Spartans hoping to change things around
Change can be good.
At least that's what the Superior High School football team is hoping for as it heads into the 2006 season.
After finishing last year with an 0-9 record, the Spartans changed head coaches, a majority of their coaching staff and the style of their home jerseys. But the biggest change will be their offensive and defensive philosophies.
Gone from last year will be the four wide receiver set and 25-30 pass attempts a game. The Spartans will now run an option-type offense from a three running back set.
On defense it's back to the 5-2 scheme with two defensive ends, two tackles and a nose guard on the line, two linebackers and four defensive backs.
Making the changes is new head coach Bob DeMeyer, who replaces Brett Vesel, who is now coaching at La Crescent (Minn.) High School.
DeMeyer, a former Superior Spartan and UW-Superior Yellowjacket quarterback, was the head coach at Northwestern High School last season after serving seven years as an assistant coach with the Tigers.
"The 5-2 defense is very simple and basic," DeMeyer said. "We're adding things as we go, a few wrinkles here and there, but our main focus is to keep things simple on both sides of the football so the kids focus on what they've learned, can read and react and get to the football.
"On offense we want to have four guys that can carry the ball and be a threat and we definitely have those type of players."
The biggest concern right now for DeMeyer is getting the kids to play with a chip on their shoulders -- in plain words -- get mean.
"Kids on both sides of the ball know their assignments, it's just a matter of executing in live situations and being more physical while doing it," DeMeyer said. "The offensive line knows their steps, it's just a matter of coming off the ball harder, staying lower, moving people and blocking to the whistle. They have to find a mean streak in themselves."
The Spartans will be smaller than most of the teams they play this season, but DeMeyer isn't about to use that as an excuse.
"We're very undersized, but that's not an excuse," DeMeyer said. "Every kid has the ability to get off the ball and move people and they're coming. They just need to do it consistently."
Starting at quarterback will be sophomore quarterback Joe Reichert. Senior Nate Hendry is also battling for the starting spot, but was injured at last weekend's scrimmage.
"Nate has a slightly separated shoulder," DeMeyer said. "We're hoping to have him back in a week."
On the line are junior Steve Runquist, quick tackle; sophomore Russ Banks, quick guard; senior Alex Reich, center; senior Max Phillips, strong guard; junior Nate Myer, strong tackle.
Junior Kyle Fredericks is the tight end and senior Mike VanMassenhove is the split end.
The running backs are seniors Brian Pierpont and Sean Graskey and junior Cole Lundgren is at fullback. Matt Johnson, Chris Blake and Addison Griffith will also see time in the backfield.
Graskey was the Spartans' leading receiver last season with roughly 30 catches for 600 yards.
"It's definitely different around here," Graskey said. "The biggest adjustment is the amount of hits (I take). I used to catch the ball and get chased out of bounds. Now I'm running up the middle and getting smoked by five guys.
"But I think it's better. You're pretty much guaranteed yards if you can pound the ball down the field."
DeMeyer believes Graskey is handling the adjustments just fine.
"He's a tremendous athlete," DeMeyer said. "He's very gifted and if he adds being physical to his game, it's going to make him that much of a better player. If he takes that step, he'll have opportunities down the road to play college football ... he's that good of a player if he wants to be."
Anchoring the 5-2 defense in the line for the Spartans will be senior Ryan Gapske, Lundgren, senior Jake Bratek, junior Drew Tarnowski, junior Ryan VanPuymbrouck, Myer and junior Jake Regner.
The linebackers are Fredericks, Phillips, junior Derrick Danielson, Graskey and VanPuymbrouck and the defensive backs are VanMassenhove, Graskey, Pierpont, Blake, Griffin and Johnson.
"I like playing defense a lot," Graskey said. "It's better hitting people instead of getting hit."
Doing the kicking for Superior is sophomore John LeDoux, who is also the team's backup quarterback, fullback and linebacker.
"He's a sophomore but he has a pretty strong leg," DeMeyer said. "He's pretty consistent with both his field goals and extra points."
The punter is Reichert. "He also has a fairly strong leg," DeMeyer said. "We've been working on his technique and he's been punting the ball fairly well.
Returning kicks will be Blake, Griffin, Graskey, VanMassenhove, Pierpont and Johnson. "They're all capable returners," DeMeyer said.
The Spartans scrimmaged Saturday at Lakeland High School in Minocqua along with Ashland and Rhinelander.
"It went well, but we know we need a lot of improvement," Graskey said. "Our defense played well, but on offense we could have converted more plays. It's all new to us, but after we looked at films we really went through and Monday we really looked good at practice."
DeMeyer added that the Spartans kept things simple in Minocqua.
"We didn't do anything special, we just wanted to find out who was going to play good, fundamental sound football, get to the ball and tackle the ball," DeMeyer said. "Not to beat a dead horse, but we need to get tougher -- physically and mentally. We laid it out there for the kids Saturday morning and told them what was in store for the first two days this week. They came ready on Monday and it was our best practice by far. But we have a long way to go."
The Spartans' first test of the season comes Friday night at Medford, a team that defeated Superior 42-21 last season.
Returning for the Raiders is senior running back Cole Garcynski, who rushed the ball 39 times for 265 yards and five touchdowns in Superior last year, scoring on runs of 13, 3, 1, 4 and 5 yards.
"He's back and he's definitely someone we're preparing for," DeMeyer said. "We need to get as many people to the ball and wrap him up. That's something we've been stressing since we scouted them last weekend in Eau Claire. They come off the ball well on both sides and have decent speed, they're just a solid football team."
Against Superior last year, Medord rushed the ball 78 times for 411 yards, including 86 yards on 14 carries from Marc Strama, who is now a senior.
After playing Medford, the Spartans host Duluth East on Thursday, Aug. 31.
"These are two very important games, especially for our kid's confidence," DeMeyer said. "We have to win at least one of those games. I want to win both of them, but if we don't, I don't want the kids to say, 'here we go again.' We're working hard and have had two good weeks of practice, so we don't to go back to the same old thing, or mentality.
"I don't want them to even be thinking about that (going 0-9 last season). That's our job as coaches -- to make sure they're not thinking about last season.
"What I'm thinking about more of is years past when we were a dominant program and what we did back then to maintain that status."
Big Rivers Conference
"Hudson had a lot of returning players, Menomonie is good again, one of the best programs in the state, and Chippewa Falls is supposed to be tough again, a big team that lines up shoe-to-shoe and just pounds the ball," DeMeyer said. "I think we can play with each team we face. We talk to the kids every day about getting to the point where we expect to win. We have to have that mentality -- expect to win every game. Otherwise, why play the game?"
"The Superior Spartans have always been traditionally known as being tough and good hitters, a physical football team, and that's what we want," DeMeyer said. "I don't care how undersized we are, 140 pounds or 290 pounds, we want to be good hitters and we want to be tough."
SPARTAN SPIN: All Spartan games this season can be heard locally on KUWS 91.3 FM. ... Superior's meet and greet Monday raised more than $1,000 for the Rita Ronchi fund. Ronchi was a student of DeMeyer's at Northwestern who was recently injured in a car accident. ... The Spartans' new home jerseys will be Columbia blue and white. Gone is the navy blue.