The Elmwood/Plum City Wolves returned to the gridiron on Tuesday, Aug. 6, for the first day of practice in the 2019 season, but they did so without the members of the class of 2019 who not only led the Wolves in various statistical categories but also helped take the first step in turning their program around.

Noah Gansluckner, Justin Nunez, Nic Forster, Josiah Boyce, Tyler Bee, Jordan Brunner, Bronson Huebner and Tyler Maxwell led the Wolves to a 5-5 record in 2018, which head coach Mike Birtzer said was a disappointing finish, but not because of how his former seniors guided their underclassmen.

“In the end, we were all a little disappointed with the season,” Birtzer said. “We thought that we let a conference championship slip away from us. That being said, it was an improvement from the season before, and the seniors that we are losing were the ones that got into the weight room in the offseason and created a culture of hard work.”

The class of 2019 also accounted for the Wolves’ top backs and receivers of the 2018 season and of program history. Forster led the backs with 1,141 total yards (eight yards per carry, which is a school season-average record), while Maxwell finished as the top receiver with 587 total yards, nine receiving touchdowns (best in program history) and an average of 17.3 yards per carry. Gansluckner and Boyce finished as the Wolves’ second- and third-best receivers, respectively.

To make up for the loss of Forster, Maxwell, and the remaining 2018 skill position players, Birtzer will ask all returning players to step up their game — especially upperclassmen Dalton Binkowski and Zack Phillips.

Binkowski, the Wolves’ top fullback, recorded 745 total yards last season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry while Gansluckner’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

Birtzer said Phillips — who was promoted to starting quarterback last season when former quarterback Binkowski thought he’d bring more success to the team as a back — will be challenged with finding new, reliant receivers without Maxwell, Gansluckner and Boyce who recorded 90% of the Wolves’ completed receptions last season.

Elmwood/Plum City's Zack Phillips will need to find new worthy receivers this season now that former Wolves players Tyler Maxwell, Noah Gansluckner and Josiah Boyce have graduated.
Elmwood/Plum City's Zack Phillips will need to find new worthy receivers this season now that former Wolves players Tyler Maxwell, Noah Gansluckner and Josiah Boyce have graduated.File photo

On a positive note, the Wolves return the majority of their talented offensive linemen this season, including T.J. Asher, John Henn, Andrew Solfest and Paul Schwebach.

But as expected, Birtzer will be relying on his returners to enhance their game now that they have another year of experience under their belts.

That shouldn’t be a problem for this year’s squad, however. Following in the path of their former senior leaders, the returning Wolves took it upon themselves to make the weight room their refuge this summer.

“Our entire team impressed me as they have chosen to put in the time this summer doing their offseason workouts,” Birtzer said. “Their dedication was awesome.”

The Wolves will see how much their offseason work paid off on Friday, Aug. 23, when they open up their season with a 7 p.m. home game against the Pepin/Alma Eagles at Plum City High School.