Owatonna High School is a football school. The Huskies were state runners-up in 2012, won a state title in 2013, were Class 5A state champions last year and are ranked No. 1 in 5A this season. They will take a 2-0 record into Friday’s game vs. Austin.
So far this fall Owatonna has defeated Faribault 41-0 and Rochester Mayo 37-9. Those two games, and the numbers put up by the Huskies’ star player, have presented a head-turning change.
The season opener was senior running back Jason Williamson’s first time on the field since announcing he would sign with the University of Minnesota. The result was less than spectacular: Williamson (pictured) carried the ball only two times for two yards vs. Faribault, also catching a pass for a 45-yard touchdown.
Truth is, Owatonna coach Jeff Williams was taking things slowly. Williamson, a big, strong 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, was coming off a summer injury and the Huskies have thoughts of playing deep into the fall.
“We just wanted to ease him back in,” Williams said. “When we’ve got a decent football team, we want to be playing in November, that section championship and state first round. That’s always our goal, and we need him around.”
If there were any doubts about Williamson’s condition, they disappeared in Week 2 against Mayo. He ran the ball on the first three plays of the game and kept on trucking. He finished with 34 carries, 270 yards and two touchdowns. If his name rings a bell, you might be remembering last year’s Prep Bowl. All he did that day at U.S. Bank Stadium was set a Prep Bowl record with five rushing touchdowns and tie a record with six total touchdowns (one on a kickoff return).
Williamson finished last season with 2,326 rushing yards and an astonishing 44 touchdowns (in 13 games). An offer from the Gophers came shortly after and he said yes.
A question mark for the Huskies coming into this new season was the battalion of young men who would clear the road for Williamson. Zach Wiese is the only starting offensive lineman returning from 2017. The others – Isaiah Noeldner, Logan Steckelberg, Ray Deml, Joe Edel and Carter DeBus – are new to the varsity lineup, but the early results clearly show that they are more than capable.
“Zack Wiese started for us maybe by Week 3 last year but everybody else is brand new, and very raw,” said Williams, who has been coaching the Huskies for 23 years and owns a record of 162-72. “Our game plan (vs. Faribault) was pretty simple and pretty straightforward; this week we added a little bit more complexity and Mayo did some things we didn’t anticipate. So for us to have to make some adjustments put a little bit of pressure on those kids. It was great to see how they responded to it.”
Owatonna had a senior-heavy lineup last season so the 2018 campaign shaped up a test of newcomers all over the field. In 2017, senior quarterback Abe Havelka passed for more than 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. The starter against Mayo was his brother Solomon, a junior this season who like Williamson wasn’t completely healthy as the season began. The younger Havelka started against Mayo before sophomore Brayden Truelson took over.
“We knew that Sol was dinged up but we didn’t want to start (Truelson), being a sophomore,” the coach said. “We wanted him to get the opportunity to come in off the bench and he didn’t flinch at all. He was as cool as a cucumber. That was great to see for a sophomore.”
After Solomon completed three of seven passes for 19 yards, Brayden completed seven of nine for 79 yards.
Mayo was strong early in the game, leading 3-0 on a field goal by Jake McCabe and 9-0 when Cade Sheehan threw to Jack Murphy for a 12-yard score early in the second quarter. Owatonna made those aforementioned adjustments and did the rest of the scoring,
“We just told ourselves that we’ve got to start playing our own game and not theirs,” Williamson said. “They had a pretty good game plan but our coaches adjusted early on.”
Jayson, like almost all of his football teammates, is involved in other sports (he also is on the basketball and track teams). His explanation? “I just like to move around, I guess you could say.”
Junior defensive back Isaac Oppegard and several teammates also like to move around in three sports.
“Oppe’s a good athlete,” Williams said. “He was a sophomore letter-winner in basketball, he’s a nice center fielder, and he has three interceptions now in two games, just hanging around back there and waiting for somebody to make a mistake.
“The majority of our kids are two-sporters and a lot of them are three,” the coach said. “We do a good job of recruiting our basketball players, so all of our wideouts are basketball guys. A lot of them are baseball and track guys, so we really still are kind of immune to the specialization issue. And I don’t take that for granted. We work very, very hard on that.”
The Owatonna plan is in place: talented athletes, hard work, smart coaching and plenty of preparation. If all goes well, the Huskies will make another postseason splash. Football is maybe the most team-oriented game, but talented individuals – Williamson is Example A – are crucial.
“That’s always our goal, and we need (Jason) around,” Williams said. “We aren’t going to get there without him. We need him healthy and we need him ready to go.”--To see a photo gallery, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
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