St. Croix Central has high expectations for 2011 football seasonSometimes, to get a good measure of a football team’s passion, you have to listen.
By: Dave Newman, New Richmond News
Sometimes, to get a good measure of a football team’s passion, you have to listen.
You hear the pads popping crisply. You hear enthusiastic, upbeat players in practices who are looking forward to the upcoming season and the possibilities that lie before them.
Such is the case for the St. Croix Central football team this season. The Panther players are clearly excited about their season and it shows in the effort level they are pouring into their practices each day.
The excitement is justified. The Panthers reached the WIAA playoffs last season and they only graduated a handful of starting players. They also had several upperclassmen join this year’s team to add to the talent available.
The Panthers are starting to see the bounty of having more than 100 students in each high school class. There are nearly 70 boys out for the team, with healthy representation from all four grades.
A veteran coaching staff leads the Panthers. Tony DiSalvo is in his 12th season of directing the Panthers, after several seasons as an assistant coach. The Panther coaching staff returns intact from last season.
There are high goals for the season. The coaches recognize the hard work that’s been done leading up to this week’s season opener, but they also know that production in games is what ultimately matters.
“They’ve set some pretty high goals,” DiSalvo said. “They talk about it a lot. The talking is over now. Now we’ve got to go out and prove it.”
The Panthers switched to a shotgun offense last season. With most of the players returning, the offense has plenty of big play potential.
The triggerman for this year’s Panther offense will be junior quarterback Carl Moll. He holds a mix of skills that will help maximize the potential of the offense.
“It’s nice to have a dual threat there,” DiSalvo said. “We’re a little different club with him because he can put the ball under his arm and run.”
Being groomed as future quarterbacks are sophomores Timm Brooks and D.J. Holland and freshman Jason Matteson.
You’ll find the Panthers have depth at all the ball-handling positions. Korey Jacobson and Mike Nelson are set to start at running back, with Justin Kattre and Logan Setzer also getting carries.
The wide receiver positions may be the deepest position on the team. Cody Nyhagen, Tyler Lathe, D.J. Haas and Ethan Lindahl are leaders for the starting spots with competition coming from Chris Hedberg, Isiah Krogseng and Jag Johnson, among others. The Panthers have the ability to run formations with a tight end too, because receivers like Lathe and Nyhagen have the strength to handle blocking duties.
Three veterans anchor the offensive line. Marcus Malecek returns at center, with Lauden Wood and Jacob Schweizer ready to handle the tackle positions. The competition along the line is for the starting guard positions. The Aaby cousins, John and Kyle, are in the hunt, as are Austin Edison, Brandon Sheffler and Brian Gibb.
“We’ll only be as good as our offensive line is,” DiSalvo said. “If we’re going to throw the ball we need time and if we’re going to run we need some alleys.”
You’ll see most of the same players in contention for starting spots on the defense. DiSalvo said there is enough depth on the team that he’s hoping some players can concentrate on playing on one side of the ball. He put Moll at the front of that list, wanting to talk to the first-year quarterback as much as possible during the game to hasten his progress.
The defensive front will be led by Malecek.
“I think Malecek will have a big year,” DiSalvo said. “He’s got leverage and he’s smart.”
One defensive tackle spot will be held by 325-pound Jake Bonte. DiSalvo said the coaches are looking for one more player to step up and earn the other defensive tackle position. Edison is one player who’s shown a willingness to get in and fight for the job.
Schweizer, the Aabys and Logan Setzer are competing for the defensive end positions.
The linebackers are an athletic, active group, which is exactly what’s needed in the Panthers’ stunting and blitzing defense. Wood, Nelson, Jacobson, Kattre, Gibb and Ron Delander give the team strong enough depth that they may be able to platoon here.
The options at defensive back run just as deep. Nyhagen, Haas, Moll, Hedberg, Krogseng, Johnson and Lindahl all could see significant time in the secondary.
There is competition for nearly every position in the varsity lineup and that’s the way the coaches prefer it.
“Some of the best years we’ve had were when we’ve had good competition. It’s nice to have numbers. Football is a numbers game, especially when you start to get injuries later in the season,” DiSalvo said.
Competition is something the Panthers better get used to. They’ll have plenty of it in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference. Mondovi is the defending champion and Elk Mound edged the Panthers last season. DiSalvo said Spring Valley and Boyceville also have athletes that have to be respected this season.