With experienced players returning at quarterback, running back and receiver, the 2019 New Richmond football team has the proven ability to score points.
But with no starting linemen returning, there are plenty of question marks for the Tigers as they start the season.
The Tigers aren’t alone. Most of the Middle Border Conference football teams have pockets of returning talent, but none are bringing back a fully polished squad this season.
This is the final year for the Tigers to be competing in the MBC, with the WIAA football realignment sending them to the Big Rivers Conference in 2020. Second-year Tiger coach Reggie Larson said his players do not feel any pressure to be successful in their final year in the MBC, saying the change in conferences won’t be a conversation point until this season is completed.
The Tigers have good numbers, ending the opening week of practice with 99 players on their roster. Larson said those numbers are promising, but the coaches are hoping to see more players on the roster in future seasons.
The roster is led by 22 seniors. That pool of experience has the coaches thinking this could be a successful season.
“I think we’ll be up in the top three,” Larson said of his team’s chances in the MBC. “Every team has strengths and deficiencies. It’ll come down to who answers those questions the quickest.”
The Tigers are scheduled to start the 2019 season at home this Friday, facing River Falls at the New Richmond Middle School field. The Tigers scrimmaged on Friday at Chippewa Falls. Larson said the team showed the effort level the coaches wanted and the depth the coaches were counting on was evident. Larson said the play of the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers was especially strong.
With the top quarterback and receiver returning, plus three running backs with varsity experience, the Tigers have the threats to be lethal on offense.
Senior Tim Salmon returns at quarterback after taking over as the starter early in the 2018 season. Salmon proved to be a strong, physical leader who is a threat as a runner and passer.
His favorite target is classmate Joey Kidder. Kidder moved to receiver early in the 2018 season and quickly found a home there. He became one of the top big play receivers in the conference. Also returning is slot receiver Nolan Eckert. Jacob Parent and Caleb Eastep step into outside receiver positions, showing there’s plenty of athleticism at the position.
Jacob Gondreau will be used in the H-back/tight end role. When the Tigers need to go to power formations, Dawson Grove will be utilized as a second tight end.
The depth at running back is a distinct edge for the Tigers. Junior Zach Panek will be the primary running back. Seniors Cooper Strand and Joe Powers will also get a handful of carries each game. They will both hold key roles on defense and the coaches don’t want to overtax them physically.
“We’re taking the conservative approach. We want them fresh for defense,” Larson said. “That’s a pretty good stable (of running backs) and they all offer something different.”
While there are no starters returning on the offensive line, the coaches like the options that have developed during the offseason. Fred Riba, Noah Rud, Austin Vincent, Caleb Stangl, Connor Felton, Ian Scheetz, Nick Cork and Jacob Wicklem have all worked hard in the weight room in the offseason to put them in the running for game time along the offensive line. Vincent has nailed down the center position, where he’ll be in charge of the team’s line calls.
While the coaches hope to get their key players as much rest as possible, many of them will be playing on both offense and defense. The defense revolves around Strand at middle linebacker. He looked set to be a standout as a junior, but a knee injury robbed him of the season. Larson said Strand appears to be completely healed, but the coaches want to concentrate his time on defense to start.
Peyton Pohl returns as the Sam linebacker and Brady Lease will fill the rover position. Kennan Stowers and Mason Burke will back up the linebacker positions.
Depth is an asset the Tigers have at corner with three seniors who can play there. Powers, Josiah Hanson and Riley Schachtner give the Tigers excellent options. Larson said moving Powers from safety has made an incredible difference, saying that Powers may be the player who has advanced most in terms of leadership since last season.
Kidder is the free safety and the coaches have high hopes for him.
“Joey Kidder will be an issue for people,” Larson warned.
If there’s a position where two surprise answers have emerged in the offseason, it is at defensive end. Both starters graduated last year and there were no clear options in the pipeline. The coaches decided to move Jackson Seidling from free safety, and basketball player Cooper Eral was recruited for football. Their work has rapidly turned this question mark into an area of strength. Seidling has been a weight room maniac, putting on 35 pounds. Eral has adapted to the role flawlessly. Sophomore Dom LaDuke is a quality third option at defensive end.
Eral was one of five seniors who came out for football for the first time. He and Gondreau are both making immediate moves into the starting lineup. John Borgstrom, Caeden Henning and Jacob Wright are the other seniors who joined the team this season. Their addition increases the number of seniors on the roster to 22.
There is depth all along the defensive front. Grove, Charlie Olson and Mason Erickson will share the two flex positions. Scheetz and Felton are both strong options at noseguard. Grove and Erickson moved from linebacker to flex because the coaches were looking to be more mobile and athletic in those roles.