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St. Croix Central football won't be pressured to pass

Seniors on the St. Croix Central football roster include (front, l-r) D.J. Holland, Blake Flettre, Brian Gibb, Wyatt Sain and Ryan Pfeifer; (back) Brandon Smith, Tyler Christensen, Dante Carlson, Alec Lamberty, Brandon Rogers and Cody Peterson.

The 2012 St. Croix Central football team featured one of the most successful pass attacks in the state.

That doesn't mean the Panthers are committed to pass to that extent in 2013.

Central quarterback Carl Moll ranked second in the state in passing yardage in 2012 and Panther receiver Cody Nyhagen tied for the highest pass receiving yardage total. They graduated, as did many of the Panthers' linemen. That means there will be drastic personnel changes this season.

Veteran St. Croix Central coach Tony DiSalvo said he'd like to see a 50/50 mix of passing and running the ball this season. With sophomores Cody Gostovich and Luke Smith and senior Wyatt Sain, DiSalvo said the team is in a position to establish a ground attack much more easily this season. He is looking to use more quick-opening running plays, to give the running backs the chance to break into the open field.

"I want to be able to run the ball," DiSalvo said. "If we can run the ball, we'll be 10 times better than if we're one dimensional."

The coaches would like the running attack to be more productive, so it takes pressure off the passing attack. Junior Jason Matteson and sophomore Kyle Larson are competing for the starting quarterback position. Matteson has the edge on the position, though DiSalvo said Larson gained ground in the battle during last Friday's scrimmage that Central hosted. He said Matteson played nervously and wasn't under control during the scrimmage. They are looking for him to rely more on his reads and see all the possibilities in each passing play.

Moving Matteson to quarterback takes away one of the Panthers' most effective receivers from last season. There are other receiving options, led by senior Dante Carlson who caught 43 passes last season. D.J. Holland, Josh Freyholtz, Tony Berg, Doug Cottrell, Ryan Gulich, Evan Nielsen, Cody Peterson and Ryan Pfeifer give the Panthers plenty of options in the passing game.

There are also plenty of contenders for the five offensive line positions. Decker Grass, Brett Eckman, Brian Gibb, Connor Rogers, Jacob Conley, Josh Van Beek, Alec Lamberty, Shiloh Goodwin, Brandon Rogers, Brandon Smith and Blake Flettre are in the competition and Tyler Christensen and John Spaeth could also join that pool of talent. DiSalvo said he will go with the most effective blockers, regardless of grade, and that the linemen will have to learn to work with players from other grades.

The line did not perform well during Friday's scrimmage. The coaches are looking for players who execute their blocks consistently, but also know their assignments on each play.

The defensive front similarly has numerous options like on offense. One of the highlights of the scrimmage for the Panthers was the play of the defensive ends. Freyholtz, Larson and Connor Rogers were all able to put on a strong pass rush, something that has become an expectation for the Panther ends.

There are plenty of contenders for playing time for the interior line positions on the defense. Grass, Gibb, Conley, Van Beek, Eckman, Brandon Rogers and Smith are the leaders among those hoping for game time.

There are several younger players pushing returning players for game time at the linebacker positions. Smith, Gostovich, Goodwin, Lamberty, Berg, Peterson and Christensen are in a heavy competition for those roles.

The coaches have high expectations for the defensive backs. Most of these players have varsity experience and the coaches are comfortable with the options they have here. A rotation of Matteson, Carlson, Gulich, Holland and Nielsen will see the majority of the game time to start the season.

The Panthers will test their progress in their season opener this Friday. They will open the season against their rivals from Baldwin-Woodville, playing on the Blackhawks' field. DiSalvo said he expects to see a big improvement from the team's play in the scrimmage. With non-conference games against B-W and Barron and the Dunn-St. Croix Conference opener against Colfax, DiSalvo said the Panthers are in a position to put together a strong start to the season. He said team chemistry will be the deciding factor in how far the Panthers go this season.

"I think we could be pretty good," DiSalvo said. "The seniors and the young kids will have to come together."

The coaches believe the Dunn-St. Croix race will be wide open. Glenwood City returns most of its backfield from its Division 7 state championship team. Mondovi has been waiting years for this senior class and high expectations follow that group. Elk Mound will be playing for the first time in three decades without Coach Dan Pedersen, but the Mounders should have enough talent to be contenders.

"Every week will be a challenge for us," DiSalvo said. "We have to get better every week."

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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