Falcons ready for new era under WalkerThe UW-River Falls football team’s 2011 schedule isn’t one that any first year coach would want. But new Falcon head coach Matt Walker said his team is up to the challenge.
By: UW-RF Sports Information, River Falls Journal
The UW-River Falls football team’s 2011 schedule isn’t one that any first year coach would want. But new Falcon head coach Matt Walker said his team is up to the challenge.
The Falcons have four teams on their schedule that are ranked in the Top 25 of the D3football.com pre-season poll. Two other teams on the schedule received votes in the poll.
“You could argue that we will play one of, if not the most, difficult schedules in the nation,” said Walker.
The first test for the Falcons will be this Saturday when they host St. Thomas at 1 p.m., at Ramer Field. The Tommies, who beat the Falcons, 27-3, last year in St. Paul, were ranked No. 5 in the D3football.com pre-season poll. The Tommies opened their season with a 20-7 win over St. Norbert last Saturday.
“We are excited about the challenge of playing against a program as solid as St. Thomas,” Walker said. “We respect what they’ve done as a program over the last few years and know that we have to play our best right of the gate to compete against an opponent as talented as UST.”
Right after week one the Falcons travel to Trine University (Ohio) to face the nation’s No. 21 ranked team on Sept. 17. On Sept. 1 Trine opened its season with a 24-13 win at Manchester.
The Falcons host the No. 1 ranked UW-Whitewater Warhawks on Oct. 8 at Ramer Field in the school’s Homecoming and Hall of Fame game. UW-W has won three of the last four NCAA National Championships. The Warhawks enter the 2011 campaign riding a NCAA-best (all divisions) 30-game winning streak, 17-game league victory string and 21-straight home triumphs.
Walker is the 20th coach in UW-RF football history and takes over from John O’Grady who retired at the end of the 2010 season. Walker is just the third football coach at UW-RF since 1970. Mike Farley coached from 1970-88 and O’Grady from 1989-2010.
Walker started on the job on Jan. 3 and hasn’t stop since then in his efforts to bring Falcon football back to the top of the WIAC. Walker and his staff spent countless hours on the recruiting trail in an effort to bring in the best and brightest players to the Falcon program.
Walker, 33, was the head coach at DePauw University from 2006-09 and led that team to a 22-8 record. His 2007 and 2008 teams finished second in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Walker has 49 returning letter winners on this year’s roster. There are 14 seniors and 15 juniors. Seven starters return on offense and eight on the defensive side.
Halfback Taylor Edwards and fullback Joel Yogerst both return for their senior seasons. Edwards has led the Falcons in rushing in each of the last two seasons. In his two seasons with the Falcons he has rushed for 2,137 yards and 15 touchdowns. His back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons is the first time that’s been accomplished by a Falcon since the 1988-89 seasons.
Yogerst has scored 11 touchdowns in his career and has the knack for picking up the tough yards.
“Taylor and Joel give us a backfield tandem that could be as good as any you’ll see at our level,” said Walker. “Plus, John Schimenz and a stable of young backs make this position group one of our team’s strengths.”
Senior BJ Letourneau will be under center for the Falcons. “We are very excited about the progress of BJ in our new offensive system. BJ brings the tools that we need to be successful in this new system,” said Walker.
The passing game will play an important role in 2011 and Walker has confidence in this group.
“The wide receiver position is one that has drastically improved since last year,” said Walker.
John Wahlstrom (25 catches, 300 yards) has a full season of experience and Brady Hannigan (18-164) has shown great improvement in only his second year of college ball. Nate Brandt, who came to the Falcons as a quarterback has become one of the team’s top wide outs.
“This core group, plus transfer Charles Dixon and a nice group of first year receivers gives us a lot of options outside,” said Walker. Dixon, a River Falls High School graduate, comes to UW-RF from South Dakota State.
On the other side of the ball, Matt Ainsworth returns as an anchor of the secondary. The strong safety led the Falcons in tackle last year with 36 solo and 65 total stops. Alex Adams (24-15-39), will be at free safety while Mike Cano (20-6-26) and Lee Spohn (34-17-51) will man the corners.
“The linebacker group has as much deep talent as any other position on our team,” said Walker.
Lincoln Bjorklund is lining up in the middle right now and he finished with 40 solo and 54 total tackles last year. Former Hudson Raider Nate Smits (21-21-42) played in all 10 games last year and had three tackles for loss and an interception.
The Falcons play UW-Eau Claire twice this year due to the WIAC’s cost containment program. The two teams meet in a non-conference game on Sept. 24 in Eau Claire and the teams meet again on Nov. 12 in River Falls in a game that will count in the WIAC standings.
For the first time in history, the schedule for each WIAC team will include one non-conference game against another WIAC opponent. The second game played between both schools will count as the league contest.
“This is a unique situation that’s new to all of us. I don’t know if any of us would choose to do but it’s a decision we understand because of the difficulty for our teams finding games against other non-conference opponents,” said Walker.