When Algoma football coach Wade Vandervest addressed his returning players at the end of last season, he made one thing clear.
They would have an opportunity to do something no other squad in program history has done.
“I’ve always said this to teams after we’ve made the playoffs,” said Vandervest, who is entering his 11th year. “You look at our history, we’ve never been to the playoffs in back-to-back years.”
Algoma is looking to accomplish that feat and also has its sights set on repeating in the Olympian/Packerland-Small Conference.
After sharing its first conference title since 1994 last season with Hilbert and Manitowoc Lutheran, the Wolves would prefer to win a second straight title outright to guarantee a return to the postseason.
Algoma will have to rely on a pair of tailbacks to share the load following the loss of graduated Zach Blahnik, who led the league in scoring (137 points) and was fourth in rushing (736 yards).
Blahnik finished with 1,105 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on the season, which ended with a second-round playoff loss to Shiocton, the WIAA Division 6 state runner-up.
Senior Taylor Daul and junior Sam Koss appear to be more than capable of picking up where Blahnik left off. The duo combined for 1,435 yards and 13 rushing scores last year, and each finished in the top 10 in rushing in league play.
“We’ve both got our own running styles and our own work ethics,” Daul said. “You put them together, and it’s a positive thing for us. I think (teams) will look at us as a threat like they did with Zach.”
While the Wolves’ backfield still is loaded with talent, there is a plethora of new starters on the offensive line and a new quarterback in Hunter Prokash, who is making the move from wide receiver to replace Shane Andrews.
“Some of those guys were two-way starters for three years for us,” Vandervest said of former linemen Zach Prochnow and Travis Hackett. “How do you replace that? It comes down to getting the younger guys … that experience that we need and get them to work together for the common goal of the team.”
After having 11 seniors on its roster last year, Algoma has just four this season. It also has only three home games.
Since Vandervest relayed the message of what he wanted from this year’s team nine months ago, the newcomers know nothing but a return to the playoffs will be acceptable.
“We have to make sure they are hungry and ready to do this again,” Vandervest said. “Only this time, everybody is hunting for us and we have to be ready for it.”