Ryan Schartz knows that Brock Bult is a great high school football coach. After all, the former defensive coordinator was selected to replace Schartz when he stepped down as head coach to take over as the Fort Osage High School activities director three years ago.

“But the guy’s also a pretty good poker player,” joked Schartz, when he learned that Bult is The Examiner’s 2018 Football Coach of the Year, edging Lee’s Summit North’s Jamar Mozee, Blue Springs’ Kelly Donohoe and Van Horn’s William Harris for the honor.

“In high school, you have to play the hand you’re dealt, and because of all our injuries early this season, he didn’t have the best possible hand – and all he did was go out and coach his rear end off, keep the kids and his staff motivated and take the team to state.

“He never lost that poker face, even when I know he was facing some tough times out on the field. The guy can coach. He’s a big time coach and I am so proud of him for winning The Examiner’s award.”

The injury-riddled Indians, who played much of the early part of the season missing up to 10 starters, opened the 2018 campaign with a 3-4 record. Bult lost starting offensive linemen Valentino Ulberg and Elijah Campbell to season-ending injuries halfway through the season and the team lost as many as nine more starters to a variety of injuries that just made the Indians more focused and determined.

“Coach Bult is the reason we were able to keep it together, keep positive,” Schartz added. “He and his staff were amazing – they kept coaching and encouraging and told the guys it would turn around – and it did.”

The Indians ran off six consecutive wins, and made it all the way to the Class 5 state championship game against Vianney, losing 28-14 after holding a 14-0 lead at halftime.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been as proud of a team or a group of coaches as I was this group this year,” Bult said. “We could have just given up after that 3-4 start because a lot of people picked us to go to state this year – and seven games into the season we’re 3-4? But no one gave up.

“In fact, I think guys worked harder. Because of the injuries, we got to see a lot of new players out there and they rose to the occasion and made us a better team once we started getting the injured guys back on the field.

“My staff is amazing, but the job they did this year was just unbelievable. We spent a lot of time together trying to figure this all out and wound up having a special season.”

The 9-4 Indians topped Columbia Battle 46-30 to earn the spot in the title game.

“I’ve never been on a team that had so many people doubting us,” linebacker Von Young IV said. “What kept us together was the belief our coaches had in us, and the belief we had in ourselves.

“During all the bad times, Coach Bult believed in us. He made us believe in ourselves and we were able to turn things around. He and our coaches deserve the credit for that turnaround.”

In typical Bult fashion, he refused to take any credit for the turnaround.

“I didn’t make a tackle or throw a pass, it was the players who turned this thing around. And I think that is one reason why this season has been so special,” he said. “We told the guys, no one cares about the injuries, just work hard and get it done out there. I’m so proud of the guys on this team.”

Defense has been the Indians’ trademark since Schartz and Bult have been calling the shots from the sidelines, but a 33-3 state quarterfinal win over Staley might be the most dominating defensive performance in the history of the program.

“Our defense was so good that day,” quarterback Ty Baker said of the win in which the defense scored four touchdowns. “All the guys on offense just stood on the sidelines watching our defense play. It was amazing. We fed off each other that day. They did something great and it made us want to do something great.”

Bult said after that game that the performance even caught him a bit off guard, and he is one of the most respected defensive minds in the state.

“That was a great day, a lot of fun to watch,” Bult said. “And it’s great to be named The Examiner’s Coach of the Year because I can talk about my coaches, and my players and our administration because they all played a role in our success this season.”