Wilber Takes the Reigns in 2017

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 (This is the fourth of an eight part series  previewing the 2017 UW-Whitewater football team by position.)

     Three years ago, Cole Wilber was a promising strong-armed quarterback living in Dana Point, California.  Wilber appeared to be headed to Northern Arizona, University, an NCAA D-1 FCS program.  His high school coach, Todd Rusinkovich announced that Wilber had been offered a scholarship at NAU. But something inside the talented quarterback told him it was time for a change.  Wilber looked east, and from half a continent away, he saw purple. The former Dana Point Dolphin developed a serious interest in UW-Whitewater and their championship football program.  Wilber contacted Whitewater and inquired about the possibility of becoming a Warhawk. 

         As the UW-Whitewater football staff watched video of the young Californian, one thing jumped out in a big way.  “Cole has a great arm,” Head Coach Kevin Bullis exclaimed. “It is special.”  Former UW-W Head Coach and All-American quarterback Bob Berezowitz watched Wilber’s video and was impressed with his rifle as well.  “That got my attention,” Bullis chuckled,  “If Berez is impressed, you know he’s the real deal.”

         While Bullis knew that getting Wilber could be a real find for the Warhawk program, he also knew that there could be risk involved in pursuing a young quarterback from California.  “He lived in a different climate and in a different culture.  He would be a long way from home.”  So Bullis challenged and pressed Wilber on every front during the process.  He even enlisted former UW-W National Championship quarterback Danny Jones to talk with Wilber.  Jones is also from California.  But Coach Bullis didn’t want Jones to sugar-coat anything.  “I wanted Danny to tell Cole the good, the bad, and the ugly of a kid from California moving to Whitewater, Wisconsin to play football.”  But Wilber was determined to be a Warhawk and ultimately enrolled at UW-W for the fall semester of the 2014-15 school year. 

         After getting his feet wet as a freshman and splitting time last year with then-senior QB Chris Nelson, Wilber now sits cleanly on top of the depth chart as the #1 QB for the Warhawks.  That decision was actually made last year as Wilber started the last six games in which he was healthy.  But sharing time with a senior quarterback and beginning an off-season as the clear starter are two completely different experiences.  “Cole did a great job this spring.  He has a lot of talent and we are going to do everything we can as a staff to put him in a position to succeed,”  said a determined Coach Bullis.  “With Cole, the weapons we have around him, and some of the changes we have made, I’m really excited about our offense.”

         While Wilber heads the depth chart, he is far from the only talented player in the quarterback room this year for the Warhawks.  Ryan Curran is a fourth year junior.  Curran played in five games last year, completed 11 of 13 passes, and threw a touchdown.  Curran is a leader who experienced tremendous success at Sun Prairie High School. He is a field general in the true sense of the word and is an accurate passer with command of the nuances of the offense.  Curran is one of the relatively few players remaining on the roster from UW-W's 2014 National Championship team.  Merrick Gentile, a sophomore out of Grayslake High School is a dual threat athlete capable of creating a big play. Gentile tore his ACL as a senior in high school.  The athletic QB was getting serious looks from upper division schools until the injury.  The Whitewater staff never gave up on him.   He was able to stay healthy in 2016 as he learned the offense and the UW-W way.   Often it is the second year after an ACL injury that an athlete is able to regain his previous explosiveness.  “I have tremendous confidence in all three of those guys,” said their enthusiastic head coach. 

         It is also expected that at least one freshman will join the others in the quarterback room when camp opens August 11th. Warhawkfootball.com does not name athletes until they are officially a part of the program.

Linebackers Look to Lead in 2017

(Third of an eight part series looking at the 2017 UW-Whitewater football team by position)

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Matt Seitz (44) and Bryce Leszczynski (57) hope to lead a strong Warhawk defense in 2017

 

         If the defensive line provides the anchor and the defensive backs are counted on as the last line of defense, it is the linebackers that are often considered the heart and soul of a team’s defense.  That certainly is the case for the 2017 Warhawks.  The Warhawks are led by returning starters Matt Seitz and Bryce Leszczynski.  Seitz, a 6’1” 225 pound senior out of Arrowhead High School in Hartland, WI, will be in the starting lineup for a fourth consecutive season, a rarity at UW-W.  Leszczynski, a 6’1” 230 pound junior, was in the two-deep all year, breaking into the starting line-up for the last four games of the season in 2016.  “It all starts with those two at linebacker,”  Head Coach Kevin Bullis remarked.  “They are both leaders and they will set the tone for the physicality of our defense,” Bullis continued. 

      Seitz, the only member of the 2017 Warhawks to start in a Stagg Bowl, ranked second on the team in tackles last year with 64 and has recorded 163 tackles in his career.  He has rare speed and coverage skills for a linebacker and will be counted on to be a playmaker in his senior season.  Leszczynski led the team in tackles last season despite the fact that he started only the final four games.  In addition to 69 tackles, Bryce was credited with 10 tackles for loss, three sacks, three passes defensed, and a forced fumble.  While Leszczynski mans the middle and Seitz patrols the wide side of the field, there are a number of candidates to be their running mate as the third linebacker.  Beau Martin, a 6’1” 220 pound linebacker out of Wheaton North High School, played in all 13 games last year registering 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, three passes defensed, and a fumble recovery.  Alex Zacharies, a 6’1” 220 pound junior out of Stoughton High School, recorded 19 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and an eye-popping three forced fumbles last year. He tied for the team lead in forced fumbles.

