Cats kick off at New Richmond
There may be some new names and faces in the Wildcat football lineup this season, but head coach Jason Wolf said they all have one thing in common.
“They’re very hungry,” he said. “This group has always been football first kids. They play multiple sports but they’re really a hard-working, football group. We’ve had a three-year playoff drought now and they want to get back into it, and they’ve been doing a good job.”
The Cats, coming off a fifth place finish in the eight-team Big Rivers Conference in 2012 with a record of 3-4 (4-4 overall) will begin their quest this Friday night in New Richmond with a 7 p.m. kickoff. Wolf said, judging by last Friday’s scrimmage at Baldwin-Woodville, he expects to see good things.
“I thought it went well,” he said about the scrimmage, “Especially considering we have so many brand new people playing new positions. It was a good scrimmage for us. We showed strong discipline and effort — two big things we talked about.”
River Falls returns just one starter on offense — lineman Max Haskins — and two on defense — linebacker Sebastian Larson and lineman Colton Jones. But senior running back Sam Lenzen has seen plenty of time in the backfield since his sophomore year while linebacker Mustafa Adam gained valuable experience last year as a junior.
With 73 sophomores through seniors out, Wolf said the battles for the other starting positions have brought out the best in the players.
“There are battles going in at so many positions, especially the skill positions,” he said. “The nice thing is we have multiple guys doing good things. We tell the kids, if you keep working hard, you’ll get a chance to play, and that’s what we’re seeing.”
One of those battles is at quarterback, where juniors Sam Witt and Jon Krueger have both demonstrated good skills.
“They both do a lot of good things and they both have their strengths, so we’ll look for ways to use both of them,” Wolf said.
Wolf said the Cats have a number of other players who can contribute at multiple levels.
“We have a lot of athleticism, especially at wide receiver, halfback and quarterback,” he said. “We have a lot of people at those positions fighting for spots. The line, there’s not as many of them. The defensive and offensive lines are going to be an ongoing puzzle. We’ll try and figure out how to rotate them to get the best out of them.”
Wolf called this year’s camp the best in his four years, and gives much of the credit to the school’s revamped speed and strength program.
“You have to have the players to create that competitiveness and we do, that’s why we feel we’re turning the corner with the program,” he said. “Our speed and strength program really enhanced our kids. The fact that it will be year-round now is going to be helpful. You can tell coming into camp that the kids that took part in the program are performing at a much better level.”
Wolf said the biggest thing he wants to see in the first game is consistency.
“With having so many new players, consistency is key,” he said. “We want to execute each play at a high level.”
With the return to a nine-game schedule this season, the Wildcats have added Farmington, Minn., for their home opener and second nonconference game of the season Aug. 30.
“Now we’re looking at a school with about 2,000 kids, and that’s more like what we’ll see in the Big Rivers,” he said. “I felt it was a better game to prepare for the BRC.”
Wolf said he expects Hudson, Menomonie and Rice Lake to be strong BRC contenders this season, but believes the Cats’ athleticism can help them contend.
“We’re always trying to look at who our impact players are and how to use those impact players,” he said. “We’ll try and break it down to how many touches they get a game. The nice things is, we have a lot of different kids we can do that with.”
See more sports in this week's print edition of the River Falls Journal.