Back in the 1980s, Mark Gillespie was a highly successful coach at Boise City.
During a six-year stint while he was still in his mid-20s, Gillespie led the Wildcats to a 48-15 record, highlighted by an 11-1 season in 1981 and a 10-1 season in 1982.
His teams were hard-nosed and physical, playing tough defense and regularly producing shutouts.
“Oh yeah, we would have games where we had people in negative yardage,” Gillespie said.
But 30 years after creating a brief defensive dynasty, Gillespie is in his 50s, living 384 miles to the east and taking over a struggling Barnsdall program.
Last year, the Panthers went 0-10, losing all but one game by double-digits. Gillespie hopes to change that losing mindset.
“More than anything, we have to get over the mental hump,” Gillespie said. “Just like winning breeds winning, losing breeds losing. We need to have success. We can't worry about, ‘Oh, we've lost to them the last 15 years, we'll just lose to them again.'”
And most importantly, Gillespie feels like the defense needs improvement. Last season, the Panthers gave up 45.5 points per game.
“We actually have some talent with some physical potential,” Gillespie said. “And we've played some offense, but we got to get tougher. I'm an old ‘we are going to hit people in the mouth and play defense' type coach. So we've got to get better on that side of the ball.”
MORRISON THE FAVORITE
For the past two seasons, Morrison has only lost two conference games.
But unfortunately for the Wildcats, both of those games were blowouts at the hands of undefeated Woodland, the powerhouse that has owned District A-7 recently.
But suddenly, Morrison's two-year roadblock to the league crown is gone, with Woodland reassigned to District B-3, and the Wildcats are now district favorites.
“You always enjoy playing a great team like Woodland and it's tough to see them go,” Morrison coach Cory Bales said. “But at the same time, you're definitely not sorry to see them moving on because we haven't had a whole lot of luck against them.”
Against the rest of the league, Morrison has had plenty of luck, compiling a 9-0 record since 2010.
Bales said the Wildcats will remain confident yet cautious, because they lost a good portion of their offensive firepower from a year ago.
“To be honest with you, we lost 90 percent of our scoring and 90 percent of our yards,” Bales said. “So it's going to be difficult.”
Woodland's sudden departure leaves the biggest void in District A-7, but it's not the only change. Liberty was shipped to District A-8.
Two highly successful eight-man teams will fill those two holes. Kiefer arrives after an 11-2 season in District B-4, which ended in the state semifinals. Depew comes from the same league, coming off a solid 7-4 playoff season.
Both teams should provide some competitive balance.
“I know Kiefer has some good athletes and had some good years in eight-man, so I expect them to compete,” Bales said. “Hominy should also be improved and it should be competitive.”
District A-7 coaches' poll
1. Morrison (9-3)
2. Hominy (6-6)
3. Yale (4-7)
4. Kiefer (11-2)
5. Depew (7-4)
6. Drumright (4-5)
7. Barnsdall (0-10)
Note: Last year's records in parentheses.