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Cats ready to rumble

Wildcat quarterback Mark Bennett (12) looks for a receiver while being protected by running backs Dylan Dock (21) and Henry Higgins (39) during the Cats' scrimmage with Osceola Friday at the high school field. River Falls will kick off the 2009 football season Friday at New Richmond at 7 p.m. Bob Burrows photo

One thing about having a bunch of new faces on a team is; you never know who will step up and surprise you.

Wildcat head football coach John Bennett found that out during the team's scrimmage with Osceola, Bloomer and Somerset Friday.

"Overall, the scrimmage produced a number of pleasant surprises," Bennett said. "We're a young, inexperienced team and for a number of kids that was their first significant taste of varsity football. But I'm pleased with the effort. There's a lot of work to be done but I think we've gotten off to a good start."

This year's version of the Wildcats will open the 2009 season Friday at New Richmond at 7 p.m.

The Wildcats graduated 25 seniors from last years' squad that finished the season 4-3 in the Big Rivers Conference, 6-3 overall, and qualified for the WIAA playoffs for the second straight year. Included in that group are six of the team's seven 2008 All-BRC selections.

"Last year's team was certainly senior dominated," Bennett said. "A lot of this year's seniors had to be pretty good players to get inside the lines a year ago. But all were major contributors and they recognize that there are only so many moments in the sun, and this is one of their moments."

One of this year's seniors who saw plenty of action last year is linebacker and running back Ben Wunrow. Wunrow was named to the All-BRC Second Team at linebacker after leading the Cats with 57 solo tackles. He also had two tackles for loss, a interception and a fumble recovery from his spot in the middle.

Offensively Wunrow averaged 5.3 yards per carry rushing, finishing with 317 yards in 60 attempts. He was second on the team to all-state running back Levi Johnson in touchdowns with 12.

Also back for the Cats this season is tight end and linebacker Zach Pavlichek, who caught 10 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns a year ago on offense while finishing second on the team in solo tackles with 52 and breaking up a team-high ten passes and intercepting two.

Wunrow, Pavlichek, returning two-way lineman Grant Lillvis and quarterback Mark Bennett will serve as team captains this season.

The Cats' lost both starting quarterbacks from a year ago. Tyler Hunter graduated while Marty Herum will miss his senior season recovering from ankle surgery after breaking his ankle while playing baseball for the Wildcats in the spring.

Coach Bennett said one feature he's already noticed about this year's team is its' ability to improve from day to day.

"That's a great characteristic for a football team, the ability to improve from practice to practice," he said. "This year during two-a-days, this team truly got better every day. For this team to be successful, that's an ability they have to have.

"One of the things we've talked about as a coaching staff is, we expect to see a lot of growth and a lot of development throughout the season," he added. "The personality of this team is intent on improving, both individually and as a team."

Bennett said he wants the Wildcats to play a full 48 minutes of fundamentally sound football each week.

"We'll learn a lot about ourselves Friday night at New Richmond," he said.