so) we’re not going to get that same turnover in the coaching staff.”
A lack of stability has whittled away at the program’s numbers. At the end of last season, the Redskins had to play with under 20 players, Becker said, but that number has increased to the mid-30s in the summer with the first-year coach hoping to retain those numbers the rest of the season.
Hired in the spring, Becker had to balance his time with the football team and his work as the baseball coach at Sullivan, but he’s pleased with the results so far.
The Redskins will rely upon a core of returners from last season, including linebacker/quarterback Luke Vanderburgh (75 total tackles in 2018), cornerback Cooper Browne and wide receivers Ian Plank and Terence McRill, all of whom are juniors this season. In addition, seniors like quarterback Luke Harlin, offensive/defensive linemen Ethan Bartimus and Brad Smith and running back Eric Boomer, are expected to contribute.
Vanderburgh and Harlin, who is coming off a knee injury that cut short his 2018 season, are expected to battle it out at quarterback, while S/OV will have to utilize a running-back-by-committee approach early on with Boomer likely missing the first few weeks due to a shoulder injury.
Even with the issues facing his program in terms of a long losing streak, Becker, who said the school and community hold “a special place” in his heart, is hoping that pride is reflected on the field.
“Our biggest thing right now is we have to get back to being competitive,” Becker said. “Our vision is we need to get kids into the program that are accountable, that want to do things that we consider the right way and that are willing to work for it. That’s the biggest battle now is just getting kids bought into it.
“We want a team that this community, or these communities with our co-op, can be proud of, because again, being from here, and being around here for the last seven or eight years, getting to talk to these people, I know the one thing that matters the most to them is being able to look out there and never question the effort and seeing those kids are leaving everything out there. That’s something they can be proud of. Yes, everybody likes to look at the wins-loss record, but I know our community is really proud of when they can say those kids left everything out there.”
When you can see the Redskins
A look at Sullivan/Okaw Valley football’s 2019 schedule:
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Aug. 30 vs. Nokomis 7 p.m.Sept. 6 at Newton 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Warrensburg-Latham 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 vs. Shelbyville 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Meridian 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 vs. Tuscola 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at St. Teresa 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Clinton 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 vs. Central A&M 7 p.m.