PREVIEW: Banged-up Spartans ready for season opener with HodagsTonight’s game moved up to 6 p.m. start
By: Ken Olson, Superior Telegram
If athletic trainers were able to win team awards, Mike Gogolin would easily be the MVP of the Superior High School football team.
Gogolin has been busier than usual this fall as the Spartans get ready for the 2012 season and today’s opener at Rhinelander.
“We’ve had a lot of freaky things happen this year,” SHS coach Bob DeMeyer said. “Our offensive and defensive lines have been hit the most with injuries, and now we even lost a kid over the weekend to a four-wheeler injury and don’t know when he’ll be back. We’ve just had a lot of kids go down early in the season.”
“Trainer Mike” estimated there were 20 kids on the sidelines with nagging injuries during the second day of practice in full pads.
“Maybe that’s good and we can get it out of our system as a team,” DeMeyer said. “Two good things about the injuries are they came early and maybe they will help with gaining experience.
“But quite honestly, a lot of the injuries are because some kids, did not prepare themselves to play and that shows with muscle pulls and stuff like that.”
One serious injury was suffered by junior lineman Steven Timmers, who was injured early in last week’s scrimmage at Rice Lake and may miss the entire season.
The Spartans open the season at 6 p.m. today at Rhinelander. The game was moved up from the original starting time of 7 p.m.
“We don’t know a whole lot about the Hodags, other than we know who their returning players are and have some game film on them,” DeMeyer said. “They’ve been down a little bit from what we’ve heard, but they’re a drastically improved team with great size. They will be a very good football team.
“There are a lot of unknowns as far as our team is concerned. We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves, which is big because this is the only non-conference game we have.”
Teams in Wisconsin are beginning the season with eight-game schedules. If teams qualify for the playoffs, the ninth game will be a playoff game. Teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs will be matched up with another team that did not make the playoffs.
In the past, the regular season ended on a Thursday and the first two rounds of the playoffs were played the following Tuesday and Saturday.
“They’re trying to resolve playing three games in 10 days,” DeMeyer said. “They feel it’s a safety factor, but there aren’t many coaches that are happy. I’ve never heard of any issues. Coaches back off with injuries and do what you can to keep their guys healthy.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs and avoid that scenario. If we can shore things up front on the offensive line, we’ll be there.”
Leading the charge into the season will be captains Spencer Urban, Ben Erickson, Anthony Valentine, Trent Olson, Kyle Turkowski and Jack Kline.
Urban is returning as Superior’s starting quarterback and will do double time at defensive back.
Backing up Urban at quarterback in sophomore Nick Mehlum. They combined to throw a handful of touchdown passes in the Rice Lake scrimmage, including back-to-back 40-yard TD passes against Hayward.
“I think we have the two best quarterbacks in our conference,” DeMeyer said. “Spencer’s drastically improved in every phase of the game — his decision making, his throwing ability and he’s in the best shape of his life. He’s really prepared himself for his senior year of football. It’s shown in every practice, our inter-squad and scrimmage.
“He’s also taking charge and has yet to turn the ball over in any situation. And in our offense that’s killed us the last couple of year, turnovers. Ball security has been a big focus and he has a grasp on that, as does Nick, who is also a phenomenal quarterback, phenomenal athlete I could not ask for two better kids to lead our offense.”
Turkowski and Kline will be the main targets at wide receiver.
“They both worked very hard in the offseason preparing themselves,” DeMeyer said. “They’re in tremendous shape, they’ve put a lot of time in running their routes and working on receiving drills. They’ve done all they could to prepare themselves also.”
Erickson and Olson will play in the slot, where they will block, run the ball or go out for passes.
“They add so much in blocking, they’re fantastic blockers, but they’re also great receivers,” DeMeyer said. “They’re just competitive kids that don’t want to come off the field. They want to do whatever they can to help their team win.”
Senior Aaron Wakefield returns at tailback, backed up by senior Jaylon Brown and sophomore Tyler Nystrom.
“Aaron’s also put a lot of time in and has improved a ton and having that year of experience is a big factor,” DeMeyer said. “He has great feet and a great burst. When he gets into the open field he’s a weapon.
“Jaylon’s been pushing him and could see some playing time as may Nystrom , who has impressed us with his effort and maturity for a sophomore.”
The biggest question facing DeMeyer is the offensive line, where the only returning starter is Erik Anderson, who is only a junior.
“We have a lot of numbers on the OL, but we don’t have the experience,” DeMeyer said. “Erik’s very steady, durable and understands our scheme. He can play any position on the offensive line. He’s going to help bring along the younger less experienced kids that will be with him. Unfortunately, with the OL, we’ve had three bad injuries.”
Missing time due to injuries are sophomore Sam Urban, junior Matt Sanda and Timmers.
