Look around the field at an Oshkosh West football practice and you’ll notice one thing before anything else.
They are small.
With only a handful or two of kids over 200 pounds, the Wildcats will most likely clock in at one of the smallest teams in the Valley Football Association-South division.
“Our team looks skinny,” West coach Ken Levine said. “We don’t have many lineman this year.”
This means that the Wildcats will have to take a different approach on both sides of the football, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. West will utilize their speed as much at possible.
Levine has already had to move some of his skill position players to the lines, getting them ready to go for the season to play those positions for the Wildcats.
He expects there to be some hiccups early on, but once those players get up to speed, he feels the speed will take over.
“Speed kills when speed knows where it’s going,” he said. “Once they figure out how to do it and where they are going, I think it will be beneficial to us.
“It’s just going to be a test to see how long it takes for them to get up to working speed.”
Skill position depth
One thing the Wildcats won’t be hard up for is skill positions, specifically at the wide receiver position, this season.
With key returners in seniors Joel Hinke, who was a second-team All-VFA-South last season, Ethan Nelson and a host of others, the skill positions will definitely be strong.
“We have a lot of speed in our offense,” junior running back/defensive back Cole Yoder said. “We need to rely on that.”
What also helps is that these guys have been running this particular offense for a few years. They all know what they are doing and know where they need to be.
“We have players on this offense who have been playing this style of offense since seventh grade,” Hinke said. “We know what we are doing. We have the potential to make big plays all the time.”
Levine knows that it will be integral to his team to get these guys the football in space and let them create and make the big play. If the Wildcats can do that, they can be very dangerous.
“They have three years of varsity experience,” he said. “I just know when the ball gets to them we are going to have a successful play.”
One of the questions that does face this offense, however, is the quarterback position. Gone is last year’s starter Dane Munsch.
That means the Wildcats are looking for a new starter. They have found three in juniors Isaac Xiong, Sam Olejnik and Spencer Lemon.
“I think all three of them can play,” Levine said. “Each one has a specialty, a strong area.”
Each has been taking reps in practice to this point. Xiong may have a slight edge, but that could change once the season starts.
“I think early in the season you’ll see us use more than one person at quarterback,” Levine said. “Just kind of seeing who has the hot hand or the things we can do with this person over the other.”
It may also boil down to whichever one connects with their vast array of skill position players. Those players even know that the choice will probably be decided on how things go in the first few games.
“(Isaac) knows what he’s doing as a varsity quarterback,” Hinke said. “We have solid backups, too, so it’s not necessarily one quarterback. We have a few that we can rely on.”
However, all of them know that the connection between the quarterbacks and skill positions has to happen soon or the season could get away.
“Getting it to them, protecting and getting the ball to them is something that we have to figure out,” Levine said.
The defense should also be a solid part of the Oshkosh West team, again, mainly because of how quick that they will be on that side of the ball. But also because of some returners who know what they are doing on the field.
“Because of that experience our defense is playing pretty quick already,” Levine said.
West returns plenty of expereince players that look to be the leaders of the defense. That experience will be the key for how well the Wildcats play defense this season.
“Knowing what to do and when to do it is the biggest part of the game,” senior defensive lineman Quincy Stokes said. “If you know what you are doing you get to that spot quicker.”
But Levine already likes the looks of those filling in the holes from the departed seniors.
“Even some of those guys who didn’t have varsity experience from last year are just jumping in there, flying around and making plays,” he said.
For a team that gets after it and uses various schemes and blitzes on defense, their speed and experience should only make them more efficient.
“We fly to the ball, we hit people, we like to have fun out there,” Stokes said. “If there is a gap anyone can hit it. Anyone out there can make a big play at anytime.”
The Wildcats have been looked over by a lot of people this season due to their lack of size and lack of a large group of returners.
But West knows that they have the ability to surprise some people. They even surprised themselves in their scrimmage.
“Being the small team, only 29 guys suited up which is a really low number, I was really surprised and happy how it turned out,” Nelson said. “We flew around and played good football. I think we’ll do good, hopefully better than our rankings.”
Levine knows it hinges on how well those that transitioned to different positions, especially on the lines, make the transition and get up to the correct level of play.
It also helps knowing that not many people expect a whole lot out of them. It’s definitely something to motivate the Wildcats
“It definitely fuels us. I like not being picked,” Levine said. “I keep saying we have a small team but we have a lot of talent. It’s just going to be a matter of us working together as a team to fit those pieces together the best way possible. But I think we can be successful.”
The Wildcats also feel they have pretty solid team chemistry. It’s something that they hope can glue everything together.
“This year, we are one as a team,” Stokes said. “This year, we are all in it together. I have high hopes.”