There were plenty of things that would indicate the Oconto Falls football team had a successful season last year.
It placed four players on the all-Bay Conference first team. The offense featured the conference’s second-leading passer and receiver. The squad posted more wins than it had combined for in the previous three seasons.
Still, the Panthers missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season.
“We lost a lot of good players,” said Duane Rogatzki, who enters his 35th season as coach. “Right now we’re pretty green and trying to slot people into spots.”
With junior and sophomore classes lacking in numbers, replacing Nathan Kratz (1,078 passing yards), Mike Nompleggi (537 receiving yards), Riley Delzer (Bay lineman of the year), Cody Nielsen (654 rushing yards) and Matt Samsa (537 rushing yards) is proving to be even more challenging.
Rogatzki feels the drop in numbers for his team, and across the area, can be traced to one thing that was originally designed to dial them up.
“I think the cell phone is the biggest enemy of what we do,” Rogatzki said. “In the past, if they wanted to see their buddies or want to be in contact with them, they came in and got involved with the athletic programs. We were like the social gathering place for them.
“Now, with texting and all that stuff, they’re in constant communication with all their buddies all the time.”
With numbers down, Oconto Falls is expecting to leave more of its top athletes on the field for longer periods of time as two-way players.
Rogatzki said last season Delzer was one of three players who played a majority of the game on offense and defense. He plans on having eight players play both ways this season.
“We’re maybe sliding away from the two-platoon, but it’s a great system,” Rogatzki said. “It helps you last in the fourth quarter. A lot of times we were playing pretty well last year, and we get to the start of the fourth quarter, and they wear us down.”