By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
With all postseason hope gone, Muskogee head coach Josh Blankenship is trying to balance two approaches as the regular season narrows to a close.
“As a head coach you’re committed to your seniors but you’re always thinking long term and what needs to happen so that we can have success next year,” he said. “With so many young kids playing, the issue of getting reps for many is already there.
“If there’s anything more you do it’s those subtle comments and conversations you have with your future leaders. But it’s a fuzzy line between them taking ownership of what’s going to be their team and on the other hand, challenging your seniors to leave the legacy they want to leave.”
All that, he said, depends on the players you have.
“It’s been one of those amazing years in how the kids have continued to battle and have a vision for the future week in, week out,” he said. “The tough part is when you don’t have that (playoff) carrot to dangle.”
That basically ended with Sapulpa’s 13-10 win over the Roughers two weeks ago. Mathematically still in contention, the Roughers needed help — and to beat Jenks last week. That outcome was the same as it has been since 1992, a loss. The 52-3 setback puts Muskogee at 1-6, 1-4 in District 6A-2.
“(Sapulpa) was a heartbreaking loss in a situation where they gave everything they had,” Blankenship said. “Across the board it was one of our better games. It didn’t come out how we wanted, but in terms of goals getting met within the game, a lot of those things were done. And it came against a quality opponent, whereas the game we won (33-7 against Edison) was not quite as quality as the other games we play.”
He knows that doesn’t translate into the ultimate goals of winning games. Win out, with road games at Putnam City and Bixby, and it will be much like his first season — a close call on getting to the postseason, probably determined in the end by a tiebreaker. Lose both, and it’s a one-win season.
And he’s keenly aware that doesn’t go over well in a football-serious town.
“I never feel safe but I don’t look at it like that,” he said. “I don’t know how it sounds to you or sounds to other people, but I didn’t come here thinking this is the start of an amazing career. Am I hopeful of that? Selfishly, absolutely, but I said when I came here I felt like the Lord told me to come here. But then, my experience is that when he asked me to go somewhere it’s not always been the most pleasant situation.”
One of those previous times, he said, came when he went to the University of Tulsa from Union High School. Things didn’t work out there and he ended up at Eastern Washington.
In a situation like high school football where you don’t control the personnel you have, he says a purpose for being there has to be bigger.
“I’m looking for the immediate and the long term (success). I want to build a program and at the same time I want to win now,” he said.
“We’re doing everything we can to win in both situations. I love we’re in a football town that as soon as you don’t have the immediate they’re upset. I hate dealing with it, I hate having meetings where a parent or community member is complaining about things but ... It’s a give and take and I’d take that rather than a disinterested community.”
For now, he has to lean on those character issues that he set out to establish as a foundation for outcomes on and off the field.
“Things like behavior issues in practice, language, fights in practice like we used to have. You’re always going to get complaints and things of that nature, we don’t have like we used to,” he said. “Attendance, just showing up at practice was a problem last year. We didn’t get everyone to show up on Saturdays, even our option walkthrough on Sundays. Now everyone shows up.”
“It hurts personally that they haven’t been rewarded for what they’ve given, in the form of wins and respect from their community,” Blankenship said. “I know they’re going to look back and see what this has done for them. Life is full of losing seasons.”
Playoff-less, they can potentially spoil the playoff hopes of Putnam City with a road win this week. The Pirates enter the game in a three-way tie with Westmoore and Sapulpa, all at 5-3, 3-2 in the district and with two playoff spots available, assuming Broken Arrow holds on to the No. 2 spot.
Kickoff for the contest is 7 p.m., 30 minutes earlier than normal per Putnam City schools regular game time schedule.