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Wildcats ready to rumble

Senior captains Joe Gresback, Talal Adam, Evan Huppert and Nick Zimmerman, and the rest of the Wildcat football team, opened the 2010 season Friday night at home against New Richmond under new head coach Jason Wolf. Bob Burrows photo.

First-year head coach Jason Wolf said the Wildcat football team has come a long way since the first day of practice.

"I'm really excited about how kids have responded to the challenge," he said. "Early on, there's always doubts. But seeing their confidence grow every day, it's a totally different team from day one to where we are now."

One of the reasons Wolf believes the team has come so far is the installation of what he calls the two-platoon system, meaning players will only play on one side of the ball.

"That's helped us get a lot accomplished in a short period of time," he said. "Before, players worked half of practice on offense and half on defense, now, they're spending the whole three or four hours at just one position. Even the younger kids are developing quicker."

With 71 sophomores, juniors and seniors at practice every day, Wolf said the Wildcats have the numbers to use the two-platoon. And he said he's not afraid to put a sophomore into the starting lineup if he's earned it.

"We have to do that just to give us depth," he said. "I think we're hitting that point where kids understand that no position is safe. They know I'm not afraid to play a sophomore if he's there, and they're pushing each other."

The Cats return the most experience in the trenches, with three starters back on both sides of the line. Kelly Larson, Matt Linehan and Alex Anderson are back on offense while James Kozak, Talal Adam and Tim Weller return on defense.

Other experienced seniors back for the Cats include wide receiver Jack Herum, fullback Nick Zimmerman, tight end Evan Huppert and defensive lineman Joe Gresback.

Herum caught six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown last season while Zimmerman came on towards the end of the year and finished with 386 yards rushing on 68 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry, and a touchdown.

Huppert caught one pass for 11 yards while Gresback finished with 11 tackles, one fumble recovery and one tipped pass.

In all, the Cats have 28 seniors on this year's roster.

Wolf said players have been battling for starting spots at the other positions, including quarterback, where both Ryan Kusilek and Lucas Weiss return after seeing action under center a year ago.

"We've got a good battle at quarterback with Ryan Kusilek and Lucas Weiss," Wolf said. "We're going to put them in game situations and see who can elevate himself. I think that's a good situation."

Kusilek completed 22 of 54 pass attempts for 258 yards and four touchdowns in 2009 while Weiss completed one of eight attempts for nine yards.

"Where we don't have returners, I'm excited about the development of the kids," Wolf said. "Competition is a good thing, and not just between the seniors and juniors. There will be quite a few sophomores suiting up."

Wolf said the biggest adjustment in his first year has been installing the new system.

"We have 28 seniors who have done things one way for three years, and they had a solid foundation," he said. "But there's lot of new things. There's a learning curve we're working through, more so offensively."

He said the new system has also benefitted the coaching staff.

"In the past they would split time between offense and defense," he noted. "Now they can focus on one position. We're moving ahead fast; even quicker than I had hoped."

There are a few familiar faces on this year's coaching staff, including former head coach Bill Forster, who returns to serve as defensive coordinator. Another former head coach, Tom Carroll, has been working with Joe Kusilek coaching linebackers this preseason.

John Witt and Phil Gribble are coaching the defensive backs while Dan Wolf, no relation to Jason, is coaching the defensive line.

On offense, Steve Trudeau is the line coach and Jim Day is coaching quarterbacks while Chris Krueger is working with the running backs and head coach Jason Wolf is handling wide receivers.

"It's a very seasoned group," Wolf said about his staff.

Wolf, who served as head coach at Prescott since 2004 and has been a physical education teacher at Meyer Middle School since 1999, believes the Wildcats have all the tools in place for a successful season.

"We can throw the ball if we need to, and we can run the ball," he said. "We're not going to be one dimensional."

The Cats kick off the season with a home game against New Richmond this Friday at 7 p.m. at Ramer Field. He said he hopes fans see a well-executed offense and defense.

"That's what we've been preaching," he said. "We want to be known for our intensity and our details. With this system we can take advantage and work on the small details."

Friday night's opener will also be Youth Night at Ramer Field.

"I think they are excited," he said about the youth football players. " It will be a nice way to kick off their season as well."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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