      Also competing for playing time and providing outstanding depth will be a number of sophomores from a highly touted 2016 recruiting class.  Here is a list of their names, height and weight, and high school:

 Gabe Rasmussen, 6’1”  215 pounds, Waukesha South High School.

 Brad Krisch,  6’0”  220 pounds, Joliet Catholic High School

 Jacob Erbs,  5’8” 212 pounds, Reedsburg High School

 Matt Anderson  6’0” 205 pounds, Rockford Lutheran High School.

      The Warhawk linebackers are coached by former UW-W All-American linebacker Jace Rindahl.  Rindahl, who is also the Hawks’ Run Defense Coordinator, is entering the third year in his second stint as a Whitewater assistant coach.  He also coached at UW-W from 2009 through 2012.  Rindahl coached running backs at the University of South Dakota in 2013 and 2014 before returning to his alma mater in 2015. 

 

Speed and Athleticism Propel 2017 Secondary

 

(Second of an eight part series looking at the UW-Whitewater 2017 football team by position)

 

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          When a team loses three of the four members of their starting secondary, it is natural to ask whether the defensive backfield is an area of concern.  While the losses of First Team All-WIAC cornerback Vince Mason, Honorable Mention safety Colin Buck, and physical safety Bennett Young will certainly be felt, their departure provides opportunity for several talented and athletic young defensive backs.  The Bible says, “Speed kills.”  Well, OK, the Bible doesn’t say that, but it is a well-worn statement in athletics and in few places does it prove more true than on the football field.  As the UW-Whitewater coaches assemble the 2017 defense, they expect to be evaluating and coaching up some very talented and fast defensive backs.

         “I absolutely expect us to be faster on defense, especially in the defensive backfield.” Defensive Coordinator Rob Erickson predicted. Head Coach Kevin Bullis said that the speed of the secondary and some minor schematic changes will make a dramatic difference in the performance of the secondary in 2017.  “We gave up too many big plays last year and frankly we invited too many big plays last year.  We have installed some tweaks that will really help us with that this coming year.”

         The lone returning starter in the secondary is junior Famus Hasty of Naperville, IL.  Although Hasty battled injury in 2016, he played in 10 games and started nine of them.  He tied for the conference lead in forced fumbles per game.  Hasty has a knack for rising to the occasion in crucial games and situations. He forced two fumbles against UW-Oshkosh deep in Warhawk territory to ultimately preserve a 17-14 Whitewater victory.  He also had a season high three pass break-ups in the Warhawks’ 30-24 victory over UW-Platteville.  He recorded four tackles, broke up two passes, and forced a fumble against NAIA power Morningside College. Hasty also intercepted a pass in the Warhawks’ NCAA Quarterfinal game against John Carroll.

         The other cornerback returning from the 2016 two-deep is 6’0” 190 pound senior Nick McCullough out of St. Charles, IL.  McCullough played the same position as Hasty last year and remains there heading into fall camp. With UW-W’s preference of frequent player rotation, having two experienced corners on the same side of the field makes sense.  Heading into camp, battling for the other cornerback position are sophomores Jacob Frey and Brion Nash. Both bring a lot of speed and athleticism to the cornerback position.  Frey was a multi-sport and two-way football standout at Wisconsin Lutheran High School and Nash competed in both football and track at Milwaukee Riverside High School. Both athletes qualified for the state track meet at the high school level.  Also in the mix at cornerback is junior Joe Caravello out of Rockford, IL.  Caravello played in seven games last year as a sophomore.

         While last year’s safeties could have been appropriately nicknamed the “Young Buck”, this years’ version could potentially be regarded as the “Killer Bees”.  Back from last years’ two-deep are juniors Bailey Breunig and Brett Beuhler.  At 6’1” 205 pounds, Breunig has a rare combination of both size and speed for a D-III athlete.  “Bailey is fast and physical and as big as some linebackers in our conference.” Bullis commented.  And then noting the overall speed and aggressiveness at the safety position, “We have four guys back there who can really run and they fly around and hit people.”  Like Breunig, Beuhler was part of the two-deep last year and played 12 games.  “People look at who starts and mistake that for experience.  The first snap of the game is not always the most important.  Bailey and Brett have played a lot of important football for us.” Bullis noted. 

