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Enthusiasm abounds in New Richmond football program

The 2013 New Richmond football coaching staff includes (front, l-r) Brian Kaczmarski, defensive coordinator; Jason Eckert, offensive coordinator; Keith Badger, head coach; Tate Wheeler, defensive backs; Troy Cran, linebackers and ninth grade defense; (back) Dave Mehls, linebackers; Travis Helland, wide receivers and ninth grade head coach; Brad Malpert, defensive line; Ryan Schradle, running backs and Blake Berger, offensive line.

There's a renewed sense of enthusiasm circulating through the New Richmond football program.

New coach Keith Badger has quickly instilled a sense of fun and passion within the players and coaching staff. There are currently approximately 50 players out for the team, though the coaches are hoping they can convince more freshmen to join the team.

At 26, Badger will be one of the youngest head coaches in the area. He has surrounded himself with a veteran coaching staff that has helped the team make a smooth transition to his coaching style. Former Tiger head coach Jason Eckert accepted Badger's invitation to return to the team to serve as offensive coordinator. Eckert has appeared refreshed and revitalized in being able to concentrate on teaching the new offense to the team.

"Jason's a good coach, we all know his capabilities," Badger said. "After I talked with him, there was no doubt he was the best fit."

Brian Kaczmarski has returned to serve as the defensive coordinator for the Tigers. Kaczmarski has head coaching experience in Clear Lake.

You'll see some new things and some continuity within the Tigers' plans for this season. On defense, the Tigers will continue to work out of a 4-3 front. The majority of the team's changes will come on offense.

Fans will see the Tigers using multiple offensive formations, working mainly out of a shotgun set. Badger said he was familiar with this offense from his years coaching in Minnesota, but he streamlined the offensive plans to be a better fit for the talent the Tigers have this season.

Badger said he is looking for his three senior captains to be the leaders for the team. All three captains will be two-way starters. Allan Wollenberg will start at fullback and middle linebacker. Keilan Mehls will be a tight end and defensive end. Connor O'Loughlin will start at running back and defensive back.

Seniors are not plentiful on the roster, with less than 10 players from this class.

"We'd rather have a small group of tough kids than a group that isn't committed," Badger said. "We've built around the seniors and demanded their leadership and they've responded."

Junior Sevin Davis has won the quarterback role. In an offense that will rely much more heavily on passing, Davis throws a tight spiral and has shown excellent accuracy in practices.

"He works his butt off every day," Badger said.

This offense is designed to get the ball into the hands of the team's playmakers as often as possible. Badger said he wants to see O'Loughlin, Davis, Wollenberg and senior halfback Dom Ficociello get the chance to create big plays on offense.

Davis has a number of capable targets as receivers. Mehls will be backed up by Cam Hausman at tight end. Derek Dowd has proven to be a playmaker the coaches were looking for at split end. Austin Juhl, Zach Dietzler and Austin Hovel are also options at receiver and Mehls will split out in some formations.

The coaches are building the offensive line from the middle out. Junior Ben Peterson has won the center position, with juniors Noah Berger and Kevin Kern grabbing the guard roles. Among the players competing for the tackle positions are Ethan LaMirande, Austin Dimick, Cole Hansen and Kyle McKibben.

There's a logical idea behind starting in the middle for the offensive line. Badger said that the Tigers will need to be able to pound the ball between the tackles for consistent yardage to create the space on the perimeter for the team to make big plays.

Most of the offensive linemen will see the majority of the playing time in the team's defensive front wall. Wollenberg and Ficociello will lead the linebackers. There's depth at defensive back with O'Loughlin, Dowd, Davis, Juhl and Dietzler leading the candidates.

"Dowd has been the most pleasant surprise," Badger said. "He hits like he's Ray Lewis. He's a very versatile kid."

The coaching staff was quite pleased with the progress the Tigers showed when they scrimmaged at Chippewa Falls last Friday. Badger said there were some mistakes in running the offense for the first time in a game situation, but said the mistakes were all easily correctable.

The Tigers are coming off a 2-6 season when they went 2-5 in the Middle Border Conference. But with a new coach comes new expectations. When asked if he expected the Tigers to make the WIAA playoffs this year, Badger gave an exuberant "absolutely."

"We expect to make the playoffs and go further," Badger said. "The bar is set very high. We set the expectations high on defense and offense and the kids have worked their butts off to get there."

The regular season for the Tigers begins this Friday with a home game against River Falls. The schedule gets tougher the following week with a game at Rice Lake. The Tigers begin Middle Border Conference play on Sept. 6 with a home game against Baldwin-Woodville.

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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