Eli Wettstein learned last season what every field goal kicker eventually realizes.
To be successful, you must have a short memory. If not, one bad kick will lead to another.
Wettstein found that out at Sheboygan North in Week 4. He missed a 23-yard attempt and let it go to his head. He followed by missing another. Then another.
De Pere ended up winning 7-0 in double overtime, but Wettstein was bothered by his 0-for-3 performance. It wasn’t just that he missed, but that the mental side of the game had beaten him down and embarrassed him.
“It is all mental, and I learned that the hard way,” Wettstein said. “If you miss one and you think about it the next time, all you are going to be thinking about is missing and it is just going to get to you.
“Missing got the best of me that game.”
He got over it.
Wettstein was the best kicker in the 12-team Fox River Classic Conference as a junior, being named first-team all-conference and giving the Redbirds a true weapon on special teams.
He also has the benefit of being able to call his brother, Jordan, for advice. Jordan is the kicker for the University of Minnesota, where he made his debut last season and even ended up scoring a touchdown in a game against Wisconsin.
Wettstein doesn’t put pressure on himself to live up to what his brother is doing, but he’s a nice resource.
“I just try to be myself,” Wettstein said. “I’m just trying to be the best that I can be. I try not to compare myself to my brother, because he’s that far ahead of me. I’m just trying to improve day by day and take it one step at a time.”
Wettstein feels his distance on kickoffs and his hang time has gotten better with the work he’s put in during the offseason. Now, he’s just working on his accuracy.
Kickers and punters don’t always get the respect they deserve, but that’s not the case with him.
The Redbirds know what they have in Wettstein. He’s one of their strongest players, and his work ethic is as good as anyone.
De Pere coach Chad Michalkiewicz has a classroom that overlooks the football field at the school, and on winter days when there wasn’t any snow on the ground, he would see Wettstein hop the fence to work on his kicking.
Michalkiewicz isn’t a huge stat guy, but he does know Wettstein was leading the state in 40-yard-or-more field goals for a long time last season. That isn’t a huge endorsement of De Pere’s offense in 2011, but it does show the impact Wettstein can have.
“Not only that we can kick long field goals, but that we have a high degree of confidence that we are going to make the field goals,” Michalkiewicz said. “Certainly we want to put more touchdowns on the board than we did last year. But any time you feel that as soon as you move into an opponent’s territory you are going to come away with something is certainly a great feeling.”
De Pere made the playoffs last season despite its struggles on offense. It did not have much size, so running the ball wasn’t an option.
That was in part due to the lack of numbers for the football program the last two years. De Pere had only 32 players for their first three games last season, but the numbers have started to come back. It has 59 players on varsity, 45 on junior varsity and 60 freshmen signed up.
The offensive line averaged about 180 pounds last season, but it’s up to 215 to 220 pounds. The return of running back Evan Newhouse, who missed much of last season with a broken collarbone sustained on the third day of training camp, also should help. He is a team captain and has gotten reps at halfback and wingback.
The defense will be strong with the return of three all-conference players in senior linebacker Alex Charneski, senior defensive lineman Isaiah Hayes and senior defensive back Jacob Sturzl. It has seven starters back overall.
“We want to not only compete with the big dogs,” Michalkiewicz said. “But we want to be one of the big dogs.”