PREVIEW: 2013 Tigers have little experience, big heartsThe 2013 Tigers are, without question, very young. The team has only nine seniors, well down from the 16 who played last year.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
Seniors are sparse and underclassmen are plentiful on the Northwestern High School football team this year.
That goes against the usual trend for the Tigers and could make for a long year, but head coach Dennis Scherz isn’t worried. He has been in this situation before.
“I can go back to 1992 and we had a similar class to this. I think we had six seniors,” Scherz said. “We lost the first four games, and like I said, part of it was we were young.
“We came back … did a little soul searching and ended up beating Spooner, who was a really good team.”
After their victory over Spooner, the Tigers went on to win the remainder of their regular season games. They advanced to the playoffs and beat a 9-0 Osceola team before falling in the second round.
“And the next year we were at Camp Randall,” Scherz said. “I think it’s a very similar team that way.”
The 2013 Tigers are, without question, very young. The team has only nine seniors, well down from the 16 who played last year.
Among the seniors lost from 2012 are quarterback Peter Lindsay and leading rushers Nathan Sikorski and Mark Pooler. Sikorski topped 1,000 yards for the season, and Pooler was key at the goal-line, finishing with 12 touchdowns.
On defense the Tigers must replace linebacker Justin Miesbauer, who led the team in total tackles for 2012.
“We lost 16 or 17 seniors, but I think we’re coming back strong this year,” said sophomore Nate Pearson.
Northwestern enters the season with nine seniors, 14 juniors, 13 sophomores and one freshman on the varsity roster.
In a typical year, Scherz said, he’ll see about 15 seniors out for the team. Overall turnout in grades 10-12 usually hits 50, but numbers are only in the upper 30s this season.
“We’re running a young team with a pretty much new offense,” Scherz said. “It’s a higher risk offense that, there’s a likelihood the ball could end up on the ground.
“If we can make it through the first few games and have some success, it’s kind of like last year . . . we get on a winning streak and build the confidence of these young guys and it could be a good year. If we’re not that fortunate, then we’re going to have to work harder.”
Another bright point for the Tigers this year is the freshman class. Scherz said he has 24 players on that squad.
“They’ve got a ton of skilled kids — some of the fastest kids on our team. So we’re looking for the positive things in that.”
One member of the freshman class — Alex Tecker — is even expected to start for the Tigers this year. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds on the roster.
“He does not look like a freshman,” said Scherz, chuckling. “As my son Ryan likes to state, ‘You know three months ago, he was having recess.’”
The Tigers’ youth will show the most on offense this season. Currently, only three or four seniors are slated to start on that side of the ball.
“That’s not a usual thing for us, but when you’re a school of 400 that’s what you get. You get those years,” Scherz said.
Northwestern will have both a freshman and a sophomore starting in key positions.
Pearson, a sophomore, will share time at quarterback with senior Luke Freeman. Senior Mitch Graskey and junior Kyle Biser are both options at tight end.
“We’re doing things a little differently this year, as people will see,” Scherz said. “We’re expecting a lot more of our quarterbacks than in the past. We started a little bit of it with Peter Lindsay last year, and now we’ve actually turned the full page.”
Scherz said his quarterbacks will be running more, but he wouldn’t give many details.
“It will be a surprise what the difference is,” he said. “More of an option look, we’ll call it.”
On the ground, the Tigers will have a multiple choices.
Junior Trevor Guenard and senior Tyler Blair will be Northwestern’s primary running backs, and Pearson will rotate into that role as well.
Pearson is a breakaway threat for the Tigers, Scherz said, but Guenard also has good “speed and explosion.” Blair will be responsible for picking up short yardage when the Tigers need it.
“I’ve got a big line in front of me to block for me, so that’s all I can ask for,” Blair said. “I’m happy with that.”
Blair also predicted a big year for Guenard, who he thinks opponents have overlooked.
“No one’s going to see him coming,” Blair said.
On the line, Luke Masterson (junior) will be at right tackle; Logan Moreau (junior) at right guard; Elias Alexandrou (senior) at center; Jay Karich (senior) at left guard; and Tecker (freshman) at left tackle.
“We’ve kind of got the jury out on the rest,” Scherz said. “We’ll see where the rest fit. We’ve got probably one of the bigger lines that we’ve had.
