PREVIEW: Something old, something new
The Northwestern High School football team is going old school with a new football coach and one of its youngest teams in school history.
The new head coach is Jovin Kroll, who graduated from NHS in 2002 and is believed to be the first former player to become head coach of the Tigers.
“I was thinking about that the other day,” Kroll said. “I just might be.”
Past Tiger head coaches include Crail (Montana), Scherz (Twin Cities), Lawton (Spooner), Bob DeMeyer (Superior), Ray Kosey (Michigan), Andy Lind (South Shore), Bill Pelkey (LaSalle, Ill.) and Don Kruger (Superior). Northwestern’s first coach in 1966 was Dwain Guelle, who is believed to be from Chicago.
“So I may very well be the first one, which is strange,” Kroll said. “With all of the tradition you would think there would have been more.”
Kroll welcomes the added pressure that may go along with that distinction.
“I think having knowledge of the program and expectations of it, maybe I feel it (pressure) a little bit more,” Kroll said. “I’m constantly aware of that expectation to win and I not only feel it as a head coach, but as someone who has grown up in the program and has supported the program from the outside.”
One of Kroll’s first moves was trying to talk Lind, who happens to be his father-in-law, into joining his coaching staff.
Lind coached the Tigers to the 1993 state championship game and is a member of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“He finally committed about three or four days before we got started, I bugged him enough to get him back,” Kroll said. “He’s a huge help. Between him and Pete Lawton, who has been here for a long time, there’s a lot of experience with the offensive line, which helps a lot.”
Kroll takes over a program that went 7-3 last season and had its season end for the second straight year with a playoff loss to the eventual state champion. NHS lost to St. Croix Central 35-20 last season and Osceola 52-15 in 2015.
Kroll replaces David Crail, now the head coach at River Falls High School. Crail, who took over for Dennis Scherz in 2015, had a 15-6 record over the past two seasons.
“It’s great to be home,” Kroll said. “This is such a tradition-rich program where success is expected. It’s really a great spot to coach. Having expectations to win every year is a good thing.”
Rounding out the coaching staff are Cody Fechtelkotter, Paul Riordan, Jake Schiff and Ryan Teal. Lind is a volunteer assistant, along with Greg Nelson.
The experienced coaching staff will help Kroll with a roster that includes only five seniors.
“Oh my gosh, we’re very young,” Kroll said. “This is the youngest team I’ve ever been around. We have five total seniors and three of them are two-way starters.”
Kade Bartelt is the Tigers’ quarterback and safety; Tyler Ronning is on the offensive and defensive lines; and Andrew Hanson is a middle linebacker and full back.
The two remaining seniors are offensive and defensive linemen Timothy Hissa and Morgan Bergren.
The Tigers’ ground game will rely heavily on junior running back Reagan Ruffi, who was second last season with 650 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Carter Spangenberg was the top running back with 871 yards and nine scores.
Joining Bartelt and Ruffi in the offensive backfield will be juniors Keegan Plasch and Trevor Janowicz.
The wide receivers are junior’s Brody Payton and Bryson Mazur, who is also the team’s third running back.
Joining Ronning on the offensive line are Gervase Thompson IV, Drew Pearson, Nate Ohman and Kyle Curphy. The tight ends are Justin Sedin and Jager Stillson. All are juniors, except Pearson and Stillson, who are sophomores.
“We have about four different sets on offense, including some option,” Kroll said. “It’s pretty similar to what they did in the old-school days. In many ways I’m trying to mesh what they’ve been doing here with what we did here years ago. We’re trying to find that blend, because some place in the middle is where we can find some success.
“We’re going to pound fullbacks still, just like we did in the old days, we’ll run outside zone and some of the other things coach Scherz brought here, too. There will be some plays that some of the fans will definitely recognize.”
Joining Ronning and Ohman on the line of the Tigers’ 3-4 defense will be junior Carson Holsclaw.
Thompson and Janowicz are the outside linebackers and Hanson and junior Alex Isakson are on the inside.
Defensive backs include Bartelt, Plasch, Ruffi, Mazur, junior Jenner Graff and sophomore Jake Brill.
Hanson was second with 63 tackles (32 solo) tackles last year, including 10 sacks and five tackles for losses. Bartelt was third with 30 tackles to go along with an interception.
The returning kicker is sophomore Isaac Nichols and doing the punting will be either Ruffi or Payton.
Northwestern has tied for first place in the Heart O’ North Conference the past two years, including last year with Hayward and Chetek-Weyerhaeuser with 6-1 records.
“The kids are kind of sick of tying for first place,” Kroll said. “Two years in a row they’ve shared a conference title so the kids would love to have one on their own,”
Kroll expects Bloomer and Cumberland to be the teams to beat in the HON.
