In Play with Tom Markowski


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West Ottawa has breakthrough season and the Panthers eye a long playoff run

By: Tom Markowski, October 22, 2017, 8:12 pm


Holland – Much of Ryan Oshnock’s coaching career has been one-and-done. Get hired at one program, head to another the following season.

Oshnock plans to make his stay at Holland West Ottawa a long one and, after a historic regular season, supporters of the West Ottawa program are hoping for the same.

Oshnock, 33, is a Lakeview graduate who played football and graduated from Wayne State. He’s in his second season at West Ottawa and his Panthers are one of the feel-good stories of these playoffs.

The playoffs, featuring 256 teams divided equally in eight divisions, start this Friday and Saturday.

The eight-player playoffs have a different look this season as there are now two divisions and their playoffs also begin this weekend.

West Ottawa (8-1) defeated Grandville, 34-18, last Friday to clinch the school’s first Ottawa-Kent Conference Red Division outright title. The Panthers had shared division titles before. The last one was in 1992 when the Panthers tied Rockford for the O-K Red Division title.

As is the case in most seasons, O-K Red Division teams are saddled in the same district this playoff season. West Ottawa will host Grandville (6-3) on Friday in a Division 1 Region 1 District 1 first round game. The other predistrict in District 1 pits Red Division member Rockford (6-3) at Grand Ledge (8-1).

Oshnock began his coaching career at Burns High in Duncan, S.C. as the defensive backs coach. After two seasons he was hired as a graduate assistant at Central Michigan under coach Butch Jones. The next season he went with Jones to Cincinnati where he spent two seasons as the defensive line coach. Oshnock did spend two seasons at Cincinnati where he was also able to earn his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership.

Never one to stay in one place too long, Oshnock coached at two different high schools over the next two seasons, the last stint at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley where he had a chance meeting with Tony Annese, the former high school coach who is now the head guy at Ferris State. Annese offered Oshnock the defensive coordinator position and Oshnock said yes. Again, he spent just one season there before Ron English, then the head coach at Eastern Michigan, wheeled in Oshnock to coach his special teams. Oshnock did that for one season before English was fired and then Oshnock had second thoughts about a career coaching at the collegiate level.

“I was trying to find my niche,” he said. “I liked coaching in college. I was single. I was sleeping in my office with a blow-up mattress and it was fine. After Eastern, I said to myself I’ve got to get a job. My dad (Greg Oshnock) was a high school coach. I grew up in awe of the great names in the sport like (former Birmingham Brother Rice coach) Al Fracassa, (Farmington Hills Harrison coach) John Herrington, Annese and others.”

It didn’t take Oshnock long to get back to the high school level. In 2014 he was hired as the head coach at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern and the Huskies made the playoffs in each of the two seasons under Oshnock. Then the West Ottawa head coaching position opened up and, with the backing of Annese, Oshnock was hired as the head coach and assistant principal before the 2016-17 school year.

An important piece to the puzzle is Oshnock’s top assistant, Doug Samuels. Samuels has been with Oshnock for four seasons and when the two came to West Ottawa Oshnock turned to Samuels to be his offensive coordinator and Oshnock went back to coaching the defense.

“The stars aligned,” Oshnock said. “I got married and things are going well.”

That might be a bit of an understatement, for Oshnock and West Ottawa. In a division dominated by programs like Rockford (two state titles), Grandville (one state title), Hudsonville (two-time state finalist) and East Kentwood (a state finalist).

And West Ottawa? The Panthers have made the playoffs 10 times, including this season, and have won four playoff games, never more than one in any one season.

West Ottawa was 2-7 last season, Oshnock’s first, before Oshnock made a change.

“In the offseason we made a conscious effort to playing two-platoon (football),” he said. “And we did. When practice started we hit the ground running. I had coaches tell me that playing a player at just one position is the way to go. The real test of a coach is getting a 5-10, 175-pound kid to play a position that he might not be able to do at that time but will eventually. “

Xavier Wade is a good example of a player who would likely play on both sides on many teams but for Oshnock Wade is strictly on the offensive side, mostly slotted at receiver. Wade has received a scholarship offer from Eastern Michigan and other schools, like Eastern Kentucky, have shown interest.

Liam Cavanaugh (6-4, 210), a tight end and linebacker, is the lone player who starts on both sides.

The game that help turn the tide this season was in the fifth week at Hudsonville. West Ottawa won that game, 20-7. Last season Hudsonville waxed West Ottawa, 56-22.

The following week West Ottawa defeated East Kentwood, which entered the game at 4-1, 34-7.

“East Kentwood was huge,” Oshnock said. “And here we are with 5-10, 175-pound guys playing on the line. We forced a couple of turnovers and were able to exploit some areas.”

The next game was at home against Rockford, a team West Ottawa hadn’t defeated since 2002. Last season Rockford bounced the Panthers, 51-14.

“I had a freshman on our team come up to me and say he wasn’t born when we last beat them,” Oshnock said.

West Ottawa shocked many by defeating Rockford, 35-30.

Oshnock appears to have shed his travelling shoes. He bought a home in the Holland area is comfortable in his surroundings.     



Bubble teams get in

Heading into the ninth week there were 76 teams with 5-3 records, one win away from securing a playoff spot. Of those 47 won increasing the total of automatic qualifiers to 223. That means 29 more teams with 5-4 or 4-4 records were hoping to earn enough playoff points to get in as an additional qualifier. The magic number is 256 so 33 teams with no more than four losses were needed to be added.

The last four-loss team to make it was Salem, a Class A school with 57.111 playoff points. Ten four-loss Class A teams made it in, nine from Class B, nine from Class C and five from Class D constituted the breakdown according to classes. Salem fans can thank the program at Hamtramck for its entry. Hamtramck was 6-2 but was forced to forfeit its victories because it used an ineligible player leaving a spot open for Salem.

Salem’s reward is that the Rocks now play at Belleville (9-0) in a Region 2 District 2 predistrict.


Pairings quirkiness

If I were king one change I would make would be to seed each region 1-8 and not have two, four-team districts, which is the current format.

Let’s go to Division 2 as an example. Warren DeLaSalle is third in playoff points in Region 4 but will play on the road in its opener (at Ferndale). It’s quite possible the Pilots will also be the visiting team in the second round, should they win. If they win their district DeLaSalle will host a region final. Go figure.

Stay in Division 2. In Region 2 four of the top five teams, according to playoff points, are in District 2.



Top first-round games in each division


Division 1: Saline at Canton

Division 2: Temperance Bedford at Wyandotte Roosevelt

Division 3: Grand Rapids Christian at DeWitt

Division 4: Vicksburg at Three Rivers

Division 5: Richmond at Marine City

Division 6: Houghton Lake at Harrison

Division 7: McBain at Lake City

Division 8: Ubly at Harbor Beach


Predictions for the 11-player state champions

Division 1: Eisenhower

Division 2: Mona Shores

Division 3: Muskegon

Division 4: Grand Rapids Catholic Central

Division 5: Grand Rapids West Catholic

Division 6: Montague

Division 7: Pewamo-Westphalia

Division 8: Muskegon Catholic Central


Predictions for the eight-player state champions

Division 1: Deckerville

Division 2: Pickford