         Heading into fall camp, also on the two-deep roster are two athletes who transferred to UW-W from D-II schools.  Junior Jon Weyker, a Homestead High School graduate, transferred from Southwest Minnesota State before last season and played in 10 games for the Warhawks.  Also competing in the defensive backfield for UW-W is Nathan Tranel, a transfer from Minnesota State-Mankato.  Tranel was a four year starter for Lancaster high school at quarterback and led the Flying Arrows to four consecutive state championship games, winning the state championship as a senior.  His overall record in high school was 51-4.  Despite playing few games on defense due to the injury risk for a starting QB, Tranel started both ways in the state championship game, intercepting two passes and making five tackles. Mankato, who had advanced to the D-II National Championship game, took notice and signed Tranel to play defense.  At 6’2” 205 pounds, Tranel is another of those hybrid athletes with above average size and speed for a D-III safety. Warhawkftooball.com does not list the names of transfers until the player has become part of the program. Tranel actually transferred for the spring semester and took part in spring ball with the Warhawks. The information on Tranel was garnered from an article on Midwestcollegiateprospects.com.  The full article can be found here

         Other members of the 2016 team expected to be competing for a spot in the secondary in fall camp include Bobby Desherow, Kaleb Kaminski, Garrett Purdy, and Luke Tegtman. As always, there will be incoming freshmen and perhaps transfers when camp opens August 11th.  Warhawkfootball.com does not name these scholar-athletes until after camp opens. 

2017 Defensive Line:  Next Men Up

(First of an 8 part series looking at the UW-Whitewater 2017 football team by position)

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UW-W will miss John Flood and other 2016 D-line stalwarts, but coaches expect no drop off in performance in 2017.

            When it comes to the UW-Whitewater Warhawks’ defensive line, questions abound heading into the 2017 season.  And how could they not? With the departures of Brandon Tamsett, John Flood, Tim Regan, Yuri Pogosyan, Benny Threloff, and Todd Campbell, to say the defensive line will need to be revamped is an understatement. Tamsett and Flood are huge losses in themselves. Both earned All-America recognition during their careers at UWW, Flood was also a team captain, and Tamsett was voted the team MVP of the 2016 season.  “You don’t replace a Brandon Tamsett”, according to Warhawk Head Coach Kevin Bullis.   But he also added, "We won National Championships without a Brandon Tamsett type player.  For a long time we have had strong defensive lines with sturdy and tough players inside.  Brandon was flat out special."  And the contributions of Regan, Pogosyan, Threloff, and Campbell should not be overlooked.  They provided the talent and mindset needed to form a formidable defensive front. 

         So the losses are great.  And a cursory look could lead fans and analysts to make a classic mistake in evaluating the Hawks’ defensive line heading into the 2017 campaign.  Too often, prognosticators get caught up in evaluating what a team lost, rather than focus on who is returning.  “We love our (2017) group”, declared Bullis confidently. “Do guys have to step up in that group? Yes. Is there a lot of talent there? Absolutely!”

         At this particular moment, the depth at defensive end appears to be particularly impressive.  Defensive Coordinator Rob Erickson is pleased with the jumps in performance made by the defensive end group at the close of spring camp.  “We have four guys playing as well as any of our defensive ends played last year. And that’s saying something considering we had John Flood.  We know they have to do it in the games, but I am confident they will perform at a very high level.” the effusive Erickson proclaimed.  Although Erickson didn’t name the four, they most likely include juniors Cal Durni and Harry Henschler and sophomores Jordan Brand and Jermaine Copeland. Durni and Henschler appeared in 12 and 10 games respectively last year.  “They played a lot of meaningful snaps for us”,  Bullis pointed out. Brand and Copeland bring a ton of potential to the two deep.  Brand, recruited strongly by Northern Illinois out of high school, is “an extremely talented and an extremely smart young man”. Copeland is an explosive athlete out of Wauwatosa East High School. All four of them are playing well enough that it is conceivable that one of them could be moved inside.

         On the inside, Harry Green returns as the only senior in this years’ defensive line group.  Green, at 6’0” 290 pounds has the physical stature to hold up in the middle against opposing rushing attacks.  Junior David O’Gorman returns after playing in 10 games last year. O’Gorman came to UW-W as a transfer from Northern Illinois before the 2016 season.   Junior Dalton Heckel returns after playing in five games a year ago. Also returning from last year’s roster as defensive line candidates are sophomores Jawaun Battle, Justin Hansen, Dan Cooper, and Vince Klim. 

         Of course, added to the mix of returnees will be incoming freshmen and transfers.  Because of the non-scholarship nature of NCAA D-III athletics, scholar-athletes have maximum flexibility until training camp starts.  Young athletes have been known to change their mind, so Warhawkfootball.com will not be publishing the names of these players until after the start of fall training camp. But in terms of numbers, the Hawks are expected to add several quality freshman defensive linemen in 2017.  Also, it appears that at least one very strong defensive line candidate will be transferring from an upper division school. 

         The defensive line will be coached by three-time National Championship linebacker Ryan Cortez. Cortez enters his fourth season on the UW-W staff. He has previously coached linebackers and tight ends. 

FROM SACRED TO JUST PLAIN COOL

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Over football's long history, few things have been as sacred to a football team's coaches and players as "The Playbook". The football playbook has a long history as representing far more than strategy, philosophy, and X's and O's.  The playbook represents trust. It holds the highest of proprietary value possible for a football program.  Hopefully, after 33 years, the release of excerpts from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater 1984 football playbook will be just plain cool.

CLICK HERE to see the cover sheets for Offense, Defense, and Special Teams. Soon there will also be links to a few of the pages within each position group will be coming soon.

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