Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball career as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites, and for eight years served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by Morningside Books, in Dayton, Ohio.  Widely knowledgable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the country.  Involved with a number of writing projects, he and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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Off back-to-back appearances in the Division V State Finals, the coach of the Coldwater Cavaliers faces a new season with a talented roster and high expectations.  He’d like to follow the example of an iconic predecessor with his own state championship.

COLDWATER - If you’ve never been to Coldwater, Ohio you’d like it…once you got there.  Getting there for me was interesting…route 705 to 364 to 119 to 118.  Or, 274 to 127 to 119 to 118…something like that.

My point is, where football’s concerned in west-central Ohio all roads seem to lead to Coldwater in 2012 where the Cavaliers were runners-up in Division V for each of the last two years.  And hey, they’re highly touted to return and redeem themselves come this December.  They’re loaded, so the people say, with talent and experience.  They’ve got one of the state’s top quarterbacks, and they’re led by one of the truly good guys you’ll ever meet in high school coaching.

Chip Otten enters his third season as the head coach at Coldwater, having taken over the program after the untimely passing of former coach John Reed in 2010.  A native and graduate of Coldwater in 1978, Otten played college football at Bowling Green State University and coached for 15 years at Middletown High School before returning to coach at his alma mater 11 years ago.

He has experienced first-hand the rise of the MAC conference and Coldwater football, winners of two state titles under Reed (2005, 2007)…the most memorable being their 2007 Division IV win, a 28-27 thriller over Youngstown Cardinal Mooney.

And yet, Chip Otten understands that nothing goes on forever…that the fortunes of football come and go like a strong wind across Mercer County.  No one knows better that the remarkable cycle of talent that has blessed the fortunes of Coldwater in recent years is for a time still at hand, led by senior all-state quarterback candidate Austin Bruns and a skilled cast of complements.  Before the cycle changes Chip Otten would like to win another title…a title of his own.

In a league where past football championships are as numerous as Holsteins, Chip Otten knows that nonetheless they don’t come easy…that many good coaches have coached for years with remarkable career numbers without ever winning the “big one”.  When we contacted him last week he graciously invited Press Pros to McSobers, a favorite football hangout in Coldwater to talk about Cavalier football, past and present.

Without further introduction, our “Q” and “A” with Coldwater coach Chip Otten…on some Cavalier history, on replacing a “legend”, on motivation from the past two years, and yes, on getting over his own personal “hump”, and the title that many believe to be so attainable in 2012:

"Winning a championship never comes easy," says Otten. "You have to be good, you have to be healthy, and you have to be lucky. Sometimes it's all about situations."

PPM:  First of all, our compliments to Coldwater on some very memorable past football games, particularly the 2007 win over Cardinal Mooney.  That could have been the best high school football game in the recent history of the tournament.

Otten:  Well, it was a great game, but remember the Alter game to get there that year was a great one, too.  We were down in that game by 21, twice.  But the Mooney game, gosh…we got down early 14-0, but we had some very good leaders on that football team who refused to quit.  And of course, they all reflected John Reed’s competitive attitude.  Coach Reed was one of the most determined people you’ll ever meet and Mooney was a very talented football team with several Division I college prospects.  They were bigger than us, and they were favored to win and very confident that they would win.   But our core group on that team was so tough, smart, fearless…Cory Klenke, Tony Harlamert, Keith Wenning, Ryan Geier…they all made big plays in that comeback, and of course, they had a lot of help from some very special kids that followed their lead.  As you say, it was a great football game.

PPM:  It seems like you’ve always had a great quarterback at the head of your success, and maybe more than your share.

Otten:  Well, we’ve had a bunch of them (with a laugh).  And yeah, maybe more than our share.  When you think of Kyle Hoying and Kevin Hoying, who was a Division I quarterback, but played at UD…Cory Klenke, who’s playing baseball now at Miami, Keith Wenning, whose playing at Ball State, and now we have Austin (Bruns) who’s a Division I prospect.  We’ve had an incredible run of quarterbacks, as you say, and some that never went on to play college football.  But all those guys had such good people around them.  Ross Homan, for instance…teams that were very collected when things went bad on the field.  They were smart, they were competitive, and the reflected Coach Reed’s attitude of being able to withstand anything and keep playing.

