Some may call a one-win season forgettable, but a group of Fort Osage seniors insists there’s a reason to remember it.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
In 2009, the Fort Osage freshman team endured one of its worst years in the program’s history. The Indians lost their first eight games – most of them blowouts — before knocking off Hickman Mills’ freshman team with a final-drive touchdown in the season finale.
The lost season isn’t necessarily unmentionable these days, but it’s not exactly often discussed either.
"I wouldn’t really say we were embarrassed, but it wasn’t much fun," said senior Branden Winters, now a starter for the Indians who was a member of the 2009 freshman team. "What I remember about that team is we never wanted to quit no matter how bad we were.
"That’s probably why we’re here today."
That sure seems like a long time ago now.
Three years later, that 2009 freshman class is now the backbone of a Fort Osage varsity squad that will play for the Class 5 state championship tonight against Kirkwood. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 inside the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
If that type of progression is hard for you to believe, well, you’re not alone.
"I thought we would get better because we had some athletes," senior Joseph Tuimaseve said. "But I never imagined we’d make it this far."
Among this year’s team, nearly a dozen starters are seniors. Only one — quarterback Steven McBee — was moved up to JV as a freshman, while the rest suffered through the one-win freshman campaign. This year’s Indians, by contrast, take a 12-1 record into tonight’s showdown.
So how, exactly, does that happen? Believe it or not, it all started with that one victory to prevent a winless regular season.
"We had kids crying they were so happy," Fort Osage coach Ryan Schartz said. "It was huge. If for nothing else, it kept a few of them interested in football."
The varsity team, meanwhile, played for a state championship in 2009, though Fort Osage lost to Webster Groves.
During the middle of his preparation for a week nine game, Schartz took a break to attend that freshman game against Hickman Mills. He spoke to the team after the victory, ensuring the players it would get better.
They believed it, he remembers. As for him...
"I don’t know if I necessarily believed it," Schartz said with a laugh. "But I had to keep them positive."
It’s the last time Schartz needed to give that speech.
A year later, in 2010, the same group made up the nucleus of an undefeated JV team. The following fall, several players performed key roles for Fort Osage, which reached the Class 5 quarterfinals.
Now seniors, that same class is playing for a state title tonight behind a dominate defense that has posted seven shutouts in 13 weeks and an offense that is averaging 370 yards per game.
"With all the success we’ve had, it’s kinda crazy to think about that (freshman season)," Winters said. "I didn’t think we would improve this much, but we have, and it’s awesome."