Football opener this Friday: Quality, not quantity key for CatsOne thing the Wildcat football team will have plenty of this season is athleticism. The challenge may be keeping those athletes on the field.
By: Bob Burrows, River Falls Journal
One thing the Wildcat football team will have plenty of this season is athleticism. The challenge may be keeping those athletes on the field.
River Falls brings back a large number of returning starters from last year’s squad that finished one game below .500 with a record of 4-5. But a drop in numbers will result in many of those athletes playing on both sides of the ball. The key, according to head coach Jason Wolf, will be keeping those players healthy.
“We’re very athletic this year and have a lot of experience,” Wolf said. “Our numbers are down but the kids we have are looking very good. Depth is a question because of the numbers. We have so many kids playing both ways that we’re a little thin in areas.”
Wolf said the Wildcats’ athleticism was on full display at the team’s scrimmages against Stevens Point and Minnetonka, Minn. last Friday in Menomonie, especially on defense.
“We didn’t miss many tackles,” Wolf said. “One key to tackling is putting yourself in a position to make the tackle and the kids are getting to the play quicker. That was one of our worst areas last year.”
Another area that Wolf hopes to improve on is the number of big plays, and he believes the Cats have the ability to strike quickly on offense this season.
“One thing we lacked last year; we didn’t have many explosive plays,” he said. “You have to have ways in which you can get that quick score and we didn’t have that. We had some nice drives, but this year we feel like we have the ability to make the big play.”
Leading that wave of optimism is the return of two big receivers — 6-foot, 6-inch senior wide receiver Brad Freeborn and 6-5 senior tight end Eric Wunrow, who earned second team All-Big Rivers Conference honors as a junior.
“At Friday’s scrimmage they were both able to get up and get the ball,” Wolf noted.
Throwing the ball this season will be senior Alex Call, who moves to the offensive side of the ball after leading the Wildcats in interceptions last year as a defensive back. Call takes over for two-year starter Ryan Kusilek, who is now a member of the UW-River Falls football team.
“He’s very athletic and will be able to move a lot in the pocket and use his speed and quickness to run when he has to,” Wolf said about Call. “He’s been this senior group’s quarterback all the way through so he has a nice rapport with them. The only reason we moved him to defense last year was because we had Ryan Kusilek.”
Wolf said he will rely on seniors Tiano Pupungatoa, J.P. Eaton and Isaac Dzubay to anchor the offensive line.
“They all do a nice job up front so we should be able to both run and pass the ball,” he said.
The backfield has a host of experience back with seniors Josiah Harris and Aaron Rodewald and junior Sam Lenzen all seeing valuable time on the field in 2011. Wolf said he expects transfer student John Maillette to have an impact as well.
“He’s a fast kid and he’s already making an impact. He scored our first touchdown in our scrimmage against Stevens Point.”
Defensively Wolf said he expects good things from senior lineman Mitch Cowley and senior linebackers Bucky Rudesill and Matt Mishek. Senior Ryan Tierney has excelled so far at safety and will also help the Cats on offense as a wide receiver.
“He’s doing a heck of a job,” Wolf said.
The Wildcats’ wealth of athleticism took a hit the first week of practice when 6-2, 193 pound Benji McRoberts went down with a knee injury. McRoberts, who was expected to be a two-way starter and had already drawn attention as a wide receiver during summer passing camps, had season-ending ACL surgery this past Wednesday.
“He was working hard and had brought his 40 yard dash time down to 4.7 seconds,” Wolf noted. “He’s a good leader and he’s at every practice. He’s one of the biggest football heads on the team. We wish him a quick recovery.”
The Cats added some new faces to their coaching staff following the departure of three assistant coaches during the offseason. Joe Kusilek stepped down and Joe Cudd took a teaching and coaching job in Alaska while Jim Day returned to teach and coach at his alma mater, Eau Claire North.
Former Ellsworth head coach Conrad Bekkum and former UWRF defensive back and Delevan-Darien head coach Scott Imrie have joined Wolf’s staff to help out on defense while returning assistants Chris Krueger and Steve Trudeau will share offensive coordinator duties.
Wolf said a directive from the WIAA reducing the schedule for each team this season by one game has been frustrating to deal with. Instead of two nonconference games before beginning BRC play, the Cats will play just one nonconference contest, this Friday’s home opener against New Richmond, before opening BRC play next Friday, Aug 31, against Eau Claire North.
“It’s frustrating, especially the way our conference plays out,” he said. “You try to tweak and put things in and now we have to do that for the second game, which is a conference game. When you have players playing both ways your implementation is slower. Now you’ve got to get ready immediately for the BRC.”
The Cats will kick off the 2012 season this Friday at 7 p.m. at Ramer Field against New Richmond.