Falcons kick off SaturdayThe UW-River Falls football team will open the 2009 season Saturday when it hosts St. John’s at 1 p.m., at Ramer Field.
By: Steven Linzmeier, Staff Correspondent, River Falls Journal
The UW-River Falls football team will open the 2009 season Saturday when it hosts St. John’s at 1 p.m., at Ramer Field.
The Falcons are looking to rebound from a near decade of 3-7 seasons. They will look to get over the three win mark for the first time since 2001, but will have to do it without some key players.
Gone are offensive stars including quarterback Storm Harmon, center Scott Witte and All-American wide receiver Michael Zweifel. However, there is plenty of optimism on the Falcon sideline. Head coach John O’Grady called this year’s team, “one of the best I’ve had in years.”
O’Grady, the longest tenured coach in Falcon history, is starting his 20th season with a career record of 101-96-3.
With Harmon gone junior Ryan Luessenheide will take over under center for the Falcons. O’Grady said that Luessenheide took control of the job during spring practice and has continued it into preseason camp. Sophomore B.J. Letourneau will be the back-up.
O’Grady said the coaching staff is excited about the possibilities at running back.
“Best situation we have been in since we switched to the zone (spread offense), he said. “All four are very good and will all play, if healthy.”
Taylor Edwards, a UW-Whitewater transfer, will be one of the guys getting a look in the backfield while Greg Klingelhutz, who had upwards of 100 touches a year ago, returns. Ahmad Palmer, a junior college transfer, and John Schimenz are the other two backs while Joel Yogerst returns as the team’s starting fullback.
The Falcons have a gaping hole at wide receiver after the departure of Zweifel, who transferred to the University of Dubuque after his dad, Stan, was named the school’s head coach. But there are a number of players vying to fill the gap.
Returners Brian Ganske, Mike Woodward, John Keepers and Bryan Penrod will figure to see some big minutes on the outside, but it has been two freshmen that have made an impact since stepping onto campus and have been installed as the starters. Wade Schlichting and John Wahlstrom seem poised to make their debuts as Falcons in the starting line-up.
“Schlichting is faster than Zweifel and will be our deep threat,” O’Grady said. “Wahlstrom isn’t big, but he is quick and durable. He catches the ball.”
Tight end Ryan Hansen is back for a fifth year after suffering a season-ending injury a year ago. Hansen’s high school teammate, Connor Graves, also missed the 2008 season but will see plenty of action at tight end as well.
O’Grady said the offensive line is an undersized but athletic group. The starters at the tackles will be Scott Hanna and Joe Gotmer, while Joe Gangl, Ross Wargula, and Seth Johnson will make up the interior of the offensive line. Gangl is the offensive line’s largest member at 270 pounds.
The defensive line features the most experience of any unit for the Falcons, with four seniors up front. Mike Larson and Justin Palmer will be the anchor at the defensive tackles while Derek Nette and Danny Wolf will put pressure on the quarterback at defensive end.
Curt Johnson, Ross Potter, and Cole Lowell are all back at linebacker while senior defensive back Ben Arata, who O’Grady called “the leader of the defense,” returns at free safety. Arata tied for the team lead in tackles and led the team with four interceptions in 2008.
Two things that the Falcons must overcome, according to their head coach, is their lack of size and injuries.
Saturday’s opener against St. John’s will feature the official retirement of former Falcon great Jimmy Baier’s No. 33 jersey. Baier set a UW-RF single-game rushing record with 370 yards against Stevens Point in 1966, when he finished with 1,585 yards for the season. Both are still tops in the UW-RF record book. He also holds the UW-RF record for total offense in a season with 1,801, also set in 1966. His jersey is the only Falcon number that has been retired.