North Fond du Lac football fans should be happy to see the 11s and 12s taking the place of what were too many 9s and 10s in the program a season ago.
There are 14 seniors listed on the Orioles roster and another 13 are juniors. A season ago, one in which North Fondy went winless, there were a total of 13 players younger than juniors.
“I think we had over half of our starters were sophomores, so we had very inexperienced players,” said junior Parker Grimes, who is one of 18 returning letter winners.
Second-year coach Zac Ruch posed a question to his team heading into the offseason: did the player do their homework?
“We really wanted to build on the experience a lot of those guys got as young players,” Ruch said. “We want to continue to work and improve that.”
Ruch said there was not only strong attendance in the summer for weigth and conditioning work, but it started after last season with the school’s conditioning program.
“Our kids made great progress and we hope to see that on the field,” Ruch said.
Several of the seniors will handle the ball for the Orioles. It starts with running back Ross Schwartz, who returns as an honorable-mention all-conference back. Schwartz got the ball a lot last year and his workload shouldn’t decrease.
“We’ll use Ross in every way we possibly can,” Ruch said. “He’s been a great leader for us so we’ll use him any way we can.”
Schwartz, at 5 feet, 10 inches and 175 pounds says he’s happy to take on as much as is deemed necessary.
“I expect to get the ball quite a bit and hopefully I can return and do as well or even better than last year,” Schwartz said.
Colton Krupp, a junior and Steve Gao, a senior, will also see plenty of carries, the coach said.
Grimes is a slot back, and the quarterback looks like Logan Krueger, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior, who Schwartz said, “will be a standout player.”
Colton Catt, a junior running back, is another player Schwartz said to watch on offense. With a solid stable of backs it’s only natural that the Orioles may rely heavily on the running game.
“I think we have the ability to be balanced, but I think we’ll lean more toward running this season,” Grimes said.
On defense, Krueger, Catt and Grimes will lead a strong, aggressive linebacking corps.
Schwartz said Matt Triatik, a junior, will also be a good linebacker, and he expects Krupp to perform well at safety.
A marked improvement that fans will see this season is the increased speed at which the Orioles will play on both sides of the football.
“Rallying to the football is one of our big things,” Ruch said. “Getting to your job and getting off the ball fast. That’s what we try to get across both offensively and defensively, and get to where you need to be as fast as humanly possible.”
Where the more experienced Orioles project into the Flyway standings is anyone’s guess, but everyone associated with the team is expecting better games.
“I try not to think about it too much,” Schwartz said. “I don’t want to build everyone up. I definitely think bigger things will be happening this year. We have good leadership and everyone is working hard, busting their butts for the guy next to them. I have high hopes and have faith we’ll do well.”