“If we can stay healthy it’s a nice unit, a good team.”
Team captains this year are seniors Freeman, Graskey and Blair.
The Tigers return more experience on defense, but Scherz said he’s still trying to piece together the best lineup.
“I think we’ve got more questions on defense than we do on offense right now,” Scherz said. “That’s a learning process right now. We’re still trying to get players in the right positions, get the right players on the field. But all in all, I think that will straighten itself out.”
Tecker, Moreau, Masterson and Alexandrou will all play on the interior line.
Blair, Micah Goetsch (junior), Taylor Agamaite (senior), Karich, Guenard, Graskey and Pearson will round out the starters on defense.
“You’re noticing that there’s not a lot of depth; (we have) a lot of two-way players,” Scherz said. “It’s one of those years where we’re going to probably have 14 players who are going to play. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”
Freeman will be in the mix in the secondary, and Nathaniel Lewis, a junior, will also compete for a starting role.
“And we’ve got a lot of young players, a few sophomores who could end up in that mix,” Scherz said.
While most of the team is young this season, the Tigers have the luxury of experience at kicker.
Junior Jordan Orme returns for his third year as Northwestern’s kicker. He made 22-of-26 extra-point kicks last year during the regular season and provided a season highlight for the Tigers with a game-winning field goal against Spooner. His longest field goal of the year was 38 yards.
“He’s worked hard at that position and it’s a perk, it’s a plus (for us),” Scherz said. “More than any year we’re more than confident that if the situation dictates, we’ll kick a field goal. But this isn’t the NFL, so there’s a lot of things that are going to dictate what you do in any given situation.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jordan. I’m certainly not afraid to kick a field goal, but the situation will dictate that.”
Orme’s teammates also appreciate what the kicker brings to the team. If the Tigers need a field goal, they know Orme will deliver.
“It’s really nice to have him. I can’t even kick that ball 20 yards,” Blair said. “I saw him knock it down from 50 yards the other day.”
“It’s a weapon we haven’t had in the past,” Scherz said. “So you’re sitting at the 20-yard line, fourth and 4 — it’s one of the first things that’s going to come across my mind. It’s in the playbook.”
Two new coaches join the Tiger staff this year: Northwestern grad Travis Follis and Kyle Polzin, a 2008 graduate of Solon Springs,.
“They’re pretty fun,” Blair said. “Follis is always giving me a hard time.”
Returning with Scherz to the coaching staff are David Crail, Cody Fechtelkotter, Pete Lawton, Mike Sawczynec, Ryan Scherz and Ryan Teal.
Of the returning coaches, Pearson said Crail stands out — he’s always the most animated on the sidelines.
“I can’t wait to see him when we’re out there on defense because he’s always so hyped up,” Pearson said. “He’s our defensive coordinator, and he’s on the sideline jumping around and getting me pumped up and ready to go. You can always see him.”
The final two home games of the season will be a true test for the Tigers this year.
On Oct. 4, they host Barron, and on Oct. 18 they close out the regular season with Bloomer.
Barron and Bloomer were the only teams to defeat Northwestern in 2012, and both teams also claimed victories over the Tigers in 2011.
“Bloomer will be tough,” Scherz said. “They’ve got a lot of kids returning from last year’s team, so I’d call them the pick of the conference. Cumberland is going to bring back some speed, so I guess those are the two (favorites).”
The Heart O’ North Conference is also experiencing a bit of a coaching shakeup this season. Four of the eight teams in the conference have new coaches: Cumberland, Spooner, Barron and Ladysmith.
That could mean new playing styles and loads of new plays when the Tigers meet those teams.
“What’s fun about that is I think we’ll have a ballgame any game we play,” Scherz said. “We’re probably going to have to wait until the fourth quarter to figure out who’s going to win.
“It’s going to be a fun year.”
Blair said the team will have to play disciplined, but he’s excited for the season to begin.
“We’ve got the heart, so I think if teams don’t see us coming, we’re going to give them a good little surprise,” he said. “Heart wins the game.”
TIGER TALES: All of Northwestern’s football games this season will be broadcast on WNXR. Game coverage will also be streamed live online at wnxrfm.com.