FOOTBALL PREVIEW | Otterbeck checks into South Kitsap football

Ed Fisher disciple embraces Wolves’ new offensive strategy

They gathered in the dimly lit locker room where a brown table and two chairs rested near the office door.

While others enjoyed hikes or water activities during summer’s 90-degree days, Arnie Otterbeck sat near columns of benches and storage cabinets with new South Kitsap football coach Gavin Kralik.

There the men played a game in which many might expect a pair of 8-year-olds to engage: checkers. But instead of trying to jump over one another, Kralik diagramed formations and plays in his spread, no-huddle offense.

“For me to sit down, work through that and be able to see it was something new to me,” said Otterbeck, who is the Wolves’ freshman coach. “But it made a lot of sense. It was fun because it helps you understand kind of that global picture what’s going on. Why is it important that they tackle down blocks? Why is it important that the receiver lineup to the field side? Just those little things and being able to have that conversation.”

Kralik said he wanted to bring in several assistants with strong ties to the program, and Otterbeck fit that objective.

“He’s an example of a guy that normally would not be at the freshman level, but it’s a huge advantage for us to have someone of his caliber coaching freshman football,” he said.

Otterbeck, who has coached eight years at John Sedgwick Junior High, has extensive ties to school’s football program. The 1997 graduate was part of the last class to play for legendary coach Ed Fisher, who guided the program to a 35-2 record in Otterbeck’s three years, including a ’94 state title.

“I had a tremendous opportunity to play under a great coach — a Hall of Fame coach,” Otterbeck said.

Fisher ran the I-pro offense, which remained in place under his successor, D.J. Sigurdson, who guided the Wolves from 1997 to 2011. Otterbeck said he ran that system at Sedgwick, but noted that one of his assistants, Jeff Winn, was a “fanatic” University of Oregon fan. The Ducks have run an up-tempo, spread offense to great success, including a pair of National Championship appearances, in the last five seasons.

“Kids always play fastbreak football up front,” said Otterbeck, referring to their lunchtime break. “At the junior high level, it seemed like a natural installment for them.”

Otterbeck said he began to employee many of those techniques at Sedgwick. After all, he noted that a slant or hitch play is similar in any system. Despite that, Otterbeck took the checkers concept home to work with his wife, Christy, at the dinner table. While the couple do not own a checkers set, Otterbeck said the concept does not change when the pieces are swapped out for pennies and quarters.

“It’s good because you can do it anywhere,” Otterbeck said. “You can play against another person. You can be part of a group. You can do it by yourself as you’re processing things.”

Regardless of the offensive system in place, Otterbeck said there is one goal in mind.

“It’s just kind of learning how to teach it and how to communicate it so the kids can perform at a high level on the field,” said Otterbeck, who teaches Advanced Placement computer science and woodshop at Sedgwick. “I believe some of the greatest teachers are coaches. It’s like the classroom — you’ve got to appeal to all of the learners.”

It’s a learning experience. Otterbeck ventured into the locker room in a blue Sedgwick Generals T-shirt and shorts before Kralik replaced the gear with the Wolves’ maroon color scheme the next day. The two have become friends even though Otterbeck applied to coach the Wolves, as well. That stemmed from a phone call right after Kralik was named coach on March 30 and asked him to lead the freshman team. Otterbeck and his wife have a 14-month-old daughter, Nora, and the couple discussed the move before he accepted the position.

“Looking at the bigger picture for us it was a good time for it,” Otterbeck said. “Again, the long-term goal is to be coaching at the high school level. All of the chips kind of fell into place for us.”

Otterbeck long has aspired to run his own high school program. He inquired about the opening in 2013 at Chelan, which hired Travis Domser. Otterbeck felt the move to the freshman position placed him closer to his goal because he now is able to coach “a more mature athlete.”

“A lot of those younger guys at the junior high, it’s their first time ever playing football,” he said. “We kind of go back to the John Woodin philosophy: You’ve got to teach guys how to put their socks on right just so they don’t get blisters.”

As he makes the transition, the 36-year-old Otterbeck has surrounded himself with a veteran staff, including longtime Sigurdson assistant Joey Dame.

“It’s important for us that we model what the high school guys are doing,” Otterbeck said. “Because of coach Kralik’s vision, we want to make sure we develop young athletes who are prepared to compete at a very high level against schools that are top performers. We’re going to prepare kids to line up and play against anyone.”

Otterbeck feels the mentorship role is important because of his own experience. He took a few years off after high school to mature and eventually walked on at Eastern Washington University before transferring to Whitworth University in Spokane. Otterbeck credited some of the friends he met with the semipro football West Sound Orcas when he played for the team during its inaugural season in 2000 in getting him to pursue a college degree. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Whitworth in 2004 and a master’s in education last year.

“It’s a pleasure to come back here, teach in the community and be a part of something,” he said. “This is a great place.”

Fisher routinely told his players that football is a microcosm of life, and Otterbeck firmly believes that after his experiences.

“It’s a great opportunity for men to grow in different areas,” he said. “To really apply that to the lives of men is exciting.”

One that starts with a game of checkers and is applied on the gridiron.

“In this environment, it’s safe to make a mistake,” Otterbeck said. “It allows that leadership component to come in when those guys who have a better grip on the offense come in to coach their teammates.”