PPM:  Coach Reed said once that you have to find a way to get beyond the obstacle that keeps you from whatever success you seek.  He had to go through that.  And now you’re going through that, apparently.  You’ve gotten to the state finals twice in the last two years.  You lost to a very good Ursuline team in 2010, and to a surprising team from Kirkland last year.  The kids on the field are important, yes, but are there things you’ve struggled with as a coach…about how to identify and conquer that obstacle?

Otten:  Well that’s a great question, and sometimes you have to step back and realize that you just get beat by a better football team.  That Ursuline team in 2010…there was no way we were going to beat that team.  We got down big at the half, and I told the kids in the locker room…we’re not going to beat these guys.  But I also told them that we weren’t going to quit, either.  To the seniors on that team I said, this is your last game so just go out, play loose, and let’s make some plays. Make the most of this opportunity, whatever the outcome.

Kirkland's Christian Hauber (above) rushed 30 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns to deny Coldwater the 2011 Division V championship. "Teams usually can't pound it on us like that. But they did," says Chip Otten.

As to your question, sometimes the best thing you can do is just don’t think about it too soon.  Our seniors have a chance this year, if we get there, to play 60 games in their career.  That’s incredible, but it’s important to embrace the experience of a particular season first.  Because you may not get there (the playoffs) at all.  You take things one game at a time.  So for me, it’s a matter of not trying to think too far ahead.  We think we should be pretty good this year, but you don’t take anything for granted.   Our coaching staff is really good that way because they’re all so experienced.

As far as winning the big one, sometimes you can’t know before the fact.  Looking back you can see some things, but two years ago we just got beat by a better team.  Last year…that’s a game (Kirkland) that I still think we could have gotten.  But they were a team with a big, strong running back that was capable of sustaining long drives and keeping the ball out of our hands.  They played better that day.  We had three or four injuries that hurt us, yes. But they did what they did very well, and we just couldn’t get into what we did well enough.  They had a great game plan and a 6’3″, 235 pound Division I running back.  We’d make a play on defense and think that’s not so bad.  And then you’d look up and they’d gotten five yards.  Usually teams can’t pound it like that on us, but they did.  It was just that kind of game.  Hats off to them, they took it to us.

PPM:  You hear this maybe more than you should.  Media people who ask the questions about “the man that replaced the man”.  In your case it was John Reed.  At Versailles it was Jason Schondelmyer replacing Al Hetrick eight years ago, and etc.  Everyone in Coldwater respected John so much, and trusted his judgment pertaining to football and their kids.  It’s hard to ask the question at the time you take a job like that, but now after a couple of years…what’s it been like for you?

Otten:  Better, probably, than most, but that’s a good question.  It was better for me because I was here with John for so long.  This is my eleventh year back in Coldwater so I was already part of his system.  The best thing was I didn’t have to rebuild anything, or change the culture of things.  The hard part has been to just keep things going they way he did.  He was so focused on everything he did…keep pushing, keep pushing.  Never let up.  That was his personality.  I’m a little more laid back and sometimes I have to step back and remind myself to keep driving…do the little things in preparation that he demanded.  I try not to think about too much.  If I were younger I’m sure it would be more difficult, more stressful.  But I’ve been coaching for 30 years and I just try to take things day to day, keep planning ahead, keep the core things going that have made us successful.  I like it here.  I enjoy it here.  It’s a very supportive town and I go to work every day with the goal of just helping the kids, and I’ve been rewarded with a great group of kids to coach.

PPM:  Let’s go back to that question about coaches who work so hard to get over the “hump”.  You beat a Covington team last year that a lot of people believed was finally ready to beat a MAC team, get through the region, and go beyond.  Talk about what went “right” for you in that game (31-7), and about what went “wrong” for Covington, a team that’s tried so hard for so long…to get over the hump.

