2014 Preview: New Richmond football team is beginning to believe
If you hang around teams long enough, you can start to sense their aspirations.
There have been New Richmond football teams in recent years that have given extremely good effort, but the talent level limited what the team could ultimately accomplish. Hang around this year’s version of the Tigers and you’ll quickly sense the Tigers believe their talent level is better than its been in some time. And the players appear ready to get the absolute most out of their talent.
Second-year Tiger head coach Keith Badger was hired weeks before the start of the 2013 season and had little time to prepare for the season. With a full off-season, Badger has worked to mold a more physically strong Tiger team that is geared to get the maximum out of its collective abilities.
Badger said he thought he saw the team begin to turn in a winning direction during the final two games of the 2013 season, when the Tigers scored wins over Amery and Osceola. That led to a heartfelt dedication from the Tigers players during the rest of the 2013-14 school year, in the weight room, classroom and in team meetings that were geared to strengthen the leadership qualities in the players.
Out of those meetings, the team captains were selected by a vote of team members. This year’s captains are Ben Peterson, Derek Dowd, Maalik Moe and Noah Berger.
“Our captains have the ability to lead. It will be their team and they’re taking ownership,” Badger said.
Badger said the Tigers ramped up their dedication to another level over the summer. He said he believes that no Tiger team in the history of the football program has worked as hard over the summer as this year’s Tigers have.
You won’t see big changes in the schemes the Tigers utilized last year in Badger’s first year as coach. But offensively, the coaches have made alterations to their play calling.
“Our offense was too broad last year. I think (this year) we’ll try to be good at a few things,” Badger said.
Three of the Tigers’ four captains are linemen and the coaches are expecting substantial improvement in the play of the line on offense and defense. Peterson and Berger have been in the varsity line rotation since their freshman year. The biggest change among the linemen is Moe’s play.
“Maalik has realized his potential,” Badger said. “I think the offensive and defensive lines realize they have to be good for us to do anything this year.”
The Tigers don’t have a great deal of bulk along the front lines, but linemen over 250 pounds in the Middle Border Conference this season will be a rarity. The Tigers expect to have one of the most athletic lines in the conference, with speed to get out and block plays run to the outside.
Berger returns as the Tigers’ center, a role he’s held since his sophomore year. Peterson and Kevin Kern are secure as the starting guards. Moe and Austen Dimick man the tackle roles. The Tigers have good depth in the offensive line with Tucker Samp, Even Dorsch and Alex Schmidt all capable of stepping in.
The biggest changes on offense will be the starters at the ball-handling position, where nearly all of the key contributors from last season are gone.
Quarterback will be a position of high interest. It seemed that over the past decade, few Tiger quarterbacks could ever be categorized as tall. This year, two juniors who are tall and athletic are sharing the quarterbacking job.
Brady Maus and Caleb Manecke both are likely to see significant time at quarterback. Maus learned the system last year and he’s smooth in his execution of the offense. Manecke is one of several upperclassmen who returned to the team after taking a year or more away from the program.
“They’re both very smart. Brady is as tough as nails and Caleb is a finesse guy,” Badger said. “I feel real comfortable with both of them in there.”
Halfback is another position where there’s been a complete turnover. Senior Jake Singerhouse returns to the team and sophomore Sam Altena will also see significant time at halfback.
There is continuity at fullback. Junior Ben Werner and senior Ben Wothe will see the lion’s share of the action there.
Junior Austin Juhl was one of the team’s leading receivers last year and his speed will make him a key factor in the offense again this year. Zach Dietzler, Cole Nord and Derek Dowd will also see time as wideouts. When the Tigers use a tight end, junior Cam Hausman will see the bulk of the time. The Dowd brothers, Derek and Dylan, will also see time at tight end.
Don’t expect the Tigers to be predictable on offense. While they’ve tried to streamline the number of plays, the Tigers will keep defenses challenged.
“We’re really flexible on offense so we could use a variety of formations,” Badger said. “We have a lot of depth in our skill positions. We’re trying to figure out the best way to use them.”
The Tigers will use a spread system on offense to try taking full advantage of the team’s speed. Badger said this system puts the ball in the hands of the players with speed, with more possibilities of getting them into the open field.
While the Tigers have improved numbers this season, that is partially due to a large freshman class of 25 players. The Tigers will still need to rely on many players to play on offense and defense. There are approximately 65 players on the Tiger roster this fall.
The defensive front will be many of the same players who started along the offensive front, including Peterson, Moe, Berger, Dimick and Samp. Werner and Wothe are the leading contenders at defensive end, as are Singerhouse, Schmidt and Maus at linebacker.
Some of the best depth on the team is in the defensive secondary. Derek Dowd and Juhl return. They are joined by Nord, Manecke, Dylan Dowd and Brandon Powers.
“Powers has really stepped up. He’s really strong for a sophomore,” Badger said.
Senior Kody Hermansen is also out for the team, but it appears a shoulder injury will sideline him for the entire season.
The Tigers missed the WIAA playoffs by one win last season. Badger said qualifying for the playoffs is one of the team’s main goals for the season. That won’t be easy in the Middle Border Conference, which Badger said will again be top heavy with quality teams.
“Ellsworth and Somerset will be very good and Osceola will be good again,” Badger predicted. He said the Tigers’ chances this season hinge on the team’s ability to grow together.
“It’s all up to them,” Badger said. “If they stay together and work hard every day, they’ve got a really legitimate shot to get a playoff game.”