“Urban is back, but he missed some valuable time. He has a lot of ability on both sides of the ball,” DeMeyer said. “Matt is one of our best leaders and one of the hardest workers I’ve every coach, but he went down with an injury and should be back in about a week.”
Expected starters on the offensive line are Anderson, Urban, Mike Hinaus, Will Stream, and Joey McDonald.
“Anderson and Hinaus graded out the highest in our scrimmage,” DeMeyer said.
Brett Murray is another offensive lineman and Willie Wells and Andrew Roske, both defensive lineman starters, will be asked to help out on offense.
“Willie and Andrew give us some depth on offense,” DeMeyer said. “And Stream really improved and has the potential to be very good. He should help us out on both sides of the line this season.”
In the Spartans’ 3-5 defense the starting line is Wells, Roske and Sam Freeman. They will be backed up by Stream, Jaylon Brown, Urban and Anderson.
“Sam has had a good camp so far. He’s improved tremendously,” DeMeyer said. “After the starters we’ll go by committee. Everything is wide open.”
One of the five linebackers is Erickson, a three-year starter on defense.
“Ben’s the key player in this defensive scheme,” DeMeyer said. “He has an incredible nose for the football, he’s an outstanding leader, and he’s difficult to block.”
Other linebackers are Anthony Valentine, Trent Olson, Brown, Chase Michaud, Clayton Chruscielski, Lucas Gall and Nate Sanders and Raheem Vann.
“Anthony’s one of the best athletes in our league and quite honestly the state,” DeMeyer said. “He’s put in more time getting ready than anybody. He’s in tremendous shape and he loves the fact that he’s moving from defensive back to linebacker.
“Olson’s also gotten bigger, faster, stronger and an outstanding leader. He’s also moved from a defensive back spot and is doing fantastic.”
The defensive backs are senior Nik Mattson, sophomore Jake Liable and Urban.
“Nik had a good scrimmage,” DeMeyer said. “He’s steady, solid and he’s not going to be out of position.
“Urban, who will play corner and free safely, is one of the best defensive backs in our conference and he hasn’t played there in a year. He sees the field well and is a sure tackler.”
DeMeyer also said Libal is a ‘real ball hawk.’
“He’s fast, reads well and understands the game,” DeMeyer added. “He’s in the mix as is Nate Sanders, Alex Dzikonski and Vann, if he can stay healthy.”
The Spartans didn’t expect Vann to play this season because of an injury.
“We though he was going to be out with an ongoing injury, but just before the season he was cleared,” DeMeyer said. “He gives us added depth on offense as a slot receiver and as a defensive back.”
Sophomore McKenzie Schwarz is back as the team’s field goal.
“One area we’ve improved a lot in is field goals and extra-point kicking,” DeMeyer said. “Schwarz put in a lot of time in the off-season. He went to a couple of camps, his leg is much stronger and his accuracy is spot on.”
Valentine is the punter and will kick off with Schwarz and Libal, Wakefield, Sanders and Olson are punt returners.
DeMeyer said his team’s great strength is its athleticism.
“We have a lot of good athletes,” DeMeyer said. “We feel we have them in the right spots but we need to do things to create more depth so we can maintain and improve our level of play throughout the season.”
The Spartan coach also said his team expects to win each game.
“That’s our mentality, if we didn’t think that way then we shouldn’t bother playing,” DeMeyer said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Menomonie, Hudson or any of the top guns in our conference, whoever our opponent is we’re going to go into that game expecting to win.”
As for team goals, winning the BRC in on top of the list.
“We’re playing for a conference title, to qualify for the playoffs then it’s one game at a time,” DeMeyer said. “If we didn’t’ do that we’d be cheating our seniors.”
As far as the BRC, DeMeyer said the title is up for grabs.
“There’s not a weak team in our conference,” DeMeyer said. “Hudson’s loaded, Menomonie’s going to be very tough again. Anyone of the eight teams should be competing for the conference title.
The Spartans’ team motto this year is ‘I will, we will.’
“If I do my job I’m going to help the team and the team is going to be successful,” DeMeyer said. “We expect to win but we’ll need to fight through all adversity, eliminate the mental mistakes and just do our own jobs.”
SPARTAN SPIN: Superior was 3-6 overall and 1-6 in BRC last year. Its wins were over Duluth East Medford and Eau Claire North. … DeMeyer is beginning his seventh year at SHS with an overall record of 21-35 record. … The Spartans team managers are Dayelle Davis, Liz Fuhrman, Paige Gilbertson, Kelsey Reder and Samantha Roske for the varsity and Patrick Buelt, Nikki Honnes, Brennen Jensen, Payton Michaud and Haley Siers for the junior varsity.