The lasting reminder of former coach John Reed's tenure at Coldwater...NEVER GIVE IN!

Otten:  It was one of those games where one play can have a huge impact on momentum, and that’s what happened right before the end of the half.  They go for a fourth and one, we stop them, take over the ball and go right down the field and score.  Now up to that point they had really played us hard.  And no disrespect to Covington, but we’d played so many teams like them throughout the year.  They were like seven or eight other teams we’d played, close games where every down was competitive. There were only three teams that we played last year that didn’t make the playoffs, so that kind of experience really helps.  It was back and forth for the first half, but we made some adjustments to their no-huddle style of offense in the second half.  We had more kids to play than they had, and I think that had a part in them wearing down.

Now, you look at a team like Covington and I’m not convinced that you have to go to state or win a state title “to get over a hump”.  I don’t know if it’s fair to think that, but people do.  Look, it’s tougher than you think.  I know.  A lot of people never get there.  Dave (Miller) does a great job down there, but there’s so much more that has to come together.  You’ve gotta’ be good, you have to be healthy, and sometimes you just have to be lucky.  Sometimes winning a state is all about situations.  And the way the game is now there’s always someone out there that can knock you off.

PPM:  You hear people talk about having lost a title game and the motivational value of a loss like that in helping them get back the next year.  True or false?

Otten:  Well there is the motivation from being so close and believing that you can get back.  But there’s so many factors in high school football, and depth is one of the biggest.  You think you’re going to be pretty good.  You think you can get to the playoffs and make a run.  But then you have an injury.  You’re throwing the ball 50 times a game and then you lose an Austin Bruns.  Now you have to find another way, and you have some other good players like we have.  But you run into a team like Alter a few years ago that has even more good players, more depth than you do.  So there is the factor of motivation, but depth, and health, and luck have an awful lot to do with getting back to a position of winning a state championship.  We’ve been there the last two years.  The first time we would not have beaten that team if we’d played them 10 times.  Last year, I think if we play that team 10 times we win 5.

I know this…the kids get over it much sooner than the coaches.  By the time we got home last year they were ready to go on with whatever they had planned next.  Coaches sit around and scheme on it all year.  But all you can do is prepare and play.  Just like last year, the motivation is still to achieve one goal at a time.  We’ll worry first about winning the league first.  If you win the league you know you’re going to the playoffs and you go from there.

PPM:  Finally, you play in a league blessed with some very good quarterbacks, including your own.  Tell us a little about Austin Bruns as he prepares for 2012.

Otten:  Well, you’re right about quarterbacks in the league.  I can name you five that really stand out going into the year, and three of them, Austin, the Stahl kid at St. Henry, and Adam Bertke at Marion, are all 6’4″ or bigger.  Then Adam Niemeyer at Minster, who’s very good in multiple sports, and the Campbell kid at Versailles ended up being first team all-league last year as a sophomore.  Now you tell me another league in the state that has five quarterbacks that can go out and throw the ball around the way those five can.

Where’s Austin’s concerned, it’s a hump year for him, too.  And his experience is really going to help him.  He played in 15 games last year and against the best competition in the state in Division V.  Altogether he’s played something like 27 games.  He’s a workout junkie.  He plays football and basketball.  He loves to throw and he loves to shoot.  He’s 6’4″ and pushing 220 pounds, and he’s ready to take the next step.  He needs to work on the things that good quarterbacks have to do…the reads, knowing when to get rid of the ball, not trying to do too much.  Sometimes he needs to play with a little more discipline because if he starts running around back there the linemen have no idea where he’s at.  Those kind of things.  He’s improving rapidly and hopefully he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself.  He wants to play Division I at the next level.  He’s worked hard on his school work, and he’s waiting to see where the offer comes from…a little frustrated maybe that he hasn’t been offered yet.  He’s probably better physically than some of the other quarterbacks that have been offered.  He went to a lot of camps this summer, he’s focused and really working hard.  He just needs to go out and do the things on the field that he can control.  If he does that and has a good season I’m sure good things are going to happen for Austin.

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