TONTOGANY — If you think two-time defending Northern Buckeye Conference champion Otsego graduated too many talented seniors to vie for a title again this season, think again.
When it comes to returning lettermen at Otsego, there are 14, including eight starters on defense — by no means a bare cupboard.
“We expect to be right there at the end,” first-year coach Josh Lindke said. “We need to make sure we take care of business each week and just focus on one step at a time.
“This league is as tough of a league as any other league, top-to-bottom, in the area. We are excited about the opportunity to defend our league title for the third straight year.
“Obviously, there is a target on our back and people don’t expect us to be there because there are a number of key contributors who were lost, but we are excited about what we’ve got.
“Each week will be a battle. There are legitimately five to six teams that could win the league title. We feel we are fairly athletic and physical. We just need to make sure we stay healthy.”
Last year’s team finished 11-1 and a perfect 6-0 in the NBC under coach Matt Dzierwa, but not only did several key seniors leave, coach Dzierwa resigned his position.
Bring in Lindke, who has been an assistant coach nine years, including two years at Anthony Wayne, two at Bowling Green State University, two at Toledo St. Francis, and three at Toledo Central Catholic.
Lindke has four championships under his belt, including 2015 at BGSU and 2019-21 at Central Catholic.
Although it is his first head coaching position at 29-years-old, he has spoken nationally at multiple coaching clinics.
However, Otsego is a new world for the young coach.
“I like it. The kids work hard, it is a tight-knit community, and I’ve got a chance to take over the program for Matt.
“The program is in a really healthy spot right now. Matt’s staff did a really good job, so I’m not taking over a rebuild by any means, which is just really awesome for my first head coaching job at 29-years-old.
“We’ve got quite a few kids going both ways, but you break down the numbers and we’ve got eight returning guys on defense and four on offense.
“Skill guys, all of our guys are juniors except for Blake (Nicely), and our quarterbacks and our four receivers are all junior kids, and we have a sophomore in the mix, too.
“In all honestly, we should have another solid two years. We should be able to make another two-year run with what we’ve got. There are good players coming back.
“I know losing a kid like (quarterback) Joseph Dzierwa. (receiver Devin) Coon, and (running back) Trent Leiter is a huge blow, but there are kids waiting in the wings who are more than enough prepared to be good football players on Friday nights.
“But we’ve got to stay healthy like everybody else, which will be a big thing for us.”
However, Lindke knows his first season coaching in the NBC will bring challenges.
“I think if you look at this league and coming from where I was at previously, the TRAC (Three Rivers Athletic Conference), you look at that league and it is good football year-in and year-out.
“You look at this league, I put the NBC up with any other league in the area in terms of how loaded the conference is top-to-bottom this year.
“I think you can make an argument for six different teams to possibly win the league this year. It’s going to be a lot of fun. You are going to get a lot of good football games on Friday nights in this league.”
Lindke adds that his team’s biggest weakness could be depth, adding that injuries could hurt on both sides of the ball since he has many of the same players playing offense and defense.
The Sentinel-Tribune’s high school football preview will be in Saturday’s newspaper.