Every year features new players for high school football teams.
This year, for Oakfield, everything is new: players, coach, offense, defense and even the conference.
All of it together is adding excitement for a team that went winless in 2011.
The Oaks leave the Trailways Large division for the Trailways Small. The rest of the Small division is: Randolph, Johnson Creek, Rio, Hustisford, Williams Bay, Cambria-Friesland and Fall River.
“I think it’s more our size,” said Oakfield senior Patrick Schwoerer. “It’s not like it’s totally new because we’ve played some of these teams in nonconference when we were in the other division. It’s still going to be great competition, but I think we have a much better chance.”
New Oaks’ coach Tim Sievert, who has been the Oakfield middle school coach and a varsity assistant for six years, said the switch should help his team be competitive with teams more its enrollment size.
“I think it’s going to help us out because of the sheer numbers,” Sievert said. “Last year we were 150 (students) playing against schools of 250. From the numbers, we should stack up a little better. Knowing about the (new) conference, there are a number of experienced coaches and good programs. We’re looking forward to the challenge to see how we can compete with them.”
The new coaches have had a new enthusiasm and the Oaks have noticed.
“The coaches seem like they enjoy coaching and are passionate about it,” said senior lineman Sam Beulen. “When they have a positive attitude about it, the rest of the team does.”
Enthusiasm is great, but it has taken a lot of brain work for everyone involved to install a new I-formation offense and 50 defense. Sievert said the players have picked it up well considering the eight players who are seniors have been running the wing T since they started playing as youngsters.
Sievert said the offense is farther along than he thought it might be going into a first game.
“There’s going to be a learning curve and some bumps, but I was really impressed with how fast they’ve learned it.”
Perhaps that is because four of the five projected starters on the offense line are seniors: Andrew Kohlman at center, Sam Beulen and Tyler Moyle at tackles and Austin Cornell at right guard are all back with a load of experience. Brett Panzer is a junior who will play the left guard.
“The four of us are seniors and we’ve been playing together for three years,” Beulen said. “The way you think about it is if we can push the (defensive) guys back, the running backs can go.”
Taylor Schaefer is a junior running back who will benefit from the offensive line’s ability.
A couple of the Oaks players and the coach all tabbed Schaefer to be a standout in the league. Sievert said his speed and quickness make him, “a special player.”
The only returning underclassman from last year coming back after earning all-conference honors is senior Patrick Schwoerer, who was a second-team receiver last year but is projected as the starter at quarterback. He was also a second-teamer as a special teams player for his work as a gunner on the punt team.
“He’s got that controlled reckless abandon,” Sievert said, which is not always a trait associated with quarterbacks.
Schwoerer said he likes the new offense, which should make opponents scout the Oaks closely again instead of already knowing what they’re going to do.
“It opens things up so no matter what down we’re on it’s a whole new system, and we haven’t added in all the plays yet,” Schwoerer said.
On the defensive side, it will likely be the play of the whole unit playing as one that will help the Oaks because they likely won’t have a standout player.
Beulen was a starter on defense last season and will man a defensive end position. He said he expects senior linebackers Tyler Moyle and Cornell to elevate their play. Sievert said Matt Zuelke may be ready to make a name for himself as an outside linebacker or defensive end.
The coach said the 50 defense that the team will employ will have a five-man front but allows for the linebackers and defensive backs to change up their alignments.
Randolph went unbeaten in the Trailways Small last year and Sievert said the Rockets are the favorites again, but Rio will be at the top and so will Cambria-Friesland due to coach Jim Bylsma, according to Sievert.
Sievert said a good goal for his team is to shoot for .500 in the Small in order to be eligible for the playoffs. Players, however, usually have more lofty goals.
“I like where we stand,” Schwoerer said. “I think we can have a run for the conference championship.”