On more than one occasion and by more than one pundit, the Western Buckeye League was described as a “gauntlet” in 2011.
Four WBL teams — Wapakoneta, Elida, Ottawa-Glandorf and Kenton — qualified for the playoffs, and three others — Bath, Shawnee and Defiance were still mathematically alive going into Week 10.
But now the second season begins.
Wapak will face the Franklin Wildcats in a Division II regional quarterfinal at 7:30 Friday night at Franklin High School.
And Redskins varsity football coach Doug Frye is hoping the rough-and-tumble league schedule has prepared the Redskins for the playoffs.
“You see nine straight teams of a variety of spreads to runs, a variety of size and speed,” Frye said. “You do see a lot of good football teams throughout the year.
“Now it’s getting out of that comfort level, getting on a bus and traveling down and playing a championship team and seeing if we can take it to a championship level.”
Franklin and Wapakoneta sport identical 9-1 records. The Wildcats’ lone loss was a 21-0 shutout at the hands of Bellbrook in midseason. Franklin closed out the season with five straight wins, three of them by three points or less.
Frye said the Wildcats are similar to two opponents the Redskins defeated during the regular season — Ottawa-Glandorf and Shawnee.
“They’re fairly big in the trenches,” Frye said. “They have some skilled athletic kids. They like to mix the run with the pass almost equally.
“Defensively they compare more to Shawnee, a smaller, quicker defensive football team,” he said.
Junior running back Chris Hymer (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) is Franklin’s chief offensive weapon. Hymer carried the ball 147 times this season for 870 yards (5.9 per carry) and 14 touchdowns.
“He’s an outstanding running back with speed and quickness,” Frye said. “He reminds me of O-G’s Tristan Parker, maybe not quite as big but a tad quicker.”
At 6-foot-2, 160 pounds, senior wide receiver Everett Williams makes a nice-sized target for senior quarterback Kevin Stewart (6-foot-3, 170).
“He’s their best receiver by far,” Frye said. “And their quarterback does a nice job of throwing the ball.
“As far as touches go, Hymer and Williams are going to see the ball 70-75 percent of the time.”
Frye said one of the keys will be whether the Redskins can return to the physical style of football they played through the first seven weeks of the season.
“We have to be physical,” he said. “I felt that slipped a little bit the last couple weeks of the regular season. So we’ve got to regain that physical presence about us. We need to do the little things well on both sides of the ball, as far as execution goes.
“In our style of football, it’s not what we do but how we do it. We’ve got the ‘how’ up to the winning level. Now we need to get the ‘how’ up to the championship level.”
Frye said it’s all a part of the process of building a contender.
“Obviously the first challenge we had to get used to is winning,” he said. “We hadn’t done much of that for awhile. So winning was the first step. The second step was competing for championships. The third step is winning championships and playoff games.
“So we’re on Step 3. We fell just short of winning a [WBL] championship, so hopefully we can win in the playoffs.”
Frye brings a wealth of playoff experience and says it is a different style of preparation.
“The good thing is, I assured [the players], and I certainly didn’t wear this on my shoulder, but I assured them that I’ve been through this a number of times,” he said. “I’m not a rookie as far as preparing for this. I’ve said here’s what’s going to happen and I’ve tried to prep them on how the week will progress and how urgent it is to play every play with full effort.
“Because you’re only playing championship teams now. You can’t take plays off. That’s something I’ve worked hard at and struggled with, is convincing our kids you need to play hard every play with full-out effort. That’s something that we’re working hard to get across to our kids.”