“Bloomer is big, physical and are easily the favorite,” Kroll said. “Cumberland is also up and coming with a good quarterback.”
Kroll’s journey led him to UW-River Falls, where he was an all-conference punter with the Falcons. After a stint as a student-teacher in Turtle Lake, Kroll spent nine years with the Webster Tigers, including head coach from 2012-15.
The Tigers prepared for tonight’s season opener with scrimmages against Hurley and Chequamegon at Ashland.
“Even though we didn’t go up against Ashland, I’m sure they had an eye on us,” Kroll said. “Ashland may have been down a bit, but I think they’ve made it a point, and a rallying cry, to beat us. I think that is very big on their list.
“So we’re aware of what the game means to them and we’re going to have to match their intensity because they’re going to come out with a lot of fire. They’ve had this game circled on the calendar for a long time.”
Northwestern has dominated the series with 10 straight wins.
“We may have won 10 in a row, but two years ago we needed a “Hail Mary” pass to Tyler Little with less than a minute remaining to beat them 21-14. Then last year we beat them 13-6, but it took a kickoff return and a long touchdown pass for our two scores. Then we ended up having to come up with a goal-line stand at the end.
“So even though they haven’t beaten us lately, they’ve done everything but. Those were two games we could have easily lost. If we can get out early we could be successful, but if we don’t it will be a dog fight the whole way.”
Tonight’s game at Ashland begins at 7 and will be carried live on WNXR 107.3 FM and ifan.tv.
TIGER TALES: Ronning is on the Wisconsin Sports Networks Joe Thomas preseason watch list as one of the top offensive linemen in the state. … Northwestern’s managers are Gabe Beeksma and Michaela Gann-Kinnear.
Northwestern High School
2017 Football Roster
1 Bryson Mazur........ 10 RB/DB 5-11 158
2 Yuri Achucarro...... 11 K/DB 5-5 135
4 Jake Brill............... 10 QB/DB 5-11 143
5 Jager Stillson........ 10 TE/LB 6-1 183
6 Isaac Nicholas...... 10 RB/LB 5-10 170
7 Reagan Ruffi......... 11 RB/DB 5-8 179
9 Dayne Evanson.... 10 WR/LB 6-1 152
11 Kade Bartelt........ 12 QB/DB 6-0 181
20 Trevor Janowicz.. 11 RB/LB 5-7 192
21 Jenner Graff......... 11 WR/DB 5-11 155
22 Nicholas Ogren... 10 RB/DB 5-6 138
28 Logan Swenson.. 10 RB/DB 5-5 136
29 Sam Risley......... 11 WR/DB 6-1 136
30 Keegan Plasch... 11 RB/DB 5-5 143
31 Jack Ogren.......... 10 WR/LB 6-0 142
32 Isaiah Wiita......... 10 RB/DB 5-7 131
34 Michael Knaack.. 11 OL/DL 5-10 148
36 Carson Holsclaw. 11 RB/DL 5-10 165
38 Tyler Eastman..... 10 WR/LB 5-9 140
43 Andrew Hanson... 12 RB/LB 5-8 195
44 Justin Sedin........ 11 TE/LB 6-0 200
45 Alex Isakson....... 11 RB/LB 5-8 186
46 Cole Dalbec........ 10 RB/LB 5-8 178
50 Drew Pearson...... 10 OL/DL 6-2 224
52 Noah Swanson.... 10 TE/LB 5-11 162
57 G.Thompson IV... 11 OL/LB 6-0 205
58 Cam. Kimmes..... 10 OL/DL 5-10 171
61 Isaiah Huray........ 10 OL/DL 5-11 223
63 Wyatt Van Camp. 10 OL/DL 5-9 177
64 Kyle Curphy........ 11 OL/DL 5-9 245
68 Nate Ohman........ 11 OL/DL 5-10 206
66 Timothy Hissa..... 12 OL/DL 6-0 215
69 Tyler Ronning...... 12 OL/DL 5-10 230
70 Morgan Berggren. 12 OL/DL 6-0 283
75 David Wakefield. 10 OL/DL 5-9 222
77 Carson Nykanen. 10 OL/DL 6-1 242
78 Tyler Hood........... 11 OL/DL 5-10 251
81 Brody Payton...... 11 WR/DB 6-3 184
88 Alex Koshak....... 10 WR/DB 5-10 133
N/A Jacob Larson.... 11 OL/DL 6-0 214
N/A Keenan Willow.. 11 OL/DL 5-11 192
Varsity Coaching Staff: Jovin Kroll (head coach), Cody Fechtelkotter, Pete Lawton, Paul Riordan, Jake Schiff, Ryan Teal, Andy Line (volunteer), Greg Nelson (volunteer).