Thinking back about the first offseason meeting with the new football coaches, Fond du Lac High School seniors John Gaskell and Ben Maruska quickly picked up on a theme: hard work.
“Everybody was shocked at first because they didn’t know what to expect or how tough it was going to be, but as soon as we got into it we got used to it and it became normal to us to work that hard,” Gaskell said recalling his initial thoughts about the newly hired coaches Mike Gnewuch and Steve Jorgensen.
“My first impression was that they had a very business like approach to the game of football,” Marsuka said. “They were very hard working in the way that they wanted to impress those attributes on us and make us a hard working, gritty team.”
The coaches mapped out what was expected of a Fondy football player and the summer workouts reflected that the kids understood. Lifting weights and what Gaskell called “very difficult” conditioning four days a week throughout the summer gave the players a healthy dose of what the coaches meant.
“I think the kids were ready for a change,” said Gnewuch, who is in his first season as head coach. “They’ve been very dedicated and coachable. I can’t ask anything more from the kids right now.”
Speed and strength are the main attributes of a star football player. At the high school level, though, coaches can make a good football player out of a kid with some smarts and toughness. Gnewuch said he was impressed with the group toughness from the start of workouts.
“Their strength is their perseverance,” he said. “They want to be led, so they’re listening to everything we say, and to be honest I think they’re really tough kids. We got on them pretty good right away and we’ve been getting after it in practice.”
Football awareness lacked to start, according to the coach, but he expects that to come around as well as the season progresses.
The Cardinals will not be huge, but they are faster, stronger and better conditioned, Gnewuch said.
“We do have a little bit of size on the offensive line,” Gnewuch said. “We have a little bit of speed out at wide receiver. We’re very young defensively, very young, there’s only two starters returning from last year’s defense.”
The size on the line starts with Ben Maruska, a senior who is a returning all-conference first-teamer at tackle, who moves to guard. Maruska is 6-feet, 5-inches and 290 pounds. Gnewuch said Maruska has “great potential” and continues to get better every day. Next to Maruska will be Mike Theis at tackle, who measures the same dimensions as his linemate.
The speed the coach mentions at receiver is mainly due to Gaskell, a state track qualifier in the 200 who has great hands.
Throwing the ball out to the wide outs will be a senior quarterback. Gnewuch said there was a competition between Hunter Schmitz and Andy Mathews. As a junior Schmitz was a back-up, while Mathews was a starter at De Pere before moving to Fondy.
Gnewuch, Gaskell and Maruska didn’t want to handicap the QB race, but Maruska said both players could help in different ways. Gaskell just looked at it from the viewpoint of who has had more game snaps so far.
“Andy is more experienced because he came from De Pere and he was a starting quarterback for them for two years. He’s very calm and knows what to do.”
One of the top ballcarriers for Fondy should be senior George McEnroe.
“He’s very strong and a tough runner,” Gaskell said. “He never stops on first contact. He’s got great break-away speed when he gets out in the open.”
Gnewuch will be in charge of the defense and has special teams duties, and Jorgensen will coach the offense. Gnewuch said the offense is well ahead of the defense, just on experience. To add to the defense’s challenge there are not many big bodies on that side of the ball.
“That’s why we have to make sure we execute perfectly,” Gnewuch said. “Everybody has to do their job on every single snap.”
Senior Brian Schlagenhaft is a returning second-team corner back on last year’s the all-conference team. The other experienced player is outside linebacker/defense end Brian Harney, who started all last year as a junior.
What’s this all mean for Fondy, which plays in a tough league which last year featured a Wisconsin Rapids team that played all the way to the Division 1 state title game, and a traditional power Marshfield that is picked to finish atop the standings behind running back Riley Gebelein? Gebelein is a first-team, all-conference runner who piled up almost 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
“I keep telling them that there’s no pressure whatsoever; there’s none,” Gnewuch said. “Let’s go out and play because no one is expecting them to do anything.”
Maruska has taken what Coach Gnewuch has said to heart.
“I can’t predict wins and losses really, but I can say that we’re going to play every opponent tough, and the next day after Friday night games they’re going to be very sore,” Maruska said. “I can guarantee that.”
Another message sent.